Decision Vision Episode 88: Should I Mix My Faith With Business? (Part Two) – An Interview with Soumaya Khalifa, Khalifa Consulting, Inc.
Khalifa Consulting CEO Soumaya Khalifa joins host Mike Blake to discuss how she integrates her Islamic faith with her work and business, as well as her community-building work with the Islamic Speakers Bureau. “Decision Vision” is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Soumaya Khalifa, Khalifa Consulting, Inc.
Soumaya Khalifa founded Khalifa Consulting, a strategic intercultural and leadership consulting firm, in 2007. Her career spans more than 25 years in human resources, management, business management and ownership, non-profit and entrepreneurship. Khalifa Consulting specializes in helping executives and organizations succeed when doing business across cultures by providing them the most relevant, practical and up to date cross cultural coaching and training. In addition, Khalifa Consulting offers training and coaching on global virtual teams. Soumaya and team apply this work to a broad range of clients, from large established national and global organizations to startups.
Prior to founding Khalifa Consulting, Soumaya served in several leadership roles in U.S.-based Fortune 100 companies in human resources, leadership development and diversity and inclusion. An alumnus of the University of Houston and Georgia State University, Soumaya is a board member of the Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR) and the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters (AIB). She is also an adjunct professor at Emory University Center for Continuing Education and at the Federal Executive Institute. Soumaya is the author of Diversophy Egypt and has contributed to several publications.
Along with a group of Atlantans, Soumaya launched the Islamic Speakers Bureau (ISB) of Atlanta in August 2001. As the current Executive Director of ISB, she serves the Muslim and wider community by building bridges of understanding, creating interfaith partnerships, developing community leaders, and creating spaces for mutual understating and respect. Under Soumaya’s leadership, the ISB has developed its core programming and launched other key initiatives, including ISB Leadership Institute (ISBLI), 100 Influential Georgia Muslims, and 40 Under 40 Georgia Muslims. In 2017, Soumaya created a partnership with the Atlanta Mayor’s Office to host the ISB’s first ever Ramadan Iftar hosted at Atlanta’s City Hall and in 2018, the second Atlanta Mayor’s Iftar was attended by over 250 people.
Soumaya has received many awards and recognitions for her work with the ISB, including:
- 2019 Academy of Women Achievers, YWCA
- 2018 Arab American High Achiever Award, Alif Institute
- 2017 City of Atlanta Phoenix Award, presented by Mayor Kasim Reed
- 2012 FBI’s Community Leadership Award
- Citizen Diplomat for the U.S. State Department
- 2012 Invited to the annual White House Iftar hosted by President Barak Obama
- 2015 Inducted into the College of Ministers and Laity
To learn more on Khalifa Consulting, follow this link.
Michael Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is Host of the “Decision Vision” podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
“Decision Vision” is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the “Decision Vision” podcast.
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Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional, full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:20] And welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:39] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a Director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. Brady Ware are sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator and please consider leaving our view of the podcast as well.
Mike Blake: [00:01:04] So, today’s topic is actually a continuation of a prior topic or a previously recorded topic, which is, should I mix my faith with my business? And this will be part two. In part one, we had, I thought, a tremendous discussion with Bill Leonard and Jonathan Minnen, who are from the Christian and Jewish faiths, respectively. And really, I really appreciate it, and I hope you, as listeners, appreciated the fact that they were very open about how they came to approach mixing their faith with their business, how it impacts their business, what that decision process looks like. And I think that we learned a lot.
Mike Blake: [00:01:53] But to be candid, in an ideal world, I wanted to have this be a little bit broader than that because there’s another faith. I mean, you could say there are many faiths that are missing, but I think a faith that was obviously missing – and that was due simply to scheduling constraints – is Islam. And Islam, I think … I’m not going to claim to be particularly knowledgeable about it. I know what I’ve read, I know what I studied in college five million years ago, but that’s about it. But Islam has a different or, certainly, a very identifiable place in American society.
Mike Blake: [00:02:39] And it’s different. I think it’s much more prominent now in the United States than it was, say, 50 years ago or even 30 years ago. And I think that people who practice Islam face different challenges and maybe even different rewards. We’ll find out from our guests. But I think there’s a different relationship with business, in general. I think there’s a different relationship with Islam and mainstream American society than the Jewish and Christian faith have.
