Sparking new ideas

Eight social impact tech start-ups will battle it out in the final of a new philanthropy-backed competition seeking disruptive solutions to community challenges.

An AI-powered Imam, a humanitarian translation tool, a mobile app offering culturally-sensitive mental health support, a Waqf investment platform, and a resource library for new and aspiring Muslims. These are just some of the groundbreaking social impact start-ups to have reached the last round of a new venture-philanthropy-backed prize looking to develop disruptive innovations to enhance the lives of Muslims around the world.

The final of the inaugural Continuum Spark Award -- an initiative of Collective Continuum, a group of impact investors focused on seeding humanity-centric start-ups -- will be held in Qatar in November during GMW Doha, an international networking event run by the Global Muslim Workation Network

Eight founders will take part in a shark-tank-style pitching competition hosted by the Qatar Foundation. The winner will receive US$100,000 of investment and three runners-up will also receive brand development, consulting and mentoring services valued at $50,000.

“What was really important to me whilst creating this award was finding a way to leverage the enterprising spirit that you see in Muslim communities and then match that with impact investing,” explained Azim Kidwai, who came up with the prize to help match social start-ups with hard-to-get patient capital.

"We wanted to find a way to leverage the enterprising spirit that you see in Muslim communities and then match that with impact investing."  

Azim Kidwai, head of partnerships at the Collective Continuum.

UK-based Kidwai, a board member and Head of Partnerships of the Collective Continuum, lamented the lack of venture philanthropy and impact investing in Islamic finance circles. 

“There are some great initiatives around the channelling of Zakat, micro-financing and charitable giving,” he told Philanthropy Age. But when it came to enterprise and innovation in the impact space, he said this was “not really seen” in Islamic philanthropy.

Impact-first business models traditionally struggle to attract funding because they are unable to deliver the types of high and fast returns favoured by venture capital.

Recalling his own start as a social entrepreneur being made possible by a chance meeting with a wealthy backer who had faith in his ideas, Kidwai said the idea behind Collective Continuum was about channeling funding into socially-impactful innovations.

The Spark Award aims to change the narrative around how social enterprises are funded and to demonstrate the value of impact investment and venture philanthropy, he said.

To be eligible to enter the Spark Award, ideas needed to be tech-based, scalable, financially sustainable, and capable of delivering significant social impact to humanity, as well and bringing people closer to God.

Muslim-focussed crowdfunding platform Launch Good helped to promote the competition, which attracted more than 500 expressions of interest and 330 formal applications from around the world from 28 different countries.

Of these over a third (38 percent) were nonprofit start-ups, and 44 percent of came from female founders and co-founders.

Entries ranged from back-of-the-napkin ideas to fully-operational award-winning concepts, run by a diverse mix of NGOs, social enterprises, for-profit companies, and volunteers.

From the 330 entrants, judges made a longlist of 50, followed by a shortlist of 20, and then the final eight, who hail from the US, the UK, Australia, Indonesia, Canada, and Kazakstan, were selected based on interviews with industry leaders and public votes.

Kidwai, who is also a trustee of the National Zakat Foundation, said the scale of the response had been impressive given that it was only a pilot, and he said it showed the appetite for innovation, as well as the need for funding, within the global Muslim community.

The winner of the Continuum Spark Award is due to be named on November 17 in Doha, but Kidwai is already thinking about next year’s award.

“This is really the beta, our first go at it and we've committed our own money to it,” he said. “We're keen that the next iteration offers a $1m investment prize."

Find out more about the eight finalists

A glossary of Islamic terms

Zakat (almsgiving): Every adult Muslim who owns wealth over a certain amount, must pay 2.5 percent of that wealth as Zakat.

Waqf (endowments): A sustainable and ongoing donation made by a Muslim to support religious, educational, or charitable causes.

Sadaqah Jariyah (act of continued giving) is any form of ongoing charity that benefits others.

Sharia (Islamic law): Islam's legal system derived from the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad). It serves as a comprehensive moral and legal code that governs various aspects of a Muslim's life, including religious, social, moral, and legal matters.

Imam (Anyone who leads a congregational prayer): The imam of a mosque leads each of the five daily prayers in the mosque, gives the Friday sermon, serves as a community leader, and provides religious guidance.

