(Image Description: Photograph of Founder Naz Ahmed Georgas on the left, "Cordoba House Sunday School" Logo on the right in orange text on light green and white background)
How I Built This features inspiring interviews with Glean Network Alumna, exploring the victories, obstacles, challenges, and breakthroughs that characterize the Spiritual Entrepreneur's journey. This month, we are honored to feature Glean Network Alumni (START Cohort 4), and founder of Cordoba House Sunday School, Naz Ahmed Georgas
What is Cordoba House Sunday School?
We are on a mission to build an innovative and cutting edge program in New York City for Muslim children and youth that fosters spiritual growth, compassion and pluralism. A big part of our project is to contribute to creating an engaged and enlightened Muslim community that is spiritually aware and equipped to serve the whole society. We advocate strongly building bridges among all faith traditions and to discover shared values and wisdom that is embedded as a guiding light within the respective traditions.
(Image Description: Cordoba House Logo in orange text on light green and white background)
Tell us about the “Genesis Story” of Cordoba House Sunday School. What were its origins? Why did you decide to build this? Why now?
In 2013, I was looking for a good Islamic weekend school in New York for my three children. I was hoping to find a place that would deepen their spirituality, respect respect their global American identity and ground them in good Islamic and universal values.
What I had discovered in the Islamic programs I had visited was that the environment, educators, and leadership resembled that of being in the classrooms of South Asia or the Middle East. Most of the teachers were hired because of their expertise in the Arabic language and often times received their training abroad which did not adequately equip them to relate with and educate American Muslim children. Many of the books in the curriculum were imported and religion was taught through memorization and knowing rules rather than through discussion and student engagement. Many of the story books also depicted children in middle eastern settings which resulted in sub-consciously equating Islam with a particular culture.
My belief is that religion is most powerful when it is authentic, relevent and spiritually inspiring. It is also about a set of values and ethics. My own journey of religion has started with loving God and discovering what it means to be known and loved by Him. I have personally discovered that it is one of the highest journey's a human being is capable of undertaking and the most transformative one.
Also, I strongly believe in pluralism and that the path to a higher self and its wisdom is found within all faith traditions and people universally. Unfortunately, similar to other major faith traditions, Islamic religious institutions teach dogma and universality is not practiced and taught adequately.
I wanted to have a program that starts with spirituality and one where the discovery is based on a journey that starts from within a human being and cannot be achieved through mere memorization of facts. For this we needed education that encourages authenticity, discussion and openminded teachers who are positively engaged with the society they live in and relate to their students through contemporary lenses.
In the age where artificial intelligence and digital technology have evolved to replace the need for human interactions, it is easy to forget about the central role our souls plays in shaping our existence and what it truly means to be human individually and collectively. Our core identity is one that is spiritual i.e. that we are all human beings connected to each other and to the planet. This comes with a responsibility to take care of ourselves, our fellow human community and the environment we are systematically eroding.
A powerful spiritual awakening through education is needed now for us to transcend our purpose from self serving to serving others. We need our generation to lead the way for our youth to understand that we are far more than our material identity and the constant quest to acquiring more material worldly gain (be it goods, land or power) is destructive to the very soul of humanity.
We also need to reintroduce the idea that values over dogma in Spiritual and religious education helps us to evolve personally and collectively.
Human beings can make the biggest difference when our education adopts compassion and teach responsibility towards others. for this to happen we need to also learn from and grow with other traditions and culture and respect pluralism as a way of expanding our connectivity and the ability to do much good.
(Image: Cordoba House)
What has been the most rewarding experience of building Cordoba House Sunday School so far?
Building a likeminded community from scratch who share the same values
Having my my three children struggle actively with me in building the venture.
Transform others and also be transformed in the process.
What has been the most challenging experience of building Cordoba House Sunday School so far?
Teaching Spirituality and creating a curriculum that advocates for American Muslim education to be authentic requires our educators and leadership to be trained to think and act differently. In order to achieve this we had interfaith educators help design the program with their best practices. This new approach caused many of our Muslim community members to question our own Islamic authenticity and integrity. It was hard to recruit and keep parents because we needed to not just train our teachers but also educate the parents systematically on a regular basis. It was very tiring and expensive endeavor for a small and new operation to work simultaneously to prove ourselves on both ends.
What were your intentions coming into the START cohort? How did your experience with START support you in your journey?
I needed partners to think with and to be supported to implement my mission like an entrepreneur even though (and especially because) we are not-for-profit. The START program supported me to think and be an entrepreneur rather than a founding officer at a small but not for profit venture with an enormous potential for growth.
I learnt many skills of how to present my venture with a business lens and make a pitch in a more efficient and professional way. I was also connected with many others in the same boat seeking to enhance their project with similar skills.
What is one piece of advice you would give to anyone entering START, or taking some of the first steps with their start up?
Be prepared to set aside time not just for attending the class but also to network and learn from others outside the classroom. Also to stay connected and seek advice from the leadership and peers once the program is done.
In your own words: How do you describe Spiritual Entrepreneurship?
Spiritual Entrepreneurship is the art of making an inspired idea come to fruition and eventually be a sustainable project by creating step by step business plans and systematically raising the capital needed to sustain it.
(Image: Cordoba House Sunday School)
What is one piece of advice you would give to anyone considering entering the field of Spiritual Entrepreneurship/taking their faith-rooted values and developing a new business, project, or venture?
Keep going and be resilient! inspiration is real. Have a strong support group of others in the field. Be involved and go to networking and other events related to your venture. Stay in it for the long haul. It will come to fruition and in time with a lot of consistent effort-it will spread and grow wide!
Are there any resources/frameworks that particularly help you in your leadership role that you would like to share?
My field is education, spirituality and interfaith. I align myself with likeminded people and projects when and were possible. Dr. Lisa Miller's Dr. Amrah Sabic-Reyes at the interfaith lab at Columbia University, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf author and interfaith advocate Jamal Rehman, Dr. Susan Douglass from Georgetown, Johnathan spears, Nancy Parks and many others.
What is one way Glean Network and its followers support you and your venture?
Glean network continues to be a sounding board for me. The leadership is very sincere and honest and can offer practical advice. They have connected me to many individuals and I have also received a fellowship recently as a result of their connections.
Learn about START, our 10-week entrepreneurship incubator taught by Columbia Business School faculty. Deliver your vision into the world while building a sustainable business model to shepherd its growth — and yours.