Mike Blake: [00:03:08] So, to be perfectly candid, I just felt like this conversation was not complete without getting a view from the Muslim perspective. And I hope you’ll agree that it’s worthwhile. So, we’ve never done a two-parter before. We didn’t necessarily have a cliffhanger or anything, but I do think that this is necessary to have a more comprehensive and complete discussion.
Mike Blake: [00:03:33] So, joining us today is Soumaya Khalifa, who founded Khalifa Consulting, a strategic intercultural and leadership consulting firm back in 2007. Her career spans more than 25 years in human resources management, business management and ownership, nonprofit and entrepreneurship. Khalifa Consulting specializes in helping executives and organizations succeed when doing business across cultures by providing them with the most relevant, practical and up-to-date cross-cultural coaching and training.
Mike Blake: [00:04:07] Along with a group of Atlantans, Soumaya launched the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta back in August 2001. We’ll talk about that. That’s an interesting date. As the current executive director of ISB, she serves the Muslim and wider community by building bridges of understanding, creating interfaith partnerships, developing community leaders, and creating spaces for mutual understanding and respect. Under Soumaya’s leadership, the ISB has developed its core programming and launched other key initiatives, including ISB Leadership Institute, 100 Influential Georgia Muslims, and 40 under 40 Georgia Muslims.
Mike Blake: [00:04:44] In 2017, Soumaya created a partnership with the Atlanta Mayor’s Office to host ISB’s first ever Ramadan Iftar hosted at Atlanta City Hall. And in 2018, the second Atlanta mayor Iftar was attended by over 250 people. Soumaya has received many awards and recognitions for her work with the ISP, including Academy of Women Achievers of the YWCA, the Arab-American High Achiever Award of the Alif Institute, City of Atlanta Phoenix Award, the FBI’s Community Leadership Award. That’s interesting. We’ll have to get back to that. She’s a citizen diplomat for the US State Department and numerous other recognitions, but you get the idea. She’s highly accomplished and highly recognized for those accomplishments. And we are fortunate. And I am so glad she agreed to come on the podcast. Soumaya, thank you for coming on the program.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:05:36] Mike, it’s my pleasure and honor. Thank you so much for having me.
Mike Blake: [00:05:40] So, before we get into this, I want to ask because I think this is really important, the FBI’s Community Leadership Award. Tell us about what led to being recognized. I assume it’s the FBI, like what I recognized, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or some other acronym. What led to that?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:06:03] Yeah. So, that was quite an experience. I got to actually travel to their headquarters and receive the award by then FBI Director Mueller. And it was quite an experience being there, and touring their facility and just seeing what’s there. I was part of their outreach, diversity and inclusion outreach team that we had for several years many years ago. And they recognized the work that the ISB does here in Atlanta in terms of building bridges, and they felt like that was something that is much needed, and they recognized me for the work. So, I was, again, very fortunate and gotten a lot of awards and recognitions that I wouldn’t have dreamt of many years ago. So, again, very lucky and very fortunate.
Mike Blake: [00:06:57] Well, congratulations and thank you for your service to our society. So, I’ve studied Islam about as much as I needed to to graduate from college with a Liberal Arts degree. I know it’s a highly complex religion, but how would you describe your faith? I think you can do a much better job than I ever could.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:07:22] Yeah. So, it’s not any more complicated than Christianity or Judaism. The three faith traditions are monotheistic religions and they’re Abrahamic traditions. So, there are a lot of similarities between the three. In terms of the essence of Islam in the word itself, it means peace, submission to the will of God, and creating peace in the world. And the person, even Muslims, when they greet each other, they have a covenant that they say to each other, and that is, “May peace be upon you,” which means that you will not get anything from me but peace, whether it’s in interactions, or talking about you, or anything at all, it’s peace.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:08:09] So, it is a misunderstood religion. It is a religion, unfortunately, that a lot of people associate terrorism with. And I love talking to groups and asking them, “You know what comes to mind when you hear the word “Islam” and “Muslims?” And sometimes, people don’t want to say, and I say, “Hey, how about the T word, does that come to mind? Do you hear it?” And yeah, they do.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:08:33] So, the two misconceptions about Islam that I hear all the time is that Islam is associated with terrorism, all Muslims are terrorists, and the other one is that all women are oppressed. And I have a lot of fun with the second one because I ask audiences and people, do you think I’m oppressed? And they look at me and they say, “Well.” “So, you should ask my husband.” And we have a little fun with that.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:08:58] But absolutely, it is. It’s a religion that people don’t know about. And a lot of times, when they hear about it, it is in a very negative sense. There isn’t a face of Islam that is carried throughout our country and our communities that portrays the good that Muslims do. And Muslims, like any other group of people, Christians included, Jews and Hindus and others, there is the good, the bad and the ugly.