Mufti (Islamic scholar): Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious matters.

Halal (permitted): Refers to anything permissible or lawful in Islam. In reference to food, it is the Islamic dietary standard prescribed by Sharia.

Qibla: The direction of the Kaaba (the sacred building at Mecca), to which Muslims turn at prayer.

Quran (The Holy book): the sacred scripture of Islam

Shahadah (a profession of Muslim faith): A declaration of faith that states, "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." It is the first of the five pillars of Islam and expresses a Muslim's complete acceptance of and total commitment to Islam. Converting to Islam requires one to declare the Shahadah.

Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad): Corpus of the sayings or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, revered by Muslims as a major source of religious law and moral guidance.

Sunnah (traditions and practices of Prophet Muhammad): The sunnah refers to the traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad, which are believed by Muslims to be a model for them to follow. Sunnah are documented in the hadith.

Hayd (menstruation): The monthly discharge of blood from the woman's womb is called Hayd. Hayd of a Muslim women is her duration of menstruation.

Imam AI

Founder: Arthur Muratov
Location: Astana, Kazakhstan
The problem: Limited access to Islamic leaders like Imams or Muftis.
The solution: A generative AI resource that provides access to information on Islam, sourced from the Quran, hadith, and trusted websites.


Imam AI is a generative artificial intelligence (AI) application that serves as a personal virtual Imam on your phone. It caters to anyone interested in learning about Islam or delving deeper into the religion.

App features include Quran FAQs, virtual prayer sessions led by an Imam, reminders for prayer times, a Qibla compass, a halal restaurant finder, custom notifications, and a chat function with a virtual Imam.

The app utilises AI to provide information from a database of 50,000 hadith, the Quran, and trusted websites in four languages: Arabic, English, Kazakh, and Russian.

Access to Islamic leaders like Imams (those who lead prayers) or Muftis (Islamic scholars) can be limited, especially in areas where there are not many mosques. This, combined with the challenge of identifying trustworthy sources of information online, led to the launch of the Imam AI app.

“We observed a gap where many people, entangled in the pace of modern life, found it challenging to seek and receive immediate and reliable Islamic advice,” explains Imam AI’s founder Arthur Muratov. The idea, he says, is to “make Islamic guidance accessible to everyone, everywhere”.

The app, which is still in Beta and free to use, has already had more than 4,400 downloads and received ratings and reviews from users in 20 countries.

“For Muslims, consulting an Imam or Mufti is not a rarity but a beautiful aspect of continuous learning and seeking clarity in their faith journey,” says Muratov.

The second stage of the app’s development will focus on ensuring reliability of the AI-generated information, as well as guidance developing guidance for users on contemporary Islamic practices such as halal investments, principles of Islamic banking, and halal travel.

“We hope to make Imam AI a more versatile and valuable resource for users seeking guidance in various aspects of modern Islamic living,” says Muratov.

Ruh Care

Founders: Omar Khan, Humeyra Celebri
Location: Toronto, Canada
The problem: A lack of mental health support for Muslims.
The solution: An online therapy platform aligned with Islamic values.


Launched in 2021, Ruh Care is a mindfulness application providing Islamically-aligned and culturally-sensitive support to Muslims via an online therapy platform.

Never before has it been so urgent for the world to prioritise mental health. The triple impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, anxiety over climate change, and ongoing geo-political conflict, is taking a toll on people of all ages and all backgrounds.  

Studies show that Muslims tend to use mental health services less than other groups. This is due to the stigma attached to mental illness within Muslim communities, as well as the lack of linguistically and culturally appropriate services providing mental health care to people of Muslim faith.

Ruh Care, which is run as a social enterprise, was launched by Omar Khan, after his own struggle during the pandemic to find a mental health resource with which he could connect on a spiritual level.

“There is a global rise in mental health issues in our community, but also an increased adoption of telehealth, and growing openness to seeking professional mental healthcare,” says Toronto-based Khan, who used to work at IBM. “So now is the best time for our solution.” 

Ruh, which means soul or spirit in Arabic, provides a global directory of muslim mental health care providers, and offers access to online video or phone therapy for Muslim individuals, couples, and children eight and upwards. 

