Adam is the Kufi-wearing puppet star of the Adam's World children's video series. He is to Muslims what Mickey Mouse is to Disney and Larry the Cucumber is to evangelical Christians. But Adam is only part of the arsenal Abdul Malik Mujahid is using to help Muslims keep the faith. His multimedia company, Sound Vision, is a bit of Disney, PBS, Microsoft, and Oprah all rolled into one.
Want to learn the Qur'an in Arabic? Sound Vision has a CD-ROM for you. Hip to Islamic folk music? This is the place. Wonder how to plan a Muslim wedding? Check out the Sound Vision website, where you'll find oodles of advice on everything from Islamic prenuptial agreements to seating arrangements for non-Muslim guests.
There are also documentaries, some controversial such as the "Ideal Muslim Husband," in which men declare that women shouldn't do all the housework. And, for a dose of daily inspiration, Sound Vision offers a chance to tune in to Islamic radio. No topic appears too sensitive to tackle, be it sex, divorce, or finances. In Sound Vision chat rooms, a teenager insists good Muslims don't attend the prom. A man at wit's end with his wife spills out soap opera details of his troubles. A woman on the verge of marriage asks whether French kissing is allowed. "I'm sorry if this grosses anyone out," she writes. "There is no shyness in matters of religion," says a response.
Of course, there are meatier chats about public schools, the media, and battling pornography.
Founded 12 years ago, Sound Vision is the oldest and largest Muslim multimedia company in the United States. While its vast array of products may suggest an empire, the truth is that this kind of Muslim venture is still in its infancy. With merely a fragment of the budgets of big conglomerates, Mujahid is trying to teach Islam in all the techno-savvy ways at the fingertips of Americans.
But unlike the big guys, Sound Vision must carry the burden for concept, production, design, packaging, sales, marketing, technical support, and public relations all by itself. "Marketing is a major challenge because Muslim communications doesn't exist in this country," said Mujahid, president and founder of the company. Still, every year his company grows by 20% to 30% and produces six to nine new products.
Because it's too expensive to advertise in mainstream media, Sound Vision markets in Muslim stores, mosques, the internet, and by direct mail. Sales catalogs are sent to 200,000 U.S. households. In Muslim countries, more than 17 television stations are vying for the rights to air Adam's World. "We thought we were producing these things for the Muslim community in North America, where Muslims are a minority," said Mujahid, 48, an imam who came to the United States from Pakistan in 1981. He earned a degree in political science from the University of Chicago, then learned about television production at the Chicago Access Corp.
Started as a nonprofit, Sound Vision now operates as two entities. Sound Vision Foundation was created as an independent charitable organization that now owns majority shares in a for-profit company known as SoundVision.Com. Mujahid started his business in his home but now has two offices in a dark-brick building just west of Chicago's downtown loop. A few years ago, the area was notorious for prostitutes, bars, and drugs. Now it's being revitalized with high-priced lofts. Oprah Winfrey's television studio is down the street.
A hodgepodge of videos, cassettes, CDs, and books are cluttered on shelves and on desks in Sound Vision's basement office. Along one wall, two workers man phone lines for customers calling in catalog orders. Sometimes children call asking for Adam.
One of the workers, Kamaluddin Ahmad, came to Sound Vision as a volunteer eight years ago and never left. "It gave me satisfaction to work for something with some cause," he explained. Altogether, Sound Vision employs 13 people full-time at offices in Chicago and outside Toronto. On a rainy summer day, eight people are on hand. Five men, including Mujahid, are casually dressed in khaki pants and open-neck white shirts. The women wear dresses and hijabs (veils).
Upstairs, the good-natured Mujahid sits behind a computer in a spacious room with brick walls and hardwood floors. His desk is a long table without drawers. Nearby is a large rug where he leads his staff in daily prayers. Two others work close by; there are no private offices. "This is a humble operation," Mujahid said.
From a computer next to a kitchen area, Itrath Syed produces RadioIslam.com, a Sound Vision radio venture on the internet. She oversees a daily 20-minute program called "Living Islam." The radio site also features interviews and reports from around the world. Children can listen to stories, and adults can listen to recitations of the Qur'an. "It's like a variety show," said Syed, 28, a former counselor for battered women who jumped at the chance to work for Sound Vision. "It's the next best thing that's going to happen," she said about the company. "Sound Vision is the real pioneer in this field. I'm thrilled to be part of the Muslim experience of that. Here we have a chance to create things that have never been done before for Muslims."