In July 2015, three sisters – Ilhan, Hodan and Ayan Ibrahim – launched Qurtuba Publishing House, an Islamic publishing company based out of Ottawa.
The company is committed to reclaiming the stories and perspectives of Muslims and engaging in the sharing of knowledge for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
“[We want to] help shift the narrative by producing relevant content on issues Muslims are facing today in the contemporary context and [provide] practical solutions on how to overcome these problems,” says Ilhan, the CEO of Qurtuba Publishing House.
Health and wellness for Muslims
One of the areas that Qurtuba is focusing on with its work is health and wellness in the Muslim community.
Ayan, the managing editor and co-founder, is preparing to publish her book, The Health Conscious Muslim: One Muslim Woman’s Journey of Navigating the World of Health and Fitness, which draws on her experiences to become healthy and active.
“Especially for Muslim women … we all think about it, [but a healthy lifestyle] is not accessible to us.”
“Coming from a Somali background, our cultural foods are very much based in high fats, high sodium, high sugar content fat,” says Ayan, who works as a nurse and draws on her medical experiences. “We have to eat it in moderation.”
“Looking from a health standpoint, we are consuming a lot of unhealthy food in our cultural food,” she adds. “A lot of Somali people and Muslim people are feeling the consequences of that.”
“We have a high rate of diabetes, [the risk of having a] stroke is also prevalent in our community. And [there are many who] are overweight.”
A major part of the problem with accessing such information is the lack of literature from minority voices.
“Health isn’t at the forefront for Muslims,” Ayan explains. “I think, especially for Muslim women, we dream about it, we all think about it, [but a healthy lifestyle] is not accessible to us.”
Many echo similar thoughts.
“I want to lead a healthy lifestyle,” says Iman Togone, a student at the University of Toronto. “But I don’t know where to begin. It’s very difficult to find healthy and affordable alternatives to junk or fatty food.”
Togone also express concern about finding a way to balance her love for traditional Somali food with a healthy lifestyle.
“Having a book written by someone like me would help me overcome other barriers as well, such as finding a women’s gym to exercise or one that has women’s hours that are convenient.”
Reenas Mohammed, a second year student at the University of Toronto, says it’s difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle when your family does not.
“Being healthy is critical especially as you get older,” Mohammed says. “Being able to look to someone like me who is able to break down the steps to being healthy is a significant inspiration.”
For the founders of Qurtuba Publishing, the lack of educational material on non-western perspectives is another area of concern.
“We love to learn, however, the information we wanted wasn’t available,” Hodan, the company’s marketing manager, says.
“I studied political science and international relations and – as much as I love western thought – … there was such a lack of content [on the…] Islamic perspective.”
“[A]s much as I love western thought – … there was such a lack of content [on the…] Islamic perspective.”
“Why aren’t there more books catering to contemporary Muslim intellectual needs?” Hodan asks. “And why isn’t there a diversity of topics … that [address] the contemporary needs of Muslims?”
These same questions and concerns may have spurred the establishment of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist, as well as other religious and Islamic, publishing companies. In this regard, Qurtuba Publishing House is not necessarily unique, but where the company aims to go further is its commitment to share knowledge.
“What makes us different from other publishing houses is that we provide practicality of those books,” Ilhan explains.
“We are hoping to take our books that we are producing and actually create workshops to help people develop those tools and those skills to overcome those problems they may be facing in their families, in their personal lives, in their spirituality, [and] in their communities.”
Qurtuba’s vision was what first caught Mohammed’s attention when she found out about the publishing house.
“I was impressed with their commitment to helping Muslims grapple with modern day problems like debt, conflicts with parents and self development,” she says.
“We didn’t start [this] company to make money.”
Solving a social problem
Where many other publishing companies have been established solely for profit, Qurtuba was established out of a commitment to social justice.
“Being someone who comes from an immigrant community or marginalized or minority community, we just naturally have an affinity with that type of thinking,” Hodan explains.
“We didn’t start [this] company to make money,” she says. “We wanted to solve a social problem which was how do we help create more economic resilience in Muslim communities?”
“How do we start supporting a new narrative?” Hodan continues. “How do we contribute constructively to mainstream discussions [as well as] how Muslims think about themselves [and] how other people who are non-Muslims think about us?”