An interview with Bitsmedia’s Nik Emir Din conducted by Saeed Khan
There are many reasons to be excited about Bitsmedia, a Singapore-based tech company that has made a name for itself with Muslim Pro – a faith app catering to over 120 million users worldwide. Two of those reasons? Nik Emir Din and Fara Abdullah, young and energetic Muslim leaders, are Bitsmedia’s new co-CEOs. From a modest start-up that’s become one of the world’s largest faith-based apps, Bitsmedia’s journey is remarkable. Not only considering where Bitsmedia is planning to go next. But considering where Bitsmedia has come from.
In 2020, Bitsmedia was left stunned when an investigative piece alleged that Muslim Pro user data had been sold to the US military by a third-party handler. But Bitsmedia did not sweep this crisis under the rug. They spent enormous amounts of time and energy doing what was necessary to win back the trust of tens of millions around the world had placed in Muslim Pro. Today, Bitsmedia is stronger than ever—and making waves once more. With Fara and Nik at the helm, it won’t be long before Bitsmedia is a household name across the Muslim world.
Because, very much as we might expect, Nik and Fara have big plans for Bitsmedia’s future.
Exploring the possibilities ofa media and entertainment service, the company is making a quantum leap forward for the online Muslim world.
For Nik, though, media and entertainment isn’t just an outstanding opportunity to represent Muslim communities through Bitsmedia. It’s a chance to empower them as well.
As a Muslim connected to his faith and faith community, Nik finds the lack of Muslim representation disheartening. Though they make up almost a quarter of the world’s population, Muslims remain almost invisible in the entertainment industry. While a few Muslim stars like Riz Ahmed and Hasan Minhaj have made undeniable progress, Muslims worldwide have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. Countless stories are waiting to be explored.
Technology, Nik understands, has been instrumental in keeping Muslims spiritually connected during the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to play a role in enabling young Muslims to access their faith wherever they are. But tech also provides a means for platforms like Bitsmedia to elevate Muslim voices, perspectives, and profiles globally. Especially in arts, culture, and entertainment. We know, because Nik told us.
We had the chance to get Nik away from his packed schedule. We talked to him about his time at Bitsmedia, how his faith informs his success—and what we can expect to see in the future.
Congratulations on the new job, Nik! What’s been going on over at Bitsmedia since you and Fara took over?
Alhamdulillah! Thank you so much. The last few months have been a real ride!
There’s a lot of hustle and bustle at Bitsmedia’s headquarters here in Singapore. We’re currently working on some very exciting new projects. Fara and I are ready to take things to the next level with Muslim Pro. I’m thrilled to announce that the app will be expanding into a fully-fledged Muslim lifestyle accompaniment. We’re going beyond ritual and faith, while keeping them at the heart of Muslim Pro, to create a holistic way to experience faith through tech. Not just through prayer, but also through where and what we eat, what we do in the day, the films we watch. And there’s a lot to be excited about.
For example, we recently introduced Streak Rewards which is currently being rolled out in phases to our users. This new feature encourages our users to keep track of their daily ibadah or religious practices. Just by logging in to the Muslim Pro app and checking in daily for prayer timings, finding Qibla, or reading the Qur’an, they may receive rewards in the form of premium subscription access. What’s more, the rewards can also be shared with friends and family to encourage them to work on their daily rituals as well.
But that’s not all. There’s “Ramadan Reconnect,” our Ramadan campaign for 2022/1443H.
Like everyone else, Muslims around the world suffered a long, challenging period of isolation, disconnecting them from the disciplines and experiences that give their lives so much meaning. The idea behind “Ramadan Reconnect” was to rekindle the connections that matter most – allowing Muslims anywhere and everywhere to make the most of a very special month. With “Ramadan Reconnect,” we’re reconnecting the global Muslim community to its spiritual roots. To its spiritual foundations. To make this Ramadan all it can be. So, this Ramadan, we invite users to reconnect with their faith and to Muslim Pro through a holistic experience for users to observe and experience the 30 days of Ramadan through our many different content and spiritual offerings (food, health, soul, conversations, etc.). And for our users to get the best experience they can with our app for their daily ibadah, we are giving our users globally a 50% off our annual premium subscription.
