When Fara Abdullah stepped into the tech industry last year, she was already a force to be reckoned with. Even more so now: Within her first year, she became Managing Director at Bitsmedia, an Asia-Pacific outfit that has fast become a player in the massive global Islamic economy. All of that would be impressive enough, but Fara’s just getting started. Bitsmedia has exciting plans to transform its signature product, MuslimPro—the world’s largest Muslim religious services app—into a lifestyle platform with a potential audience in the billions.
Fara’s accomplishments are particularly meaningful considering the serious underrepresentation of woman in tech, of Muslims in tech—and, most of all, of Muslim women in tech. Here in the United States, women hold less than one-quarter of tech leadership positions. As a Muslim woman in tech, she stands out as well. While it’s true that there are almost two billion Muslims worldwide, nearly 25% of the world’s population, and the global Islamic market will soon equal $2.5 trillion, that’s not proportionate. Not on the business end or on the consumer end.
Because Muslims are estimated to produce only 8% of global GDP.
Instead of looking at that negatively, though, Fara sees incentives and inspiration: There’s that much more room to grow, for the Islamic economy—and for Bitsmedia and Muslim Pro.
That confidence in the future, and eagerness to prepare for it, is rooted in her life’s journey, in the experiences she’d had, the lessons she’s learned, and the values she’s embodied.
Fara’s career took off when she was still a teenager. Keen to build her resume, she started working for a British-owned education publishing company, Pearson. Within a few years, she’d moved upwards, to a management role at a global food company. That experience was meaningful and challenging enough for her to continue there for a number of years. But in 2021, Fara jumped into tech. She was motivated by the challenge of a new field, for one.
But she was just as charged by a desire to give back to her community. A passion she’d felt all her life. Once she had enough experience under her belt, she made her move into tech, identifying a company and a platform that would allow her to pay it forward.
Fara became the first female Managing Director at Singapore-based Bitsmedia. It was unfamiliar territory at first, but Fara learned the ropes, fast thriving in her new position, where she was overseeing all aspects of the business. Not that it was always smooth sailing: In tech and in the Asia-Pacific digital economy, there were (and sadly still are) frequent misperceptions about women. And Muslim women. She found herself questioned.Listen to “My guest is Fara Abdullah managing director of Bitsmedia a name you need to know” on Spreaker.
Could she really steer the business in a growth-positive direction?
She’s tackled those questions not just by showing, but telling. Many of the women in tech, Fara believes, have unfortunately grown accustomed to the general lack of representation, and have grown to accept it. She believes that this can only be challenged by leading in business while also speaking out, calling in, and mentoring wherever possible.
For Fara, that broad approach includes being conscious about the kinds of business decisions she makes, the kinds of hiring criteria she sets forward, and the kind of values that undergird her vision. Where others see obstacles, therefore, Fara sees openings. In her short time overseeing Muslim Pro, she has helped the company reach remarkable heights. A feature to encourage users to read the Muslim scripture, the Qur’an, attracted 1.4 million participants, all of whom completed one reading. The pledge was connected to a fundraising drive, in partnership with UNICEF, to support the education of Yemeni and Indonesian children. That came alongside other substantial philanthropic efforts as well.
Those include supporting the emergency needs of Afghan children, flood-hit families in Malaysia, and STEM scholarships for low-income Muslim youth. All told, tens of thousands of dollars have been raised. The company has exploded in size, with 38 million new users in the last year. This has only convinced Fara there is more territory they can cover. More people they can help, uplift, and empower.
That’s not to say the digital world isn’t sometimes challenging for Muslims to navigate—a lot of online content runs contrary to Muslim values. But pioneers like Fara have responded to this landscape by creating and growing their own halal—Islamically compliant—answers to Muslim needs. For a community that might still be underperforming economically, but is also generally quite young, that suggests a bright future could be ahead.
In the last year, Bitsmedia’s signature product, Muslim Pro, has grown to a userbase of 120 million, who love the religious services, features, and utilities the app so expertly provides. In fact, Muslim Pro is already the world’s leading Muslim religious services app. But Fara knows there are hundreds of millions of more potential users. A brief look at Bitsmedia’s new strategy has us convinced those hundreds of millions will fast come onboard.
At the heart of this new strategy is an amazing transformation, one that will see Muslim Pro evolve from a sophisticated and popular religious services app into a total lifestyle brand. Muslim Pro won’t just connect and empower Muslims all over the globe, but will become a household name among Muslims the world over, providing a personalized stream of lifestyle content to engage, inspire, and support Muslim life—very broadly defined.
Starting with its Ramadan Reconnect campaign, Muslim Pro will invite users to reconnect with Muslim Pro, their faith, and their communities. Through a holistic experience stretching across the sacred month, which begins in early April, users will have access to a wealth of unrivaled content. That’ll include health and wellness, spiritual upliftment, religious reflections, recipes, and perspectives from Ramadan in every part of the planet.
Of course, the new Muslim Pro will still offer users the religious services they’ve long needed, Fara explained. But it’ll go well beyond, with streaming content, cultural productions, short and long-form stories and features, and a magnificently broad definition of health content, like spiritual fitness, exercise routines, mental resilience, nutrition and diet, even financial health and, in a nod to a concern dear to her heart, professional health, for Muslims seeking to build their skills. The potential here should not be underestimated. Years ago, major cultural producers in the West assumed that viewers everywhere were just like them.