Users can either search for their own therapist via a profile directory of more than 570 Muslim therapists across 16 countries, or complete a form that matches them to a suitable practitioner within 48 hours. The platform, which is still in its soft launch phase, has already received 130 requests from patients to be matched with therapists.

“Our hope is that we can really make exceptional mental healthcare accessible for our Muslim community that is also grounded in our Islamic values,” says Khan. 


Founders: Atif Javed, Aziz Alghunaim, Sara Haj-Hassan
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
The problem: Refugees face language barriers when accessing services.
The solution: Volunteer on-demand translation and interpretation services to help refugees get help when settling in new countries.


Tarjimly is an award-winning US-based nonprofit working to eliminate humanitarian language barriers to improve the lives of refugees and immigrants.

Its AI-powered mobile app matches refugees with a network of 55,000 volunteer translators and interpreters to offer them support in more than 175 languages.

Tarjimly (which in Arabic means “translate for me”) was launched in 2017 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the so-called 'US Muslim Ban', an Executive Order limiting the entry of people into the US from majority Muslim countries.

According to the UN, there more than 35 million refugees globally, and a significant number face language barriers when seeking help.

Tarjimly, which is used by both refugees and the humanitarian organisations and NGOs supporting them, also translates documents, and provides legal, medical, and mental health resources. 

“Forty four percent of refugees can’t communicate in host countries, or with people trying to help them, because of language barriers," explains Atif Javed, a co-founder of Tarjimly.

And the MIT graduate adds: “Seventy five percent of social service providers reported poor access to interpretation. This shamefully leads to denial of service, discrimination, errors, confusion, and ultimately adverse outcomes.”

Javed’s passion is based on personal experience of being relied upon to translate for his grandmother, who moved from India to Pakistan during partition and then to the UK before ending up in the US.  

“My grandmother is the reason I went to volunteer in refugee camps in Greece and Turkey,” the 30-year-old explains. “There, I met women just like her from 20 different countries, all struggling just to communicate. That’s when I learned that language was the foundation for every human need.” 

By providing free language services, Tarjimly reduces humanitarian response time and promotes equal access to essential services. It also makes up for the shortage of in-person translators and interpreters.

Existing online translation services are not yet advanced enough to perform this role, but Tarjimly is looking to fill this gap by deploying an AI-matching algorithm to optimise the speed, quality and expertise of its volunteer translators.

“We have essentially merged two powerful solutions: community and technology. We enabled the world’s three billion bilinguals to serve as micro-volunteers for these 35 million refugees,” says Javed.

To-date, Tarjimly has 55,000 registered volunteer translators registered. It is about to cross 100,000 translation sessions and is on track to hit one million by 2025. In the last five years, the app has helped more than 360,000 refugees with translation services.

The organisation is mostly funded by NGO contracts, which in 2023, brought in revenues of US$250,000. Other partners include the Refugee Assistance Alliance, Blackrock, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Boeing, and the UPS Foundation.

In 2022, Tarjimly was awarded the AI Prize for Humanity at MIT Solve and Javed was the 2023 winner of the Elevate Prize. 

Deen Developers

Founders: Tahseen Omar, Muntasir Syed, Alamin Shahidul, Ibrahim Javed, Umar Gora
Location: London, United Kingdom
The problem: A lack of resources for Muslim technology entrepreneurs looking to address global issues.
The solution: A community and network providing Muslim technology-for-good entrepreneurs with access to resources, expertise, mentorship, and funding.

Since its launch in 2019, Deen Developers has been tackling community issues head-on by encouraging skilled Muslims to contribute above and beyond their day jobs. A UK-registered nonprofit, it brings together founders, technology experts and creatives for social good and to make a positive impact in the world. 

“Our vision is to nurture a driven community of talent that collaborates and leverages technology to solve real-world problems,” explains Tahseen Omar, a co-founder.

“The timing is right because as second and third generation Muslims, we have the luxury our parents and grandparents didn’t have because they were busy laying the groundwork,” he adds. 

Deen Developers, which is run by a group of volunteers, organises hackathons (competitions to solve problems in collaboration with leaders in the field) and build-athons (co-working for those already committed to solving a problem).

