NicheHero Day 4 & 5: What I Learned at NicheHero

What Did I Learn from NicheHero?

Planning & Experience

I learned a lot about leadership, management, human nature and personality-types, motivating factors, and what to do and to avoid when launching a project. Muhammad Alshareef shared with us numerous priceless gems tested through his own real life experience and by far the biggest lesson I learned was that in order for me to do or achieve anything, in order to build a successful project or to leave a legacy, I will need to take the first step and be consistent in taking action. Good planning and getting the right people in place from the beginning can forestall the many pitfalls which can harm your project and organization.


I learned to be open to legitimate criticism but to not allow my critics, especially those whom I don’t value their opinion on an issue to become my boss driving and dictating my actions. And even though, I might not value your opinion on one issue and vice-versa that need not prevent us from being on amicable terms.

Personality Types

There’s a great difference between A-player type eagles, we fly high and solo, we can be difficult to get along with and stubborn. We don’t suffer mediocrity lightly in the areas where we excel and think everyone should be able to rise up to our level of work and commitment and excellence. When we are running our own projects we may not care to listen to other voices, especially those who do not have what we’re looking to achieve.

Human beings are programmed for social conformity, and we use many different techniques to influence others to maintain the status quo. When you step up or out in front, those who are doing less than you may feel bad and may use criticism as a way to make themselves feel better and to bring you back into line with them.

Step Away from the Cliche

Among the most cliche issues in the Muslim community are ragging on mosque leadership, the overused women are “fitna” line and way of thinking, and wanting to become a consultant or teacher. Many of those who say they want to consult are afraid of taking meaningful action on a project that will build their reputation and authority to claim the credibility necessary with their target audience.

Need for Balance

Working for Islam should not burn you out and if it does it’s probably because your intention is messed up or some other key area of your life is out of balance. When you have the correct intention and your life is in balance, working for the deen (religion) will invigorate and strengthen you.

Summarized Benefit

To sum up, get over your neuroses, stop making lame excuses, analyze the situation and consistently take action to implement the framework that has worked for other successful projects.

Was it worth it, should you attend NicheHero?

Yes, it was completely worth it, you should attend if given the opportunity. Let’s move beyond mindless criticism, frustration, and inaction and begin to work building something that we love to do that benefits others and is profitable.

What’s Next?

Follow me on my Facebook page to stay up to date with my progress on my NicheHero project and upcoming graduation.

Niche Hero Day 3 | Starting Again | Taking Action


I wrote another post about criticism for Day 3 called Let’s Be Real about Our Difference but it may be too critical even for me so I will probably need to sleep on it before I return to edit and post it, insha’Allah.

Take Action on Your Idea, Today!

The day began with a challenge from Muhammad Alshareef to me to not let the day pass without taking action on my idea. I put out some feelers on Facebook and received positive and encouraging responses. Whether I will continue to take meaningful action or procrastinate on the other steps remains to be seen.

I’ve taken more than 30 AlMaghrib seminars, some more than once, and have learned from various other sources over the years. This year will mark my third consecutive year attending Ilm Summit, quite bummed to be missing the first day of Ilm Summit due to the Saturday overlap with Niche Hero. I’m scheduled to leave Toronto for Houston on the first flight out Sunday morning so hopefully will only miss a few hours on Sunday.

For the last two years, Niche Hero has overlapped by a day with Ilm Summit and I’ve wondered why that was the case. So I bounced that question off of Amirah, a Niche Hero graduate from last year and she broke it down for me in a nice and succinct manner. She just said, “Ify, how many people here are really going to attend Ilm Summit other than you?” And that was a perfect reminder that we as human beings find it difficult to look beyond our own circumstances because we filter everything through our own limited lens and frame of reference.

I often get asked to share what I’ve learned from these classes but haven’t yet found a vehicle to transmit the knowledge in an effective manner. I remember during the fiqh of salah seminar with Yaser Birjas, I found the section on the timings of prayer to be among the most difficult and abstract for me. It wasn’t until after I left the classroom and looked up into the darkening sky before isha that I began to understand the various opinions marking the end of maghrib or the beginning of isha. It wasn’t until one day at the beach, looking at the Atlantic Ocean that I figured out how to use the signs in nature to find the qibla and not rely helplessly on my iPhone or compass.