Mike Blake: [00:09:28] So, you made an interesting decision and a conscious one, not just to really connect your faith with your business but to build a business, if you will, around your faith. A lot of it is around educating individuals, companies, organizations about Islam, about inclusiveness with people who practice that faith and others. I know it’s not just limited to that, but certainly it is sort of the headline. So, what drew you to that? I mean, you’re a very capable person. You could have done, I’m sure, anything that you wanted. What drew you to make that your mission?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:10:11] Sure. I just want to make a distinction here. I wear a couple of scarves, if you will. So, I have a nonprofit (versus hats). There’s the nonprofit that I started in 2000 right along with a group of people who wanted to do something about building bridges of understanding because what we saw then, and it’s still happening right now, is that people speak about Islam and Muslims, and they have not a good idea and not a correct idea about Islam and Muslims. They don’t know about our community. So, we wanted to train people within the First Amendment guidelines of teaching and not preaching to be able to speak about Islam and Muslims to have embody they’re my neighbor, they’re my coworker, et cetera, and really building that connection between people.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:10:57] And so, that is one thing that was started in 2001. And at the time, I was in corporate America doing human resources. So, thinking back about that journey and what I did then, I just can’t even comprehend how I did that while having a full-time job in corporate America. So, that’s one thing that I felt like was necessary to build bridges of understanding. And it wasn’t about promoting the religion. It was just to understand each other and build a stronger community where people don’t fear others. So, that’s one of the things that I do.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:11:29] The other one is a business, and that is Khalifa consulting. And as you mentioned in the introduction, it’s to help people understand the business they’re getting into, to understand the culture for them to be successful. Khalifa Consulting has many consultants that cover the whole wide world. So, if we have a client that’s going to Germany, we have somebody who can do Germany. China, Russia, what have you, there’s that network of consultants who cover the whole wide world.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:12:00] Because of my own background, my own cultural background, my own upbringing, I offer the training, and the consulting and the coaching on the Arab world. And as you know, the majority of the Arab world is Muslim. And so, we talk about Islam, and how it impacts their business, and what do they need to be aware. Of anything from gift giving, don’t do pork or alcohol, to the holidays, to how people communicate. And that’s not religion; it’s more culture.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:12:31] So, those are the two distinctions in terms of the business piece and the nonprofit work. But it’s like you said, both of them are about helping people understand in different circumstances. With the ISB, it’s more about community and community building. And Khalifa Consulting is about the business world and helping individuals, leaders and organizations be successful as they interact with different cultures.
Mike Blake: [00:13:00] So, yeah and understood. There’s a cultural component, religious component. And while they are certainly separate, they frequently are quite closely linked. And so, what I’d be curious to understand from you is this, is that, are there ways in which the way you conduct business is maybe different from what kind of a garden variety, if this can even be said, but a garden variety American business is conducted because of your desire and the importance to you of being true to your faith? Does it manifest itself in the business? Does Islam manifest itself in the business itself? I hope I have asked that question in a way that you understand
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:13:49] Yeah. I think each and every one of us has a moral compass. And the moral compass is the faith tradition that we adhere to. And whether we realize it or not, it kind of helps us navigate through things. For instance, holding true to your word, keeping the individual, valuing the customer, valuing yourself, telling the truth. And I don’t think this is just to Islam, but I think it’s due to many faith tradition, treating people with dignity and respect, not cheating people, et cetera, et cetera.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:14:30] And again, this is in Islam ,as well, I’m sure, as Christianity, and Judaism, and other faith traditions as well. So, it is my moral compass. It’s probably unconscious, but it’s there. It’s how I’m kind of wired. And again, I believe that that’s not just particular to me, but it’s to everyone else.