The group also runs Forge, a 12-week accelerator programme for Muslim founders, offering grants, mentorship, workshops, networking, and access to investors, and it hosts a platform called Notice, where community members can advertise causes requiring tech support, and tech talent can volunteer their time. 

“Entrepreneurship is really important and Muslims make up only three percent of founders so we are really proud of our work at Forge,” says Omar.

Every year, Deen selects one initiative to be a ‘Flagship Build’ and receive dedicated resources to help bring that product to market.

Currently, they have more than 10,000 community members, have hosted 20 in-person events, and have backed 18 start-ups. Deen receives grant support from foundations and partners with corporates to sponsor some of its meet-ups and events.

New Beginnings

Founders: Bilal Brown, Rumela Bandyopadhyay, Imran Rahim, Sarah Ackroyd
Location: Manchester, United Kingdom
The problem: Lack of information, educational resources, and spaces for Muslim converts.
The solution: Access to online resources and social well-being services exclusively for new Muslims, existing converts, and the wider community.


Launched in the UK in 2020, New Beginnings provides educational and social support to new Muslims and their families, long-term converts, and those interested in exploring Islam for the first time. These range from online courses to in-person and web-based socials and discussion groups.

Converting to Islam can present challenges, especially when living outside of majority Muslim communities where rules and practices may be misunderstood. In world of information overload, new Muslims can find it hard to access accurate educational resources and relevant support services.

Rumela Bandyopadhyay, one of co-founders of New Beginnings, remembers how hard she found her conversion to Islam 20 years ago. “You’d get advice from everyone and it would all vary,” she recalls. “I found it very difficult to navigate… I didnt have a community. I was like a little fish in the ocean, trying to find my way.”

Inspired by her own experience, Bandyopadhyay wanted to create a safe space for new Muslims to be able to ask questions and get personalised advice that was specific to them, rather than one-size-fits-all.

Bilal Brown, managing director and another co-founder, says the idea was to create a service that was “holistic”, which “meets all the needs of people who are interested in Islam, or people who have just converted to Islam”.  

He adds:  “Hopefully this model that we have can be replicated in other areas and be a standard model for support and care of converts to Islam.”

In 2022, New Beginnings, which is registered as a charity in the UK, performed 199 shahadas (profession of Muslim faith) and enrolled nearly 850 individuals in its courses. Of those 20 percent were not yet Muslim.  Support services are offered for free by volunteers and paid for by donations and crowdfunding.


Founders: Windy Dhaliana, Arjun Sumarlan
Location: Jakarta, Indonesia
The problem: Lack of mental health support for Muslims, and a stigma related to asking for help.
The solution: Access to on-demand faith-based resources for self-care, mindfulness, and spirituality.


Launched in 2022 in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, Qalboo is a mobile application designed for Muslims who are seeking emotional, psychological, or spiritual support to improve their well-being. 

In Islamic culture, seeking support for mental health can be a challenge as it is not a subject that is discussed openly. This stigma can lead to feelings of isolation, embarrassment, and denial, as individuals try to preserve their family reputation. And, as a result, Muslims often face barriers when it comes to seeking help. Even for those who choose to seek help, the available resources may not always align with Islamic values.

“Ninety six percent of Muslims will have heard the saying, ‘if you suffered mental health, you have a weak faith’,” says Windy Dhaliana, CEO and co-founder of Qalboo, who was inspired to launch the app after reconnecting with Islam helped her on her own mental healing journey. 

“There are mental health apps catering to 2.3 billion Christians globally, like Hallow and Glorify, but no such solution for 1.8 billion Muslims, which is why we created Qalboo,” says 27-year-old former management consultant.

The app’s name comes from the Arabic word qalb which means ‘heart’. It is used figuratively to express deep emotions, affection, or attachment towards someone or something. 

Qalboo integrates faith-based values from the Quran and Sunnah to provide guidance to navigate daily life while also addressing mental and spiritual health. 

Its features include: a forum to share struggles with a community and ask questions to experts; counselling opportunities with Muslim psychologists; access to events and webinars on improving health; an AI-powered chatbot that answers questions based on Islam; Islamic quizzes; Quran journaling prompts; mindfulness exercises; educational resources on mental health; pre-marriage education; and custom notifications for daily rituals such as prayer times.