I find the fiqh of tahara to be an extremely dry topic, no pun intended, but remembering hiking the Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls in Maryland reminds of the proof for those who say it’s permissible to eat the red bag of Doritos in contrast to those who say it’s impermissible. We learned a gem today from Yusuf al-Qaradawi who in response to those critical of his opinions makes dua to Allah by saying, “O Allah, do not deprive me of the reward of a mujtahid who makes a mistake.”

Everyone finds the traditional ways of open-ended learning to be painful especially if the instructor is ill-prepared or lacks a dynamic teaching style.

Two Blogs?

Taking a lesson from what we learned today, I’m going to merge my photoblog with this blog, which should prove easier to maintain, insha’Allah. An added benefit is that those posts and the larger effort behind them will bear my name. Why is that important? So that I don’t hide behind a username like I used to do here when I was known as Muslim Apple and also so that I hold myself accountable for the effort. Much harder to abandon a project bearing your own name than an anonymous effort.

The Globe and the Mail newspaper has shrunk

I grew up just across the southern border of Lake Ontario and back in my news-junkie days would often buy the Sunday Globe and Mail newspaper from the grocery store, which offered better international news coverage than my local paper. Outside of my hotel room, there was a courtesy paper and I immediately noticed how much smaller the paper was in terms of width and how much more vibrant to photographs are today. I asked a couple of people and they also confirmed that the paper had reduced its with.

Niche Hero Day 2 | Conquer Your Fears | Why Religious Muslims Should Get off the Sidelines

“Religious” Muslims often sabotage their own projects and leadership efforts by using the excuse that they fear riya (showing off) and want their deeds to be purely for the sake of Allah. But the truth is that this thought is itself a form of riya and no one benefits from our inaction. How many of us shut off our deepest hopes and dreams before they even start by using the fear of riya excuse?

If you saw someone driving at full-speed toward a cliff, you wouldn’t just watch contentedly from the shoulder waiting for them to crash and burn. You’d try to help them. I was sitting next to a sister and her cup of almonds fell off the table and instinctively I reached out my hand to try to catch the cup before it spilled. I didn’t fight the impulse or pull my hand away wondering if I or anyone else would think I was showing off. But in other actions, which are of much greater benefit so many of us are comfortable sitting on the sidelines not taking any action using our riya excuse as permission for inaction.

And while we are not taking action, we cede the sphere to other voices who may not share the same moral compass. I remember Sh. Waleed Basyouni mentioning how it’s important for pious Muslims to get involved in society. If the good people all stay at home, hiding behind this or that tradition, we shouldn’t complain when the worst of people are put in positions of power and authority over us.

My fear is not of the critic trying to drag me back down to their level of inaction by questioning my intentions or by name-calling. My fear is that I will be asked on the Day of Judgment why I didn’t do more, why I didn’t live up to my full potential with the blessings I was given. Those who can do and those who cannot make excuses and criticize you.

So will you be one to take action?

Marianne Williamson: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Niche Hero Day 1 – Let Go of Emotional Baggage, Pack Lightly

Before leaving for Niche Hero 3.0 in Toronto, I stayed home instead of attending a kayaking trip with friends in order to clean and organize room. That was critical for me to release the negative energy that had built-up in my room and in my mind. The process was therapeutic and not only did I feel increased energy but I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Sunday, at the airport and again on Monday while making my way to NicheHero location, I felt weighed down my roller travel duffel bag as I shifted from bus to subway to light rail streetcar. I began to think of how the emotional and mental baggage we carry with us each day weighs us down and prevents us from living our dreams. If we find that balance between the spiritual, emotional and physical self, we build a foundation from which to launch our “Wow!” ideas. And even if you don’t develop a “Wow!” idea, not carrying around so much unnecessary baggage will make your life easier.

At least two people told me that I travel lightly, I packed 1 medium-sized roller duffel and one backpack for 16 days, yet I think I could lighten the load even more.