Mike Blake: [00:14:54] So, you chose to name your firm Khalifa Consulting. And I think to most people that they may understand that that’s your last name or your family name or not. But it clearly sounds like a name that comes from a region that practices a lot of Islam, at least fairly widely. Was that a conscious decision in the branding? And whether it was or not, have you found that it evokes any kind of maybe preconceptions or stereotypes? Does it help you within the Islamic community? Does it create barriers elsewhere? Talk about kind of how that’s impacted the business. If it has at all?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:15:43] I love the question. So, I’m going to tell you a story. There was an event in Atlanta and a high-up person in the Gulf State was here to speak about their country and how opportunities are there, et cetera. And I attended, and I walked in, and people saw my name who are not part of that country’s entourage, if you will. And they saw my name, and I was like given the royal treatment. And I was just saying, “What in the world is that?” I was just like not really comprehending what was going on. But they saw my name and they thought I was part of the royal clan for that country. And they just took care of me. And after a while, I realized what happened.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:16:30] But, yeah, I think the reason that I chose Khalifa Consulting is because when I started out, I was not sure how it was going to go in terms of what my business is going to focus on because I have a wide variety of things that I provide and do, all the way from consulting, coaching, executive coaching, and human resources, and the intercultural world diversity and inclusion. So, I wanted something that kind of was an umbrella name that brought all those things under it. So, that’s the reason. I don’t know whether it was a smart way of doing it or not, but that’s how I started. And because I started that way and I’ve been known in the marketplace as that, I’m just continuing with it. Is there a better name? Maybe, but moving forward with Khalifa Consulting.
Mike Blake: [00:17:23] So, I’m going to ask you a completely off-the-wall question because I’m a language junkie and probably a lot of our listeners will roll their eyes, but that’s okay, it’s my show. And that is, I’m curious-
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:17:35] Go for it.
Mike Blake: [00:17:35] I’m curious if the name Khalifa, is at all related to the term chalice, which implies some sort of of Ducci, or county, or something of that nature.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:17:47] Yeah. Khalifa means Vice Gerente or the ruler. And so, within the Islamic tradition, the Khalifa is the leader of the group, or the family, or I’m just really lucky to have that name. I feel like, “Hey, all right, I need to live up to it,” but yeah. Khalifa means a responsible person, right? So, it’s a godsend human beings to be His vice gerente on earth, so human beings could take care of the earth, et cetera. So, it has like a title of of leadership, but it also has a title of true responsibility.
Mike Blake: [00:18:31] Well, good. Thank you for that. So, that’ll be our duo-lingo diversion for the day. So, do you ever run into any kind of conflict? Do you ever have to make any conscious decisions of where your faith starts and ends, where your business starts and ends? Do you find yourself having to make decisions that maybe today, I want to be less obvious or open about my faith, or another day in another situation, I want to be more open about my faith? So, do you ever have to make those kinds of decisions? And if so, what goes into that?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:19:06] Yeah. I really don’t think about it that way at all. I am who I am. And I struggle with that for a long time, and it was a journey. I was born in Egypt, came to Texas as a teenager. I went to middle school and high school. And throughout my early years, I really struggled with my identity, and I struggled with my Egyptianness, if you will, my Muslimness and my Americanness. And it was like three people in one. And those three people in one did not come out as three people in one told people. I would reveal parts of me that I thought people were comfortable with.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:19:47] So, until I took that journey of being comfortable with who I was that I said, “Hey, world, here I am,” and this is when I started covering my hair. It was shortly thereafter that I started the Islamic Speakers Bureau. This is when I really embraced who I was. It was not an easy journey. It was much, much easier not to wear a headscarf and to just kind of try to build in and assimilate, but I felt like part of me was being lost. That, besides the nagging of my mom. When are you going to cover your hair, right? When are you going to cover your hair?
Mike Blake: [00:20:24] Parents. Well, parents will always have a big influence on that.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:20:27] They sure do.
Mike Blake: [00:20:28] So, I’m curious, and if this question is out of bounds, weigh it out, but was there one particular incident that pushed you over and said, “You know what? Yeah, I want to embrace this identity. I’m going to wear the headscarf and let strangers know that I’m a practitioner of Islam”?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:20:51] Yeah. I think it was more than a journey versus a one incident that happened that kind of got me to do that. I was listening to religious tapes about how women are supposed to do that. And by the way, women who do not cover their hair, who are Muslim, it does not mean they are less religious. It’s just they choose not to. So, it was just that, plus my mom, plus I just felt like, “Hey, I’m not getting any younger, I need to do something about it.” And I did.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:21:18] And I have to tell you, that was just like the most uncomfortable decision I ever made in my life. I did not know how to put the headscarf on. I remember, at the time I was working, I just finished my MBA, and I was working as an intern for a major company, and one day, I went with my hair. And then, the following Monday, I went in with the head covered, and people did not know what to make of me, and I had to do a lot of explanation. And as that was going on, my scarf fell off because I did not know how to put it on. And it was just like a real ordeal.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:21:55] And even though it’s a piece of cloth, it’s a lot of psychological getting used to and being able to be comfortable with it. And I wasn’t comfortable with it for a long time. And I felt like people were staring at me and the whole nine yards until I embraced it myself and started shopping for different headscarves. And there was something more to shop for. I got very excited about that. And that’s when I became okay with it.