And that’s not even the biggest piece of news.
What’s the biggest news at Bitsmedia? Let’s hear more about it!
I’m excited to share that Bitsmedia is all set to make its mark in arts, culture, and storytelling! That’s all I’ll say for now. Don’t want to ruin any surprises. But this, combined with our Ramadan Reconnect campaign, really mark a new turning point for Muslim Pro and Bitsmedia. Faith is at the heart of what we do, but we realize that faith. That’s what makes this particular lifestyle brand revolutionary.
Exciting times ahead, to be sure and I hope that our Muslim community is excited for it just as we are.
Muslim Pro could do a lot to build understanding across populations and cultures. That’s a lot of responsibility. Would you say that’s something you’re focused on?
A lot more needs to be done to accurately to represent the diversity of the global Muslim community. Part of what’s driving Bitsmedia to expand beyond Muslim Pro as our Muslim lifestyle brand is the lack of representation our extremely diverse community suffers.
Even in what passes for Muslim entertainment, there is a great deal of focus on the Middle East and South Asia, and not much else, to be honest. We can definitely do more to make sure Muslims all over the world have the chance to tell their stories – for them to be heard and be seen. Take, for example, the entertainment industry at large. The characters and stories we see in so much of what’s sometimes called mainstream media aren’t necessarily relevant to many, and maybe most, Muslims.
That sounds like work you’re doing involves quite a bit of responsibility, doesn’t it?
Technology is one of many ways the Muslim community can be empowered. It’s a powerful tool for inclusivity and visibility, after all. But like any tool, it depends on how you wield it and what you wield it for. We are responsible for ensuring that our users are heard, represented, and reflected in ways that are meaningful, substantive, respectful—and powerful. Our new media and entertainment service will develop content and storylines that connect with Muslim audiences and concerns.
It will be content that can move them, provoke them, inspire them, and engage them, but without undermining their deepest beliefs and core commitments; we are setting out content with a purpose.
Responsibility is a theme that runs throughout your work. It also brings us to the elephant in the room. Muslim Pro, and Bitsmedia, received a lot of press attention with an unfortunate data sharing incident back in 2020. Tell us more about that.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We were just as shocked and angry as anyone else when we first read that one of our data partners was allegedly selling our users’ location data to the US military.
As a Muslim, I sadly understand and emphatise with the fear of being policed or scrutinized, although I could only imagine what our users actually living through that may have felt when the news broke. That’s why we took immediate action to terminate our relationship with all data partners straight away after learning about the allegations to ensure that our users could have a peace of mind when using our app.
We never share non-anonymized data (such as names or contact details) and continue to strictly follow all industry-standard guidelines to protect our users’ data. Additionally, the basic features of the Muslim Pro app are available without signing up or logging in. This means we require little to no data for processing. Nevertheless, we decided to go that extra mile, and implement a more robust approach to secure all our data. Soon after the allegations were raised, we engaged and were audited by a major cybersecurity organization and continue to have regular audits of our systems.
We have always complied with global data privacy laws and regulations, but clearly more needed to be done. More still needs to be done. We in the tech industry need to work together to create a standard for privacy and protection, so we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. We’ve talked with our peers about regulatory bodies and certifications, but it will take some time for the industry to agree on and implement a solution. I’m hoping it’s sooner rather than later. That said, it’s always something we’ll consistently work towards, push for, and advocate on behalf of.
What would you say about the issue of trust for Muslim Pro users?
Trust is something that needs to be built, and more importantly, it is something that brands have to continuously work on. Even when all is well and good, trust cannot be taken for granted and we learnt that the hard way. For us, having the Muslim community represented and empowered by our products remains our number one priority. For us to be able to do that best, we need to work with our users—not only responding to their needs as service providers, but to also share in their concerns and experiences as allies. The steps we took after the incident, and everything after, are made with that in mind.
By opening the lines of communications with our users, we can make our relationship with them stronger than ever and we will strive to ensure that our proximity with our community of users is never too far.
