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Islamic publishing house flourishes in US

22 July 2011 General 5 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
Chicago-based Kazi Publications will mark its 40th year of operation next year. Tori Soper Photography

Chicago-based Kazi Publications will mark its 40th year of operation next year. Tori Soper Photography

by David Lepeska

For decades, Islamic publishing in the US was a small but steady market, with just a handful of players.

But after the September 11 attacks, interest in the religion heightened, as did enrolment in Islamic studies courses at universities across the United States. Demand for copies of the Quran, biographies of the Prophet Mohammed and other key Islamic texts increased dramatically too, and a million Islamic publishers bloomed.

Or at least a couple of dozen, from personal boutique houses such as Muslim Writers Publishing in Arizona to bigger outfits like Tahriki Tarsile Qu’ran in New York. Today, Chicago remains something of an industry nexus – home to American Trust Publications, established in 1976 and run by the Saudi-backed North American Islamic Trust, and Iqra International Educational Foundation, whose popular Sirah series was first published in 1981.

But the oldest Islamic publisher in Chicago, and perhaps all of North America, is Kazi Publications, which has been producing, selling and distributing books from the city’s North Side for nearly 40 years. Despite humble beginnings, the firm’s annual revenue has nearly quadrupled over the past decade, from $250,000 (Dh918,000) to nearly $1 million, according to co-founder and proprietor Liaquat Ali.

The seeds of Kazi were planted around 1970, when Ali and his brother-in-law began importing books and handicrafts from Pakistan to sell in the shop of their friend Mahmoud Kazi, on Wells Street near downtown. In 1972, Ali returned to Chicago to run the shop with Kazi.

The duo noticed the rise of the Nation of Islam among local African-Americans and, taking advantage of a family connection to one of Pakistan’s leading publishers, began to focus on books. A leading local newspaper soon highlighted their shop as the best spot for Islamic publications. “It was so busy that I didn’t know what was going on,” recalls Ali. “I asked someone, ‘Where did you get the address of this place?’ He said, ‘Don’t you know? It’s in the paper.'” Kazi Publications was born.

Mahmoud Kazi soon accepted a teaching job at King Fahd University, in Saudi Arabia, leaving Ali in charge. But before he left, he and Ali noticed a problem. “So many locals were converting to Islam,” Ali recalls. “They wanted to name their baby appropriately, but they didn’t know what the names were.” In 1974, Book of Muslim Names became Kazi Publications’ first published work.

A few years later, the original shop burnt down. Ali moved to several locations before finding the shop’s current home, on Belmont Avenue, in 1984. No sign hangs from the squat brick building’s blue-green facade; Ali removed it after the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 to avoid anti-Islam sentiment. “We have a house in the back,” Ali, 64, explains. “I’m living there with my wife, so I got scared.”

Only swirling Islamic designs mark the entrance and most days the front door stays locked. Kazi, a non-profit organisation, makes the lion’s share of its sales through phone orders from universities and booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon. “The only customers who come here are people who know the place,” says Ali, unlocking the door for a visitor on a recent afternoon.

Inside the dusty, cosy space, rows are devoted to the Quran, the life of Prophet Mohammed, Islamic finance and jurisprudence. In the back are books for children, such as the popular Quran Made Easy, and a few shelves of Urdu publications. Among Kazi’s bestsellers are the works of Seyed Hossein Nasr, a respected professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University.

Nasr is the mentor of Laleh Bakhtiar, Kazi’s in-house scholar and production manager. Born in Iran to an American mother and an Iranian father, the 72-year-old Bakhtiar was raised mostly in Washington.

She married an Iranian-American architect and moved back to Iran with him in 1964.

They had three children and divorced in 1977, and Bakhtiar stayed in Tehran through the revolution and the years of war with Iraq. “My children and I lived for eight years in fear of our lives with daily bombs dropping all around us,” she says. In the decades since, she and other Iranian intellectuals have felt acute disappointment as the current leadership has repeatedly failed to live up to the revolution’s grand Islamic ambitions. This feeling, she says, fed into the 2009 protests, and continues to undermine the current regime.

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  1. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    i cut my links and reposted on this article just in case the other scrolls off before you are back….sorry to all for the repeat, but i don’t know if i can take being call igronorant (as in i ignore) agian plus i’m about to be banned! lol…


    are these the answer i ignore? so you are in favor of cutting a thief’s hand in some situations. good to know. your right draconian laws can keep the populace in line. we have many problems in america. so your answer is to rain down the wrath of god to correct them. teen pregnancy is a big problem in my opinion. so your answer is to publicly lash them? you still didn’t answer if pregnancy is proof of fornication.

    “If your blaitantly caught, with enough proof and 4 witnesses then you will get punished, just like any other Justice system.” so does that include video taped evidence?

    “But, secular people are against it due to them believing it’s too restrictive. Anyone who says it’s barbaric is in denial and has a culture shock” your right it is a culture shock. and it is barbaric. we have a little thing called a contitution and it bans cruel and unusual punishment. that has been intrepreted as forbiding physical torture, but unfortunately not the death penalty yet. (bbc article here.) i remeber when sinapore caned an america for grafitii. talk about a culture shock.

    as for my post of the islamopedia article. i was merely showing that there is a diversity of thought and some self critisism within islam.

    but i guess you know me to be a troll and a bigot/Islamaphone. well you know what the say, opinions are like elbows and a**holes, everyone has one.

    “Never once in the Quran was Slavery ever encouraged” but why not ban it. so 300,000 slaves where freed. one must make someone a slave in order to free them.

    you didn’t answer the question, do not terrorist find insperation in the koran? in your opinion they maybe misinterpreting the koran, but nonetheless it is their inspiration, right? as for countries being invaded, you’re right war creates alot of animosity and that is why it is bad, along with all the things you mention. so why do muslims blow up other muslims? why beat ayyamandis to death, etc. etc.

    ““blowing up people” as a bad thing to do.” unlike you i don’t want to read into what you mean so i’ll ask stairght up, you are in favor of blowing up people? yes i’ve seen the article that staes 94% of american terrorism is non-muslim. (fbi terror stats here) you read the stats? non-islamic terrorist deaths 194, injuries 900
    islamic terrorist deaths 2,981 injuries 13,000est hard to be precise on 9/11 that 6% of terrorism accounts for 93.8% of all deaths and 93.5% of injuries.

    as for your charitable giving stats, is that just individual giving, because i thought that japan was considered the biggest donor nation? is that total money or percapita or a percentage of gdp? thought norway was highest as %age of gdp.

    “and they get all their influence from the Quran, should we ban that too” when did i say the get “all” their influence from the koran. i’m sure they are greatly influenced by geo-politics. plus i clearly state i’m not in favor of banning the koran.

    as for my ignorance, i’m sure i’m ignorant of much. my spelling and grammar are proof of that. you may want me banned but i hope to hear more from you

  2. hope its not muslims. then again what are the odds that it would be. i can’t image norway has more than 1% of their population as muslim. plus they only commit 6% of terrorist attacks. so on top off those bad odds (like a hundred to one) i’ll give ten to one on the money that it’s al-qadea or al-qadea inspired. oh shot muslims aren’t allowed to gamble, maybe that is why you don’t seem to get statistics very well? but seriously, perseverance if this is islamic inspired do you think it’s a good think to “blow up people”?


  4. nura,

    yes, didn’t you see the bbc article i posted. did you not read “but seriously, perseverance if this is islamic inspired do you think it’s a good think to “blow up people”?”

    so now if the norwiegains start infitrating right-wing groups will it be rightwingaphobia?

    but nura, where do you get i hate muslims?

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