Mike Blake: [00:22:23] Now, we had a previous conversation. You said something that I think is fascinating and I just did not know is that not all scarves are alike. And the way that one wears it, you can identify somebody’s origin from the Muslim world or how they practice Islam by virtue of how their scarf is is worn, correct?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:22:46] Yes, yes, yes, absolutely. And even what age category they might be from. It’s fascinating. It’s a fascinating observation just to sit there and kind of look at women’s scarfs, and how they tie them, and what color, what’s the material, et cetera. Now, I’ve discovered something since we talked. I discovered there’s a COVID scarf. And the COVID scarf is a scarf where people could put their masks on while having a scarf on. So, the regular scarf that I used to wear would not allow me to put this really easily. And so, this is now my COVID scarf because it allows us to put on the mask and take it off easily.
Mike Blake: [00:23:26] Well, one adapts, right? So, Islam has been around a long time. So, it’s gone through many adaptations. This is another one of those adaptations, I guess. So, you led off by kind of pointing out the elephant in the room.
Mike Blake: [00:23:44] So, I want to put a bright light on it. And that is it strikes me that having a business that is associated with Islam is different from one that’s associated with Christianity or Judaism, not only because it’s less common and also more concentrated, I think, in certain regions of the country but, of course, America itself has had a troubled, and frankly – and I’m not going to get into the reasons why, but you cannot deny there’s a violent relationship with, say, certain elements of Islam, I guess, for lack of a better term or, at least, conflict with individuals who have decided to brand themselves under the name of Islam in order to accomplish whatever social and political goals that they’re accomplishing. And that’s a little bit different, right? You’re operating in a country that in some cases, recently, has been in a state of war with Islamic countries.
Mike Blake: [00:24:54] And I will say this. I thought George Bush the first did a really good job of trying to make clear that we were at war with states that happen to have governments that claim to espouse Islam, and we are not pursuing war against the Muslim people. It’s a very sort of dancing on the head of a pin there. But I do think he made a good faith effort to try to communicate that. But I mean, it’s got to be different, right?
Mike Blake: [00:25:21] I mean, America right now does not have a military conflict with a Christian-dominated or a Jewish-dominated nation, but America has had that. I think it necessarily creates, I think, certain tensions, certain preconceptions. I think even, unfortunately, among certain people, a starting point of suspicion and hostility. One, I guess, do you agree with that observation? And two, if so, how do you work within that? How do you survive mentally in that kind of environment, because I can only imagine how difficult that must be?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:26:16] Yeah. In terms of the conflict between the US and Muslim majority countries, that is a debate that people can have. Is it really a conflict, or we talked about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and after so many years, we found that there were no weapons of mass destruction? And so, there are a lot of debate going on about about the validity of the conflicts that we are part of and claimed for it to be because of whatever. So, let’s put that aside.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:26:50] But what I want to say, what’s really here and now that is a very troublesome is the Muslim ban. When we have a Muslim ban, and I walked down the street with the headscarf on, that puts me and my fellow 12 million Muslims, American Muslims, in jeopardy because people are getting a message from the highest office in this land saying Muslims are a danger to our country and our society. So, that is truly something that hits very close to home, and I can talk for a long time about that.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:27:25] But in terms of the business itself, it’s not about just Islam and Muslims. Khalifa Consulting, it’s about cultural understanding for the whole wide world. And it’s not just me. I have about 10 or 12 colleagues who cover, again, the entire world. But when it comes to the part of the world that I handle, which is the Arab world and the US, people want to come to us because we know how to help them to navigate in that part of the world, in the business world, so they could be successful.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:27:58] I have worked with so many different organizations, US organizations, that their market in the US is basically shrinking, and the only way for them to expand is to go to emerging markets, what they call emerging markets. And the Arab world with over 300-400 million people, it’s a very opportune place for many of the businesses, whether it is in the car business, or the automotive business, or defense, or food. So, it’s a business decision. It’s not about the faith. It’s not about anything.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:28:39] We talk about the faith that’s part of them understanding what they’re getting into because you don’t want them to schedule meetings for Friday. Why weren’t the Saudis, or the Egyptians, or, or, or coming to our meetings on Fridays? Because it’s their holidays. It’s their weekly weekend. And so, you don’t do that. And this is just a very simplistic example of seeing people who don’t understand the different ways of communication.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:29:07] Americans tend to be more direct communicators. When you go to the Arab world, it’s about saving face. It’s to not put anybody in an embarrassment position. So, how do we understand indirect communicators, and how do we bridge that gap between the two cultures to run the business, to get to the bottom line, to add to the bottom line and be successful? So, it’s not all about religion. It’s about being successful in a different culture that is very different for many people to navigate through.