Currently, the app has 12,500 users, of whom 8,000 are active monthly. 

“Winning this competition would provide us with the means to scale our impact and reach more people,” Dhaliana says. “The prize money would be instrumental in further developing and enhancing our platform, expanding our user base, and investing in advanced technology and resources.”

Waqf Engine

Founders: Rehan Ahmed, Sultan Karim, Umair Shakoor, Umar Mushtaq
Location: Sydney, Australia
The problem: Waqf contributions are falling due to a lack of knowledge among younger investors.
The solution: A Waqf fund management platform to help endowments grow in a Sharia-compliant way.

Waqf is the concept of an ongoing charitable endowment under Islamic law. Historically it has been used to fund education, orphanages, and provide money for emergency aid during a crisis or disaster.

In recent years, however, there has been a decline in waqf contributions. The reasons for this are complex and vary geographically, but in many cases is driven by the lack of knowledge about waqf and how to administer it in modern society, as well as limited legal enforcement of waqf beyond Islamic law. As a result, some Muslim charities that have traditionally relied on waqf endowments to operate are struggling.

Launched in mid-2023, Waqf Engine is a wealth management start-up that facilitates Waqf donations and also enables charities to get a sustainable income source, in order to reduce their dependence on donations.

The service is Sharia-compliant and merges traditional waqf principles with modern investment strategies to produce higher returns than publicly available funds. This enables charities and individuals to both grow their waqf funds and generate a sustainable income.

Waqf Engine is “a high-liquidity, high-yield waqf incubation platform for charities of any shape and size,” explains co-founder Rehan Ahmed. “It allows charities to set up perpetual funds dedicated to causes they feel are most deserving. It’s what we call sadaqah jariyah squared; that is sadaqah jariyah that generates more sadaqah jariyah.”

Any organisation or individual can start an endowment fund with Waqf Engine for as little as US$1000. It also facilitates inter-waqf lending and automates tax reporting and zakat (mandatory donation for Muslims), so that the charity remains compliant to both government and Islamic regulation.

Waqf Engine is working with three Muslim institutions get their waqf started: A humanitarian aid charity, a social enterprise that’s helping youth with mental health, and an Islamic education institute.


Founder: Farzana Salik
Location: United Kingdom 
The problem: Inadequate support for Muslim women seeking to track their menstrual cycles whilst adhering to Islamic requirements.
The solution: A resource to manage menstrual health and contraception for Muslim women that integrates Islamic obligations.

Taahirah is a new resource to help Muslim women manage their menstrual health in adherence with Islamic obligations. 

During monthly menstruation, Muslim women are considered to be in a state of ritual impurity known as "hayd". There are rules - set out in the Quran and Sunnah - that must be followed during and after menstruation. “Taahirah” is an indirect Quranic name for girls that means “cleansed” or “pure”.

It is important for Muslim women to be able to identify when they enter hayd and when it ends, as the performance of rituals depends on these timings. If they miss performing the rituals, they are required to make up for them within a certain time period.

Tracking monthly cycles in accordance with Islamic guidelines is not easy and there can be a stigma associated with openly discussing menstruation, which makes it hard for women to openly seek information and support.

The Taahirah app, which is still in development, will feature: cycle tracking; reminders for religious obligations; have different modes for different stages of a woman's life (contraception, menstruation, and postpartum); access to knowledge through articles and online courses; and the opportunity to ask questions to specialised Muslim female scholars.

“Taahirah is more than just an app, it is a community where open conversations flourish, knowledge is shared, and empowerment is the norm,” explains founder Farzana Salik, a Cambridge University law graduate, who is now studying for the bar after completing a Masters at Oxford.  

London-based Salik, 22, has registered Taahirah as an LLC in the UK. She is currently self-funding the project but hopes to generate revenue from the app to make it sustainable and in the longer-term raise money for girl-focussed charities such as Freedom4Girls and

“Winning this competition would be a game-changer, not just for Taahirah, but for Muslim women worldwide,” she tells Philanthropy Age.

Mainstream menstrual apps already serve 48 million users, she explains, but Taahirah "bridges a critical gap: empowering Muslim women to manage menstrual health in line with Islamic obligations".