The 10 reasons why I started Alchemiya
Ten years ago, I had a realisation that many people in the global Muslim community were looking for great TV about Islam and Muslims. There was frustration at how badly Islam was represented in the mainstream media and the overall lack of content that validated their identity as Muslims.
By Navid Akhtar
At the time, I was making television programmes about the Muslim community for the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK, and I got great feedback about what people wanted to watch. I was very committed and passionate about my work, and I loved producing programmes about something that was meaningful and important to me. Everyone loved the style and the subjects of the programmes but the only problem was that they wanted to watch more than just one or two programmes a year.
Thinking about this problem set me onto the path of creating Alchemiya. I visualised a whole library of creative, inspirational, engaging TV programmes, movies and documentaries about Islam and Muslims. Enjoyable, entertaining and informative, a feast for the mind and the eyes. While it was easy for me to creatively join the dots and work out how to make it happen, a bigger question kept coming up….. why?
When I spoke to people about my vision, I was asked the same questions many times. Why? Why was I doing this? What was driving me? The word “purpose” also came up frequently and I realised that it was something that I had heard a lot about, but had not paid much attention to.
I started looking up ‘purpose’ on Google and was overwhelmed at the sheer volume of books, articles and nuggets of wisdom, which discussed and explained the idea. What made sense to me was that many of us had been experiencing a sense of disconnect between what we do, how we work and our personal values. We can see many wrongs in the world and at times it seems that we might be indirectly contributing to the problems not making them better. By defining our purpose and making that our ‘true north’ we find meaning in our work and clarity about how we can make a difference. It goes beyond just making money or getting ahead in life, it touches us deeply and provides direction with the choices we face. As a Muslim, I recognised some of the ideas had parallels with spiritual philosophy. All religions require the believer to reflect and think about their life and while that instruction is at the level of the individual and society, more and more people were talking about ‘purpose’ in the business space.
In the past, the main purpose of any business was to make money. The idea of a business doing anything else was novel, but had been pioneered by companies like Patagonia, the clothing company. They understood that their higher purpose was to protect the planet and the environment. As a clothes company, they had influence over the people who were wearing their clothes as their clothes were aimed at ‘outdoor’ types who loved to explore the natural world. It occurred to them that the ‘natural world’ that they and their customers loved, was now under threat. So Patagonia started to talk more about the responsibility we all have towards the planet and how, as a company, they were aware of the impact of their business on the environment.
What resonates with Patagonia’s customers is that the company doesn’t just use this as a marketing ploy. It actually backs up the company’s talk with concrete actions and donates a a voluntary 1% of sales revenue to environmental causes. The material used in their garments is recycled, “Fair Trade” certified and organic. Patagonia is one of the founders of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and along with other clothing companies has promised to reduce its environmental footprint.
Patagonia is ahead of the curve and now other companies are beginning to question how we can carry on doing business without considering the wider problems that businesses themselves create. This has led to business experts developing new frameworks for enterprise. Professor Colin Mayer at the British Academy, has defined the purpose of business as:
Profitably solving the problems of people and planet, and not profiting from creating problems.
Inspired by companies like Patagonia, I started to think deeper about what I was doing and what I wanted to achieve. I defined Alchemiya’s purpose as follow:
“To transform the way the world sees Islam through inspiring audio-visual content.”
There is a lot of content already out there about Islam and Muslims. So if Alchemiya was going to measure up and create a positive transformation in the world, it would need to be very focused on what content it was going to offer to its subscribers. The end goal is for the content to have an impact on the viewer, to challenge their viewpoint and to inspire them to see the good that has come from the Muslim faith. For me, TV and movies have the power to act as a force for good. They can inspire, challenge and open our minds to new ideas, other races, religions and ways of being. With the right content I believe it’s possible to emotionally move people and to inspire them towards a more peaceful and productive life. I also believe that our content should have universal appeal and be watchable by both Muslims and non-Muslims. The higher purpose is to create understanding, empathy, and peace.
Through this process I came up with my 10 reasons for Alchemiya, here they are:
- Positive Islamic Contribution – Islamic thought, ideas and creativity have contributed to our global civilisation in a positive way and we share the very best of it.
- Celebrating a Rich Culture – It is not only good for us to celebrate the vast richness of our culture but is also the easiest way for non-Muslims to understand Islam. Food, music, art, fashion, crafts, architecture can be enjoyed by anyone and help create an understanding of diverse cultures.
- Inspirational Content – Movies, dramas, documentaries and TV shows are a great way for everyone to watch and learn about the world. Our library offers a wide selection that’s been hand picked to inform and entertain.
- Diverse Voices – The dominant Muslim narratives marginalise the Muslim female voice and key minorities. We seek to support and bring forward diverse and unheard voices from within the Muslim community.
- Stories of Hope – Mainstream Muslim narratives focus on conflict, clashes and problems. We believe that this needs to be brought into balance by focusing on creativity, cooperation and positive stories of hope.
- Transformation – We are creators. We don’t believe that anger and protest produce results, I believe that taking action by using our creativity will bring forth the changes we wish to see in the world.
- Mutual Understanding – Our content is for anyone, Muslim or not. We are not here to take sides, but to build friendship and understanding. Our content highlights our shared humanity.
- Children – Our children need to see positive Muslim role models. They need to grow up believing that they can make a positive contribution to society and look beyond the victim narrative.
- Supporting Creativity – Muslim creatives need financial support. Our business model is focused on supporting the production of new content. Muslim stories should be produced by Muslim writers, Muslim producers and Muslim platforms.
- Community – Globalisation is making the world smaller and we believe that sharing ideas helps connect people with shared values. We call our community – Global Urban Muslims.