By Amanda Khalil
Noor Saadeh embraced Islam in 1989. She was living and performing as a concert and opera singer in New York when she stumbled into a coffee shop run by an Egyptian Muslim.
After discussing pharaohs and pyramids they got around to talking about Islam, which she was embarrassed to admit that she knew nothing about. Six months later, she took shahadah and left the concert stage, deeming it an inappropriate career for a Muslim woman.
Islam so filled her heart and soul that she closed the chapter on thoughts of music and performance.
Some time later, after praying to find a good husband who would want to work for God and Islam, she married.
She and her husband had one child, a boy. Many of her friends were sad to see that they did not have more children immediately, but God has His plans, as she would soon see.
They settled in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, where her husband had obtained work after graduation. To their delight, there was a small group of Muslim families in the area. They collected everyone via monthly newsletters and Ramadan iftars. They then proposed to help their children learn about Islam, and so they started a small weekend Islamic class in their apartment.
Noorâ€™s music and drama background came in handy. She soon realized that kids learned quickly when facts were set to catchy tunes and rhymes. The children learned the names and times of prayers, how to make hajj, and more, relatively quickly with the help of some melodic encouragement. In â€œthe blink of an eyeâ€ the children were picking up difficult material. She had read the Holy Qurâ€™an so often in English that the stories of the prophets came to her quite easily, and this made for great storytelling. Her little charges sat rapt with attention.
Never having been a songwriter, she borrowed from the nursery rhymes that all Western kids seemed to know. They simply â€˜Islamizedâ€™ the texts (thinking of themselves as the Muslim Barney), but they never took it seriously, only intending to teach the kids about their beautiful faith and build their characters and identities as Muslims.
After some time, parents came to them saying, â€œNone of the audio products weâ€™ve had for our kids caught their hearts and ears as much as yours did. Why not make a professional recording? Surely thatâ€™s your background.â€
Thus, the spark of a new idea emerged. They contacted the well-established Muslim media companies. They were blessed with the good fortune to receive immeasurable support and encouragement. The labor of love to create their project began.
From the beginning, they had very concrete ideas of using childrenâ€™s voices in their recordings. Unfortunately, they ran into a few brick walls concerning this issue. â€œKids are a headache, costly, they need too much rehearsal time, etc.â€ people said.
But Noor was not convinced or dissuaded. Her husband asked, â€œHow expensive and difficult could it really be?â€ So they kept trekking along, and approached a high-tech studio in Detroit. A sound engineer kindly offered to explain the process to them, and suggested a more affordable studio.
They produced a lovely audio album called â€œWe Are Muslimsâ€ which they knew would be a hit if the right people would market and distribute it for them.
They literally begged and pleaded with all the media companies at the annual ISNA conference that year to just play it at their booth. There were no takers, and they began to despair, until a brother who sold Islamic trinkets offered to display and air the tape. He didnâ€™t offer much at his booth, but he had a dynamite location. Soon he was back asking them for more tapes since he had sold everything out within an hour of its playing! Subhanallah!
After astonishing public acceptance, her husband Ammar was encouraged to take it all a step further. He said to Noor, â€œWhy not a company JUST for Muslim kids? There are many Islamic media companies, but their focus included the entire Muslim community. Why not focus on just the kids?â€
So began their company, with a handful of the best books, audio, videos, and software they could find on the market, they went full speed ahead. Her husband went one day to incorporate the business.
Al Noor for Islamic Arts was the name, and over the years the company name evolved to Noorart, Inc.
Ammar had so many wonderful ideas that Noor humbly said, â€œHe has been the brains and inspiration behind all that we do. He puts my talent to work, writing and performing, but I have to admit that the basic premise for such products as the Qur`an for Little Muslims series, stories reflecting the meaning of the short surahs for kids, Razanne the Muslim Doll and We Love Muhammad were all his ideas…
â€œGiven time, health, finances and above allâ€¦ Allahâ€™s blessings, I pray that all his great ideas come to fruition for the sake of our ummah and its future.â€
From the start Noorartâ€™s goal has been to produce and offer the finest quality products, competitive with anything the West can offer, but instead pertaining to Islam, infused with their sincerity and enthusiasm for all things Islamic. Of course they wanted the products to be well-received, because this means the products are helping the American Muslims to raise their children.
NoorArtâ€™s products capture the hearts of children–color, fun, positivism and above all sincerity, something children respond to on a direct spiritual level.
Noorart, Inc has gone off in different directions. Along with the internet-based Islamic Media outlet, which now serves the entire Muslim family and community, Noorart is now one of the largest distributors of Islamic and Arabic curricula in North America.
Unfortunately, media piracy makes it impossible for the family to subsist on production alone. The school business gives them an opportunity for a sound financial base to help support production.
Noor left her musical world without so much as a backward glance, yet God returned her to it according to His plan. God gave Noor one son she said, â€œâ€¦to please my heart and give me first-hand experience in raising a child so that I would be able to help others. He knew, though, that as a truly full-time and involved parent, I would never have had the time to pour so much love and energy into Noorart with more than one child.â€
â€œAs a fledging singer, starving artist in New York, I often worked temp secretary jobs to support my career in the early days. Subhanallah, how all that experience came to be intensely beneficial as I helped my husband build our business! What does Allah say in the Qurâ€™an? â€œNever will the work of any righteous servant go unrewarded,â€ says Noor.
Muslims, know that God has a plan for all your talents and abilities and there are countless ways to serve Him, if that is your heartâ€™s desire.
As Noor so eloquently put it, â€œSo many times as converts we feel we must give up all those dunya habits and talents that are not compatible with our new faith, just as I gave up my classical music career.
â€œOthers often ask why Allah gives people various talents if they are not allowed to use them. In hindsight, I realized my passion was not so in performance and music as it was in delivering a message.â€
In a beautiful way, untouched by the plans of human beings, but in accordance with his own plan, God has allowed Noor to continue her passion, but with best of all messages, that of Islam.