We discuss his journey as a tech founder, lessons from building a digital community and practical tips on how to develop a relationship with the Quran. Read and enjoy below!
1. In previous interviews you’ve mentioned that the idea for Quran Club started with a WhatsApp group. Tell us about the journey over the past 4 years?
Quran Club started as a WhatsApp group with 20 friends. It was inspired by a Productive Muslim article that encouraged people to set up a group to read the Quran together. My initial reaction was ‘Oh no, not another WhatsApp group,’ but I didn’t like that reaction in myself especially when it related to the Quran, so I volunteered to take the lead. After starting it with 20 friends we invited more people and soon that group became 20,000 people.
WhatsApp is not very sustainable for large groups so we asked for donations to build the app and people were extremely supportive. The app went viral with the initial pilot and we had 60,000 downloads. But, the important lesson is that virality can kill you if it’s too quick and you’re not capable of coping with the scale. We decided to rehire and bring people in who understood the journey of growing an app and how to deal with large volumes and scaling. Alhamdulilah, we relaunched in January and we’ve had 300,000 downloads in the last month which is amazing growth.
2. Sometimes people with great ideas struggle with following through till execution. What helped you to persist with building Quran Club and what would your advice be for someone who is in that position?
Circumstance is really important and Alhamdulilah I was blessed to be in the right time and the right place and a lot of it is by the grace of Allah swt. For anybody who wants to do something it is important to think it through but also not to overthink it. I’ve seen people who haven’t thought about their ideas properly and you can see that it’s not going to last. On the other hand, I’ve also seen people who get hindered by overthinking their work and as a result the work ends up sitting on the backburner for years.
In Arabic, they say ‘fi al haraka baraka’ which means ‘in movement there is blessing’ so my main advice is to get started.
Looking back at my journey, there are also a couple of things I would do differently. People always want the glitz and glam but I would recommend to start with something really simple that you can do by yourself for free or at very low cost. If that idea works, you can progress from there as opposed to trying to go for the perfect solution. Even when you launch the product there are things you’ll have to fix so don’t get too caught up on perfection.
Finally, get used to the idea of working hard. Nothing is easy or 100% enjoyable and a lot of hustle is involved. You have to be prepared to put in the hard work especially because there are lots of boring and unappealing parts of the job but someone has to do it.
3. Quran Club has a lot of unique features including donating money to a charity by watching a short advert or joining a live khatam (my personal favourite!). As the creator of the app, what’s your favourite feature?
I’ve always loved the live Khatam feature so I’m like you because I think it’s really innovative in the way that people can read the Quran together at any instant. We’re looking to build that social element so we can connect more people to read the Quran together. But I’m also a bit of a stats nerd so I love looking at different countries and cities to see who’s reading the most. The advert donation feature is great as well because it opens a way of giving to charity that people have never had before.
What I love the most even though it’s not a feature, is the overarching theme of connecting people through the Quran.
My job now is to encourage more people to read the Quran and I couldn’t be more blessed or privileged to have that as a motivator.
4. The app is harnessing technology to create an online community where people read more Quran. What do you want the impact to be offline?
Fundamentally, I believe that more people reading the Quran is transformative and intrinsically good. So on the first front there is a spiritual element that we don’t necessarily see, but we know that if people turn to Allah and turn back to Him, there will be a change in our communities. What I also really want is for people to be connected with the Quran in a way that they haven’t been before. Not just with one another but between themselves and the book. It’ll be great for the app to facilitate the means for people to have access to knowledge and tafsir that helps them to connect better with the Quran.
My hope is that if we build a community reading the Quran, we can make the Quran the centre of our community.
We have lots of cool things planned in the future and it becomes exciting when people are able to connect offline, beyond borders, through the Quran and the app.
5. What has helped you to develop a relationship with the Quran/ what is the best advice you’ve received on developing a relationship with the Quran?
The best advice is to just read it. It sounds simple but it’s amazing how many people don’t do it or overthink things. I know a lot of people want to understand the meaning and I strongly encourage they do but you have to start by reading.
The first word revealed to the Prophet wasn’t ‘study’, ‘learn’ or anything else, it was ‘Iqra’, read. There is a reason this was the first word because reading is the first step to accessing the Quran. One good advice I was taught by my teachers is that there’s different levels of reading the Quran. On the first level is the basic reading and just getting through it and we know there is blessing in the action because the Prophet peace be upon him told us that that the reward for every letter recited is multiplied by ten.
There are spiritual elements involved in the process of reading that we don’t understand.