The idea of films for specific demographics and audiences were dismissed–costing these studios the chance to engage with hundreds of millions, never mind the associated profits. As we’ve learned the value of diversity and pluralism, we’ve seen the literal dividends. (Consider, for example, how critics feared Black Panther would perform, versus how it cashed in.) And while media platforms and advocacy groups have started to focus on Muslim demographics, the volume of content is nowhere near the size of the audience.
While others dawdle on the sidelines, in other words, MuslimPro has a sophisticated vision ready to be unveiled.
And since recent cultural productions aimed at diverse audiences have proven they can attract attention from traditional demographics, this is a winning move on so many levels. To give Muslims the stories, ideas, and perspectives they’re clamoring for and deserve, while also opening the door to invite in users who might otherwise have no interest in an app that focuses specifically on religious particulars. It’s growing outwards without losing sight of the people who are their bread and butter. Not to mention their heart and soul.
This way, Fara believes, the journey she’s taken, the lessons she’s learned, and the accomplishments she can be so rightly proud of will find their way into the hands of hundreds of millions of very talented people all over the world. People who might be brilliant, creative, tenacious, and inspirational. But who’ve never known how to translate those qualities into outcomes. That’s what keeps Fara going day in and day out. Much of what she does is about serving her faith.
But she can only do it because she’s so grounded by her faith.
On a recent edition of my Politically Incorrect Podcast Fara and I talk about her role as a pioneer in her field and what we all need to know. Please listen to this special International Women’s Day interview with a truly dynamic young woman.Listen to “My guest is Fara Abdullah managing director of Bitsmedia a name you need to know” on Spreaker.
Here are a few highlights:
JW: It’s quite a moment for you; smashing stereotypes for the tech industry and Muslim women. How does that make you feel?
FA: It definitely has been! I started my career when I was just a teenager. I was keen to gain some real-world skills and jump start my working life right out of junior college (high school equivalent in the US). I took my first steps into the professional world by working at a publishing company, Pearson. Fast forward a couple of years, I had moved upwards into my first management role at a global food company. After nearly two decades, I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I pivoted to the tech industry. In 2021, I became the first female managing director of a Singapore-based tech company, Bitsmedia where I am tasked to oversee all aspects of the business.
It’s definitely surreal to be in this position and being interviewed by you; and I cannot lie that I am proud of how far I’d come. However, what would be more surreal is to not be asked about how it feels like to a female leader in tech or a Muslim female leader in tech – because it has become commonplace. We have a long way to go but I am sure that vision will materialize someday.
JW: You’re still quite new to the tech industry; what prompted you to make the switch?
FA: For me, tech has given me the opportunity to leverage the skills and expertise I’ve built up over the years. Making the switch was an eventful learning experience, and it is something that I would do all over again. I have also always looked to the tech industry as one that will propel us forward far into the future and I want to play a role in shaping that future. Even more so, guiding and shaping what it means to be a modern Muslim – one who recognizes how tech can connect us to our faith, augment our spirituality, and help us be better individuals not just for the Muslim community, but for society as well.
JW: You’ve picked a niche market. Why choose to work in Muslim tech, specifically? What is it about this market that excites you most?
FA: In general, the digital world can be difficult for Muslims to navigate as content that is not deemed permissible is widespread and easily accessible, but since 2015 many Asian startups are providing their own answers to Facebook and Google. Investors are increasingly interested in Muslim tech – companies and platforms that offer services.
Muslims represent almost 24% of the world’s population, but they are only generating 8% of the world’s GDP and from this you can see there is a mismatch of opportunities, not just in terms of business but also on the consumer side. For me, this is a great untapped opportunity to not only provide a relevant product to my community, but also empower them to be more digitally savvy and equipped with the latest technology.
JW: What has been the biggest challenge of working in tech so far?
FA: As one of the first few female Muslim leaders in the Asia-Pacific app space, I had to contend with several misconceptions about my abilities and identity. As a woman, I have been questioned about whether I am capable of leading teams and steering the business in the direction of growth. I know I am not alone in this — successful women are often questioned about their abilities, but I am determined to not let that deter me.
My personal goal is looking at promoting women’s involvement in tech. Most of the women in tech are unconsciously accustomed to a lack of representation and tend to be more accepting of it. We have to challenge the norm and push actively for change. For a start, we need more of those who have ‘made it’ to raise their voices and be the voice for other women who are trying – write about their own experiences, be involved in industry panels and discussions, and form online communities.
Some final background
Muslim Pro started as a mobile application with a simple idea: to provide accurate prayer times for the Muslim community. Over time, the app has grown with Muslims’ evolving needs, into a comprehensive mobile app that serves millions of users around the world offering comprehensive religious, lifestyle, and community features.
Its main features include accurate prayer times and tracker, Azan (call to prayer), full audio Qur’an, Qibla compass, Islamic Hijri calendar, Zakat (alms) calculation, as well as lifestyle inspired content such as our Inspiration and Community features and many more.
Muslim Pro has more than 120 million downloads in over 190 countries across users of all ages.
For more information, please visit https://www.muslimpro.com.