Take a moment to think: when you hear ‘Muslim’, where does your mind wander off to? What do you see when you search ‘Muslim’ on Google? Men with long beards, women covered in black burkas, pictures of explosions... somehow, even with a population of nearly 2 billion people, it feels like the Muslim public image and narrative have been dictated without them even having a voice in the matter.
I appreciate that many humans do have diverse friend groups, and when we think of Muslims, our minds instead wander to thoughts of savvy entrepreneurs like Melanie of Haute Hijab and Suzy of Whymzical Wijabz, to fashion editors like Mariana of The Demureist and fashion bloggers like Hafsah Mohammed, and also to folks like the tech entrepreneurs launching Halal Chef, and the founders of GEN M.
So how are three serial entrepreneurs challenging perceptions, changing the world, and playing a role in revolutionizing the narrative for generations to come? Through GEN M, the BuzzFeed for Muslim millennials, that aims to shed light and champion the stories of incredible people, who are doing incredible things, and just happen to be Muslim. Their mission:
“We aim to unify people across borders, backgrounds, and cultures to cultivate a cohesive community, and in doing so, create a bridge that fosters greater awareness and understanding of Muslims throughout the world. We are the cure for Muslim bigotry.”
GEN M is founded by Spotify and AirBnB alums Rayyan Islam, Rehan Azhar and Omar Hilmy ― serial entrepreneurs hailing from New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles who were tired of seeing the negativity that has plagued the web about Islam and Muslims, and had to do something about it. I spoke with Rayyan Islam, who is an angel investor and Spotify alum, and asked him about his personal catalyst moment for the drive to create GEN M. Rayyan explained to me:
"Most people don't know what it means to grow up Muslim in the US. It seemed every other day, there would be something negative about Muslims on the news; this has continued throughout most of my childhood, college experience, professional life, and even today. Sometimes I'd hear about a friend or family member harassed, beaten, or their masjid defaced. Frustrated, about a year ago, I decided to call up some of my fellow Muslim friends to catch up, perhaps it was my way to make some sense of what’s going on, and seek an outlet for my frustrations. We gathered at a restaurant to catch a premiere league game.
On the TV was the nightly news with Islamophobia blaring across headlines, and as I took a moment to look around the table at my peers and friends, I had a sudden epiphany ― at my table was a producer of an Oscar nominated film, a friend working on self-driving cars at Google, a venture capitalist investing in the future of technology, a college dropout tech entrepreneur building new education systems for children in war-torn Middle East, a reporter at the BBC, a friend who just sold his business to AirBnB, a med school dropout turned comedian, a woman at the UN focused on children's health in Africa, a cardiologist, a sports agent that works with Europe’s top footballers, and a lobbyist championing for women rights and equal pay... all incredible men and women doing incredible things. The denominators being: we were all under the age of 30, and we all happened to be Muslim.
And I wondered, why aren't these stories told? When you think of Muslims, why doesn’t your mind think of these incredible people? And that’s when I realized just how much the media can shape public opinion ― and that the public narrative for Muslims has been dictated without us even having a seat at the table. At that moment I decided I had had enough. I decided it was time to change the narrative. And GEN M was born."
Rayyan, Rehan, and Omar see a substantial opportunity to build a juggernaut business that spans across content, commerce, and data, with the goal of transforming the narrative of what it means to be a Muslim in 2017 and beyond. This vast opportunity and potential to scale quickly should come as no surprise, considering that that by 2050, Muslims will make up a quarter of the world’s population, and the current Muslim lifestyle industry marketplace is already worth $2.6 trillion.
GEN M is a media company that seeks to empower, celebrate, and inspire a generation of Muslim millennials. GEN M’s focus is not on the religious aspects of being Muslim, but on revolutionizing the narrative of what it means to be ‘culturally Muslim’. GEN M co-founder Rayyan Islam explained what he sees to be the current tipping point for Muslim millennials:
"The combination of a highly polarized political climate and influential Muslim minorities like comedian Hasan Minhaj, DJ Khaled, Star Wars actor Riz Ahmed, World Champion Boxer Amir Khan, and reporter Noor Tagouri becoming icons of pop culture and breaking stereotypes has invited sheer numbers of globally minded, highly educated, entrepreneurial, and digitally native Muslim millennials to enter the dialogue and spotlight. Strengthened by their faith, they are well connected, capable, and unapologetically vocal about who they are and what they stand for. Fearless in their refusal to accept the status quo, Muslim millennials are determined and poised to have a large impact, and what an impact it is going to be."
See for yourself what GEN M has to share, and join us in aiming to unify people across borders, backgrounds, and cultures to cultivate a cohesive community. I encourage you to take charge of your life and challenge your own personal world perspective. When we meet each other, we quickly realize that country of origin, religion, skin color, sexuality, language, etc, is only the first layer to a human, and that we are all alike. Never give up and challenge yourself to seek out diverse, ambitious adventures that will push your life (and our world) to limits you’ve never imagined.