Coming back to Muslim Pro’s lifestyle brand. There has been a surge of Muslim-centric lifestyle services in recent years, so what makes this unique?
Our greatest strength is how adaptable Muslim Pro has proven to be. As we work towards growing Muslim Pro’s faith-based features through initiatives like Ramadan Reconnect and Streak Rewards, we will also ensure that we never lose sight of the big picture and our purpose as a brand and company.
We recognize that there’s a great deal of demand, especially among young Muslims, for content that is truly reflective of who they are and how they live. Although we started out with more spiritually-oriented content, we have been able to easily branch out to lifestyle services. Because faith remains a core component of Muslim Pro.
Everything we’re currently developing, whether it involves entertainment, food, or socializing, revolves around our adherence to our deen. Tech is a vital part of the modern Muslim’s lifestyle, but it isn’t the foundation. It’s a means, not an end. The end, of course, is what we believe in, who we want to be, what kind of people we want to grow into.
Where does one start when coming up with a new tech service? What goes on the drawing board? Where do you get inspiration?
First, as with all offerings, there is a need to look at the problem statement. What that means for us is looking into what our Muslim community needs that is not being met. That’s always the underlying question. We have to be really intimately acquainted with the community. At the end of the day, working in religious tech means what you provide will have emotional and spiritual value to your users.
Then comes the fun part: We sit down with the department, and ask ourselves “what makes this new and unique? What would get our users excited to use it?” It’s a pretty surreal experience, because everyone from our market research team to the engineers gets to be a part of this very community-oriented process. We all know that we have a job at hand, but also a responsibility.
How do you navigate differences in Muslim understandings and practices? Those can be very challenging and sensitive realities.
Diversity in views and thoughts within Islam is apparent, For instance, we do need to be mindful that there are pockets of the community that are told using technology as an accompaniment to faith isn’t permissible. I respect that, even if I don’t agree with that. At the end of the day, it is important to understand that Islam is not a monolith and there is a diverse range of thoughts, positions, and jurisdictions within Islam and no one product or service can meet all those needs or expectations. Also, our position has never been about force. We simply focus on providing the best product, service, and experience to those who see value in what we are striving for. If anything, we just hope that people are able to see what we do—and, more importantly, to see why we do what we do. Through Muslim Pro and Bitsmedia, we are part of a really promising movement that is using tech to enhance faith.
Because tech can make you a stronger, better, more empowered Muslim. We’ve seen it and heard it time and again through feedback and reviews from our community – our app, Muslim Pro, gives our users real encouragement to work on their daily ibadah. It gives them solace in tough times through the words of the Qur’an and our blessed Prophet (PBUH). And that inspires the new products we’re planning.
With our upcoming new product and service that provides a platform for wholesome Muslim entertainment, I know that there’ll be something for everyone. From content that tells the stories of our community, to documentaries detailing our history – our ummah is a beautiful blend of cultures, ideas, and values, and we want to capture it all.
With technology, we can. We hope to connect the global Muslim communities and bring it right to you in your pocket.
We see ourselves as a big part of the Muslim digital ecosystem, and the sky’s the limit as to what we can accomplish with our partners and customers. There are so many ways to interface.
Where do you see Muslim Pro going be in five years’ time?
There is so much potential for growth, it’s almost daunting. Almost two billion Muslims, and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet! So let me just say this.
I definitely see Muslim Pro catering to more and more elements of a full, rich, and meaningful Muslim life. We want to be there for all of your faith. We want to help you connect to your heritage, identity, values—and we want to help you move confidently into your future.
What I mean is, there’s still a lot left to explore by way of communities and cultures, and it’s a learning process for us.
The more we learn about our Muslim community, the more creative and innovative we become, and the more we can incorporate into our brands under Bitsmedia. Fara and I have the highest hopes for Muslim tech and entertainment—about creating content that’s good for Muslims, and content that helps bring Muslim voices and perspectives into all kinds of other conversations, even ones that aren’t used to Muslim voices and perspectives.
And if we at Bitsmedia can play a part in that, it would be a huge win, inshaAllah!