Interview Conducted by Raakin Hossain
How did you get the name Baba Ali?
The short version is that my kids call me Baba and my wife calls me Ali. The long version, I used to make board games. My legal name is too difficult for non-Muslims to pronounce so I came up with a simple name. Ali Baba was taken and I don’t want to be associated with thieves so I reversed it for Baba Ali.
What inspired you to make videos?
Baba Ali: I used to go to Jumuah (and I still go to Jumuah). Every time I went to Jumuah… there were so many issues that the Khateebs wanted to cover but weren’t able to. I was too young to approach the uncles with the issues, so instead of complaining, I thought I’d do something about it. One day, I went home and turned on my video camera. It started with a video about Jumuah and it blew up from there.
Do you consider yourself a comedian?
No, I don’t consider myself a comedian. A comedian’s purpose is to make you laugh. However, if my soul job was to make others laugh, I would not have been able to do a good job. I tend to add spice to the conversation and my videos are accidentally funny. This is just how I am.
Also, comedians lie in order to make others laugh. Every comedian I have met does not mind lying to make others laugh and I do not laugh. They think ends justify the means, and that is not completely something we should be doing.
The most difficult, difficult test that I’ve gone through is being a person on stage with a microphone in my hand, because everything I am saying is being written down. I have to make sure that everything I am saying is not lying, so I have to check my words as I am speaking. When I am on stage, there is no escape or backspace button. Once I say it, it’s out.
I have Shaitan whispering in one ear, and myself whispering in the other ear, and my mouth is speaking. When I’m amongst friends, it’s different. But in front of people, I have to ensure accuracy.
What message do you intend to send out to your viewers through these videos?
I am hoping a lot of these topics are taboo, that people are too self-conscious to discuss. Someone needs to initiate it. You’ll notice during a fundraiser, the first person who donates starts the domino effect. Same as in the classroom, when the teacher is taking questions. Similar with these videos, it is a way to discuss these topics to be discussed. As long as these topics are being discussed, even if it means I’ll be the scapegoat.
What is your passion in life and how did you discover it?
My passion in life is to take things and try to make them better. I used to be a type of Muslim that just used to complain, like a lot of the Ummah today. They see something wrong and just complain. I said to myself, I don’t want to complain anymore. I want to do something about it. There is a shortage of people willing to bring the effort. For every Muslim that is putting work in the community, there are ten others criticizing him while they themselves are not doing jack. Few people doing something about it. We don’t need critics. We need constructive criticism and effort behind those words. I know I’m limited because there are not many Muslims doing things in the area. So I turned on my video camera and broadcast to the Internet to over 12 million people.
What would you advise others who are trying to discover their passion?
I would say, try to see what works for you, what clicks. Passion is something that comes from inside, something that you are concerned about. When you are concerned about something, you will have the will to make a difference. Make dua, and doors will open that you’ve never even seen before. If Allah Ta’ala wants me to make money, money will come. I always have free videos that are free to watch.
We don’t ask people to join. We are the opposite. We don’t hide our product. We let it speak for itself.
What is your favorite part about your work with Ummah Films?
My favorite part is to get things off my chest. People want me to make videos for the sake of making it, like making videos about music or beard. I have to cover topics that aren’t being covered. At the same time, I do not make reactionary videos. They’ll say, Baba Ali we need you to react to this. However, what’s the point of reacting? We need a prevention approach, not a reactionary approach.
Let’s talk about topics people are too scared to talk about. Like domestic violence. Are these topics being covered? No. Is it relevant? Of course.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
HalfOurDeen. Eleven years ago, I was looking for my other half. I went on the present matrimonial websites and saw the generic questions of height and eye color. If I want to marry you, I need to know more than “she weighs 144 pounds.” That stuff is important, but realistically, your weight is going to go up and down. We ask, what type of personality are you looking for? What do you think the role of the husband/wife is? Everyone differs in the questions based on their perspective of Islam.
Also, other websites are completely public. What about a website is completely private? Only the people inside the website can see the opposite gender only. On other websites, everyone is visible and you can do same-gender searching. For us, it’s not even an option. Also, we make the price very affordable. Also, we do not have advertisements, yet we have 12 million page views in the past few years.
People are so inspired by the project; people join the staff in order to continue the program. Our next program at the MCA is being managed by a success story from HalfOurDeen. We also work on an honor and trust system. We pay you according to how much you consider you have earned as a staff member.
Who is your role model and why?
Obviously the Prophet Muhammad is the role model for us all. Before I converted, I would look towards other people based on their success. After I became Muslim, I realized the most successful person is Prophet Muhammad. Everyone else, who had the women and cars, I realized they do not have true success.
What is the biggest issue within the Muslim community?
The biggest issue within the Muslim Ummah, by far, is culture. Our culture is the poison that is making this Ummah bleed. Why is it so dangerous? Because people are in denial about this issue. They love their culture more than they love their deen. There is no such thing as a Pakistani Masjid or an Afghan Masjid. There is no such thing, it is just a Masjid. Before you know it, we’ll have a Pakistani way to pray or an Arab way to pray.
Judge me by what I do, not on the piece of land I was born.
Money does not corrupt people. It exposes them. All these things that Allah gives people, it is a test for you to test your true colors. Your Iman will show when Allah Ta’ala tests you.