Mike Blake: [00:29:43] Before we recorded our show, I got dressed because we’re doing video. I had originally put on a T-shirt that said “Got bacon,” and my wife said, “Aren’t you doing that interview about Islam today?” I go, “Yeah.” She says, “Are you really sure you want to wear that for this video?” “No. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’ll do a quick change here.” So-
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:30:10] But there is turkey bacon too. So, there are always options. It’s not all pork. There’s turkey bacon.
Mike Blake: [00:30:16] Oh! I haven’t thought of that. I had a chance to win an argument with my wife and I blew it. Ugh! Okay. Well, at any rate, but-
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:30:16] You should have called me, Mike.
Mike Blake: [00:30:28] Sure, I should have. I should have. So, let me ask this. The thing about … actually, this actually segues to one of the questions I really wanted to make sure I got to. So, bearing what you just described in mind, and to me, it reminds me of maybe a little bit of what it might have been like to be a Russian immigrate here during the height of the Cold War, right? You’re here, but you’re obviously from “the other side.” And I have to imagine that that also had its own challenges. Now, the timeline for Khalifa Consulting was you started it in August of 2001, correct?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:31:15] That’s the ISB.
Mike Blake: [00:31:16] ISB, sorry. The ISB in 2001.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:31:18] Yeah, yeah.
Mike Blake: [00:31:18] That’s right. Khalifa was 2007. So, you started that. And then, a month later, the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:31:30] Three weeks.
Mike Blake: [00:31:30] And so, I mean, walk through as as somebody who just launched an Islamic commercial venture, and feel free if you want to just comment on being a practitioner of Islam at that time, what’s going through your head? How does your life experience change? What are you thinking about your business?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:31:57] When you were talking about that, my whole body felt like I was there in September 11th, 2001. It was a nonprofit that I launched. It was into businesses, and non-profit, educational outreach. We had our training on August the 18th, which was approximately three weeks before 9/11 happened. We had just trained people to speak about Islam and Muslims within the First Amendment guidelines. They took their test, and we were getting ready to launch.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:32:30] When the morning of 9/11, I went to my job, and I was in downtown Atlanta in the high-rise up on a very high floor. I heard the news about what happened in New York and in Washington. And I was scared. I was very scared. I was sad. I was angry. I had no idea what was going on. I was just thinking the people who were killed. Are people like me who went to their work in the morning, and they were waiting to get home to their kids and their family? And guess what? They did not make. And what was the reason for that? And it was a very, very tough day, I had three children at the time. I still have them, Thank God. They were in daycare and what have you. I was very worried about them. I was very worried about my husband.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:33:28] They were talking about the terrorists were going to hit Atlanta because of CNN. We were very close to CNN. They pulled us all into a conference room to watch what’s going on. And I mean, I’m talking about right now, and just my whole body feels the same way. It was just very, very, very angry, very scared, very just in despair. Why did that happen? How can anybody do this?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:34:02] And then a few days later, we find out who did it. And I got even angrier because the people not only killed 3000 people for no reason at all, innocent people, but they also hijacked a whole religion at 1.5 billion people. And so, anger. It got even worse because what they did to a religion in people. And we’re still paying the price of the horrendous, stupid act that they did. I can’t tell you how angry I am still. And I hope they get what they deserve in the hereafter because human life is very sacred in Islam, and taking innocent life is just one of the worst ever transgressions in the religion. Nobody could call themselves a Muslim and do that.
