A conversation with Hajera Memon, proud author and founder of Shade 7, a global publisher of premium novelty books that help children learn about Islam in a fun and exciting way…
What inspired you to begin writing children’s books?
After deciding to resign as a banking lawyer in the City, with the advice and support of a group of my closest, most beloved childhood friends, I began bouncing around ideas. I asked myself, if I could do anything in the world, what would it be? Who could I, as a Muslim woman, become that would bring the most benefit to the world?
My inspiration for writing and publishing children’s books came from a heartfelt desire to establish a long-term source of beneficial knowledge, which would inspire children to learn more about Islam and establish the roots of their relationship with God firmly.
I found it particularly striking to see how many children believe in Santa Clause/Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, and I’m sure plenty of other fictional characters. They believe in them strongly, and without even questioning.
This is where I saw a true need to plant the seeds of imaan (faith) from an early age in our children to nurture their faith in Allah.
"I thought to myself, SubhanAllah, if we could give a child the foundations of an unshakable belief and reliance on Allah by inspiring them with interactive, engaging stories and lessons from the Qur’an, then what a different society of strong, loving, kind and confident people we would have in the years to come, in shaa Allah!"
I set up Shade 7 Publishing, inspired by the hadiths, ‘There are 7 types of people shaded on the Day of Judgement’ and ‘When a person dies, all their deeds end except three: a continuing charity, beneficial knowledge and a child who prays for them’. Combined, this drove my ambition to publish uniquely aesthetic, engaging, novelty books to inspire and expand young minds, making faith fun and accessible for everyone.
How did it feel when you released your first book into the world?
This question certainly brings back memories from the Summer of 2014 SubhanAllah! It was actually a feeling of an overwhelming excitement, joy and nerves all in one, similar to how I feel each time a new book is due to arrive. I’d even say possibly like the apprehension new parents must feel – because they really do become your babies, in book form!
When my first book, a pop-up book on The Story of The Elephant, Surah Al-Feel arrived, it was just so special. To see the final finished book, with all the glistening foil elements and glossy pages, to the smooth gliding of the mechanisms on things like the kneeling elephant page, where the elephant Mahmud actually kneels in front of the Ka’ba with a pull tab, was just such a moment enveloped in relief, delight and immense gratitude, Alhamdulillah.
It was so important to me to make these Qur’an stories come to life in a visual, powerful and memorable way, to truly capture and convey the miraculous nature of the event in a way that children (and adults) could connect to it. Much more than just words and pictures on a page – it had to be different, and outstandingly so! Each element was thought about carefully and for me, to this day, the elephant kneeling by Allah’s command is the most powerful aspect of the story. What better way to convey this element than to actually have the elephant physically kneel through a pull-tab!
The Story of The Elephant is an important story for me because it is a reminder that in life, with faith, trust and reliance on God, anything is really possible, and I think that’s an important lesson to learn, whatever your faith.
I just pray that it’s something that continues to reach homes and hearts. I also hope the books are received with the very same intention and zeal that this whole adventure started with insha’Allah. Most importantly, of course, I pray that Allah swt accepts all our efforts. Ameen!
Being an author, where do you get your inspiration from?
This is something I have honestly come to realise is a huge blessing and gift Alhamdulillah. I’ve had people say some really sweet, funny and actually really rather strange things to me – something along the lines of…they wish they could just climb inside my brain…(!) – I wish I’d written it down now!!
"Inspiration just comes. I think I just see normal things but in a way they can be fun and used differently, like the colour changing Wudu bath book, for example. It’s a concept that’s been used on umbrellas and trainers and I just had the vision that it would make learning about Wudu really fun, engaging and hopefully memorable!"
I think things that inspire me are also very innovative creative things, various artwork – something will often catch my eye somewhere and I’ll almost store it in compartment in my mind, knowing that this could be exciting and fit really well somewhere along the line – and that’s literally how it’s happened so far, Alhamdulillah!
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I’ve always tended to be a workaholic – since the City days till now, things haven’t really slowed down, even despite lockdown Alhamdulillah!
One thing I’ve learnt to appreciate and prioritise as the years have gone by, is planning downtime and fitting in pockets in the diary on a regular basis to spend quality time with friends and family. It’s so important to be present for people, now more than ever, with life changing at an alarmingly fast pace. It makes you value these relationships, some built through childhood, in a totally different way.
At the same time, I’m also a real home bod, Alhamdulillah, so spending time catching up on my ever-growing pile of books is always something I look forward to!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I think everyone just assumes that children’s books are quick and easy to write and publish because they’re so small in comparison to novels. I think probably I assumed the same too, but it’s definitely not the case! It’s actually much harder to cut things down and make concepts which adults can grasp easily, but are friendly and accessible for a young audience too.
Do you have a personal favourite that you’d recommend to every little reader?
From my own collection? Each one holds a special place in my heart and naturally always will! The latest apple of my eye is no doubt our newest release, ‘Phases of The Moon’ – A tie-back book with sparkles and a glow-in-the-dark surprise.
The book includes beautiful Qur’anic verses and the dua said upon sighting the new moon. It also contains holographic foil and has a high-quality UV gloss finish across the various moon phases.
And the real unique gem with this one: once the young readers have finished marvelling at the shiny patterns, sparkles and surprise glow-in-the dark ending, the book can be tied back with its silky ribbons to make a stunning free-standing display for your home, classroom or library!
What’s the biggest motivator in your life?
Sadaqah jariyah – without a doubt. I’m not married and don’t have children and work has always been a dominant feature in my life since I graduated. The big picture vision behind Shade 7 was preciously and purposefully driven to be a source of something beneficial that I can leave behind, that will insha’Allah benefit generations to come. This is why I do what I do, because work for His sake can be a form of worship too – and what better way to spend our limited time here! I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to do this work Alhamdulillah and I pray Allah swt accepts it from me and all those involved. Ameen.
What’s a great habit you’ve picked up over the years that’s really helped you in this field of work?
I think not rushing things. I used to work in a very high-pressured environment, where deals had a tight turnaround time and you just had to go full force into getting transactions done.
Now, I find taking time to review things, pausing and sitting with things before making decisions really has its benefits. I find I’m actually inspired with more ideas and feel like I have some breathing space to really explore and bounce ideas around with myself, let alone others!
Do you hear from your readers much? What kind of feedback do you get?
Yes, all the time Alhamdulilah! That’s another strong motivator that keeps me going actually – seeing parents sending and posting photos of their children enjoying the books, interacting with them and then extending the learning through creative crafts and activities is so heart-warming and rewarding.
It’s often actually their parents rather than the readers directly, but feedback like their child learnt to do wudu with the Wudu book, or most recently a lovely surprise shout-out by none other than Shaykh Abu Eesa from Al-Maghrib Institute saying our Story of The Elephant, Surah Al-Feel pop-up book, was “a knock-out” and his youngest daughter reading it every single night! Alhamdulillah, such wonderful and humbling feedback and completely unexpected too!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to enter the writing profession?
Keep reading. Read a variety of things and not just what you’re interested in – familiarise yourself with as much as possible. Look around at publishers or journalists who publish the work you’d like to write and see what schemes and internships are out there. Practice and write for your own pleasure too – it all helps to build your skills and improve.
Let’s talk fashion..
What does modesty mean to you?
The first thing that comes to mind is actually character.
"Modesty in everything we do, from consciousness in controlling what we eat, to what we spend. A balance in not over indulging and staying generous and grateful."
What’s your favourite piece from the collection?
It’s the maxi dresses for me, they’re beautiful and practical and can be worn for so many occasions too!
Where can people find you online?