There is also an important analogy for us in the ayah when Allah commands, ‘Iqra bi-smi rabbika lladhi khalaq’, meaning ‘Read in the Name of your Lord who created’ (96:1). Creation is to take nothing and make it into something and similarly, Allah can turn our reading from what we consider to be nothing and make it into something. The ayah that follows says, ‘Khalaqa ‘-insana min ‘alaqi,’ – He created man from a clinging clot (96:2). So the creation can either be instant or gradual like the foetus grows in the womb but change is inevitable, and it will happen.
The second level of reading is to read with meaning and understand what is being said. This is surface level and you’re getting through volumes of meanings as opposed to the depth. The third level of reading is to reflect on a single verse, a single word or even a letter and understand why Allah has chosen that word and this is when things get enjoyable.
Quick caveat: Tafsir is meant to be accessible to everyone but we should also know our remit and what we have the ability to do. I would discourage going into the legal implications of a verse you’re not qualified to interpret and to focus on the spiritual reflections instead. Lastly, always have a teacher you can consult with.
6. What is your number one advice for someone who struggles to read the Quran consistently?
My first advice is to make the most of micro moments where you’re in between things like waiting for someone to arrive or commuting on the tube. Read the Quran in the time you would normally use to check your notifications. Even if you only read a verse or two, by using those moments you’ll find yourself whizzing through the Quran.
The second advice which is something I do, is to pray qiyam after Isha and recite the Quran using my mushaf or my phone (make sure to put in on airplane mode). This isn’t valid for all schools of thought but in the Shafi madhab which I studied; you can carry the Quran when you’re praying. There’s definitely a different sweetness to reciting the Quran in Salah because you’re aware that you’re standing before Allah. The last advice is that once upon a time I couldn’t read the Quran fluently and I went through the entire Quran about four or five times just listening to a reciter and repeating the ayahs after them before I became fluent. On the app, you can listen to different recitations, follow along and try to improve your recitation that way as well.
7. What ayah or surah in the Quran has had the most impact on you?
The ayah I have on my wall says,
“Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear.”Surah Baqarah: 286
It has been an incredibly difficult journey with the Quran club and I’ve stretched myself in ways I never knew I could. But I know that Allah hasn’t given me anything I can’t cope with and it is one of the beautiful things that keeps me going.
This isn’t my book or my words, these are Allah’s words and I’ve been given the honour to get more people to read it. And if people are reading more Quran that is a beautiful thing. Allah has chosen me to do this in the sense that I’ve been given the honour to build the app and He wouldn’t have given me this task unless He knows I can manage or cope with it.
Everyone is facing different types of difficulty and whatever difficulty you’re facing is the one Allah has chosen for you because He knows you can bear it.
8. How do you take care of your mental health and overcome challenges?
There have been times where thing have been difficult or stressful and it has manifested in my skin, but I didn’t realise it until I met a friend who was going through the same thing. I’m the kind of person that takes things in and doesn’t express it a lot which is not healthy. But communication is good and Alhamdulilah, my wife is an exceptional human being and someone I can confide in and share a lot with. I also have a good group of friends and they have been supportive in ways I can’t describe. They’re always available for me to speak to and that has been incredibly beneficial and meaningful to me Alhamdulilah.
It’s also important to have varied activities, and outside of Quran Club I teach and do different things that help me to get out. I also try to take breaks and factor in time off. More recently I’ve had to take a step back from certain commitments to help me manage my time and energy.
9. What dua are you constantly making for users of Quran club?
My dua is for Allah swt to put His love and love for His Messenger (peace be upon him) in our hearts. I pray for Allah to bring us together through the Quran and make it a means for us to connect with Him and to one another Ameen.
10. What can we expect from Quran club in the future and what is your vision for the app and the community it is nurturing?
This is a big question and I alluded to parts of our vision earlier. We want every Muslim, everywhere to read Quran every day through the app and use it to find everything thing they need. We also want to serve Muslim scholars and revive Islamic education and tafsir scholarship to the heights it reached before and make it accessible for people in a new modern age.
Our ambition is to become a tech giant that is serving the community.
There’s a social purpose with what we’re trying to achieve. Ultimately, our work is about helping people to connect with each other through the Quran and doing good for the world and society.
You can download Quran Club on the Android and Apple store. You can also donate your Zakah/ Zakat Al-Fitr through the app and use their automated Laylat Al-Qadar feature to donate to charity during the last 10 days.
Talha Ghannam is the Founder and CEO of Quran Club, the world’s first social media for Muslims, building a community online by reading and completing the Quran together. He studied BSc Mathematics and Economics at the London School of Economics (LSE) where he also served as the Islamic society president. Following his graduation, Talha went on to work as a strategy consultant at L.E.K. consulting, one of the leading firms in the city of London. He has also been an active member of the Muslim community for a number of years, serving on a number of projects both locally and nationally including Centre for Islam and Medicine, FOSIS and his local community in Solihull.