Mike Blake: [00:35:10] Yeah. As an observer, you try to put yourself, and as an interviewer, you try to put yourself in the shoes of the person that you’re interviewing. And I can hear in your voice how tremendously upsetting that must have been and continues to be. And like the rest of us as a country, we’ve had to move on, and the Islamic community has had to move on and attempt to build bridges. And in our society, some people have moved on, I would characterize, more successfully than others.
Mike Blake: [00:35:55] And let’s move on beyond that. In spite of that, I’m curious kind of in the wake of that attack, there must have been – I would hope that there was – maybe even a rise of interest in the Islamic Speakers Bureau because I think a lot of us … I grew up in the ’80s and the ’70s. So, when I was a child, I remember the conflict with Iran, the Iranian hostage crisis. I remember that there was a spate of hijacks of American aircraft, but the September 11th attack was, of course, an entirely different animal.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:36:43] It was in our land.
Mike Blake: [00:36:44] Yeah. And in our land against one of the most important symbols, I think, of American economic strength in many ways, you could say, and at the heart of the country, short of an attack on the White House or Congress or something. I don’t want to belabor, but the point is that I think a lot of us were kind of left why. And some of us seek answers in the why. We want to know who’s responsible, right? Who overlooked opportunities to stop this? And there are many reports, and conspiracy theories and whatnot. I’m not going to discuss those today.
Mike Blake: [00:37:22] But I wonder and I hope that maybe you saw a surge of interest in speakers after the attack as people kind of want to understand, okay, this is horrible, and it’s probably going to lead to worse things down the road because you know the United States is not going to just not respond. You know there’s going to be a significant response. Did you see an increase in interest in people wanting to get your take in some expert opinion as to kind of what’s going on here?
Mike Blake: [00:37:55] Yeah. So, absolutely. When we realized who did it, et cetera, the board of the newly found Islamic Speakers Bureau or ISB, we kind of talked about what do we do? Do we kind of backtrack like we didn’t exist or do we move forward? And the decision was made, fortunately, that we needed to move forward. And we started receiving calls, and emails, and a lot of interest in people wanting to meet a Muslim, wanting to understand better, and wanting to understand their neighbors, et cetera.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:38:34] And one of the stories that happened right after 9/11 is when an Episcopal pastor in Fayetteville – we used to live in Fayetteville – who reached out. He called. He called the number for the ISB and said, “This is so and so. And I’m driving up to the mountains, but I want to invite a speaker to come on.” And he gave his numbers, but it was so mumbly towards the end, it was a bad connection that the last three numbers didn’t come through. And I remember trying all possible three number combinations until I was finally able to get through to him.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:39:17] And that friendship has lasted all through the years. He has moved on to different parts of the country, but we still stay in touch and communicate very often. So, there are a lot of silver linings from 9/11, as well as the tragedy, and the heartache, and the sadness that also came out of it. So, absolutely, there was and still is a silver lining from that.
Mike Blake: [00:39:47] So, I’m going to switch gears here. Sometimes, you can see in some face that people can use faith opportunistically in business. And I’ve certainly seen it. I speculate that you’ve seen it, but I don’t know. But I’m curious, so I’m going to ask you that question. Have you seen – and it doesn’t even have to be related to Islam, I guess, but since that was where your expertise lies, I imagine that’s going to be your perspective. Is there a temptation or have you encountered where people have tried to somehow capitalize kind of overtly on presenting a faith because they think it’s going to ingratiate themselves to a particular community, and therefore allow them to address what they think is an attractive market?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:40:48] Yeah. I don’t believe in that. I don’t.
Mike Blake: [00:40:55] Right, I’m sure you don’t, but I’m sure, but have you seen it.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:40:59] I’m sure I’ve seen it. I just can’t think of an example right now. But I am of the opinion and of the practice that everybody’s free to believe in whatever they want to believe. All that matters to me is how you treat me and you treat others around you. And pushing anybody’s faith on anybody else, I think that is so disrespectful. I really do. I believe that people are smart enough to think through what’s important to them and how they want to believe or not believe.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:41:31] In the business that I’m in, whether it’s the non-profit or the consulting, it’s whoever feels that I’m a good fit for them and could provide the services that they need, then let’s let’s talk about it. But I don’t feel like it’s the right thing to use the business or the faith to be opportunistic.
Mike Blake: [00:41:56] Are there-
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:41:56] Did I answer your question?
Mike Blake: [00:41:58] Yeah. No, you did. You did.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:42:00] Okay.
Mike Blake: [00:42:00] You did because I have seen it. I guess I bring it up because I have overtly seen people, for example, that they’ll go to a Bible study circle. And I know for a fact they do that because they think that that’s a way to generate prospects. And that strikes me as, frankly, repugnant, and repulsive, and immensely disrespectful to the religion.
Mike Blake: [00:42:36] And really, what I’m trying to get at is my hope is that that would be a unique case, but I’m not quite certain that it is. And in some religions and some religious communities, I think that there is a temptation to present a certain faith because they think that’s going to drive the business, but they aren’t necessarily themselves people of faith. And it bothers me. I’ve only seen that really in certain communities. I’m just curious because I have somebody here who’s embedded very much in the Muslim community, if that’s a phenomenon that you’ve ever witnessed.
Soumaya Khalifa, Khalifa Consulting: [00:43:23] Yeah.
Mike Blake: [00:43:24] Basically, it’s a universal temptation.
Soumaya Khalifa, Khalifa Consulting: [00:43:27] Got it. So, for instance, do real estate agents who happened to be Muslim go to a mosque, so they could pass out their card, et cetera? I’m sure that happens all the time. But for my own business, actually, my clients are not within the Muslim community itself, whether it’s the nonprofit or for my consulting. It’s people who are doing business outside the United States or talking about diversity and inclusion, and having Muslims in the workplace, and what are the reasonable accommodations, and how do we do that, and how do we understand them? How do we make sure everyone under our roof as an organization feels comfortable, valued and they belong? So, those are the clients that I’m looking for, people who need my help and find me to be the most competent person to help them get to where they want to go.
Mike Blake: [00:44:20] So, we’re talking to Soumaya Khalifa today of Khalifa Consulting and the Islamic Speakers Bureau. And we’re doing a part two of our podcast on Should I Mix My Faith With My Business? And we’re running out of time, but I do have a couple more questions that I’d like to to squeeze in here. And one is, is there a company that you admire that is Islamic facing – it doesn’t even have to be an American company. But is there a company that you admire that you think really gets it right, that maintains its commitment to its faith, but at the same time, doesn’t shy away from its faith, and at the same time, it’s commercially successful?
Soumaya Khalifa, Khalifa Consulting: [00:45:08] That is a really good question. Locally, here we have Chick-fil-A. And I haven’t been really associated with them on a professional level but their food is great, right? And people love their food. And for me, lemonade, their lemonade is really awesome. But I think diversity and inclusion – and I believe that faith comes under that – is a journey. It’s not that, “Hey, I’ve done this, and this, and this. Now, we are there.” There was never there, right? It’s always trying to get to being better, and better, and better.
Soumaya Khalifa, Khalifa Consulting: [00:45:46] And so, I know there are many, many, many organizations throughout the country that are striving to be the best that they can be, but they will never get there because it’s always changing. The environment is always changing. With the recent Black Lives Matter and many other things that are going on, companies had to pivot. They had to understand where they’re at, where they’re going, and what does the market need, and what do the employees need. And so, it’s a constant, constant journey. I don’t think anybody would say, “I made it and I’m there.”
Mike Blake: [00:46:22] So, this has been a great discussion. I want to thank you so much for being willing to come on and discuss some tough topics and answer, I think, some challenging questions. I’m sure people would like to learn more about you, your business, and maybe even want to ask more about this. I have a feeling we have listeners that practice Islam and are wrestling with this question. Can people contact you for more information? And if so, what’s the best way to do that?
Soumaya Khalifa, Khalifa Consulting: [00:46:52] Absolutely. Would love to hear from the listeners. My email address, email@example.com. There is no dot com. So, firstname.lastname@example.org. And the phone number is 678-523-5080. And our website is khalifa.consulting. For the Islamic Speakers Bureau, its isbatlanta.org. Again, isbatlanta.org. And again, looking forward to staying connected. Mostly in LinkedIn and Facebook. So, find me whichever way that makes sense to you.
Mike Blake: [00:47:38] Thank you so much. That’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. And I’d like to thank Soumaya Khalifa so much for joining us and sharing her expertise with us. We’ll be exploring a new topic each week. So, please tune in, so that when you’re faced with your next executive decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy this podcast, please consider leaving a review of your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor’s Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision Podcast.