In the midst of the global pandemic, everyone felt the same way: locked up in their homes, far away from communities, from families and from friendship.
For Cadar Mohamud, a Black Muslim woman from Toronto, it was more than community being withheld from her. She needed a place to replenish her heart and her faith.
A fresh graduate from York University in May 2020, Mohamud was battling her career choices and for the first time in years, felt lost and confused. In the holy month of Ramadan, she made a prayer.
Mohamud asked God to guide her to where she was needed, to a job that would give her conviction and purpose.
She knew the world felt lonely but she knew Muslim women like her needed their mosques, their community and their sisterhood.
“It only felt natural to figure out a response to the really difficult predicament we were in,” Mohamud said.
In August 2020, Mohamud launched The Digital Sisterhood. By April 2021, The Digital Sisterhood released its first podcast episode.
The podcast platform gave space to Muslim women, predominantly Black Muslim women, to share their unfiltered stories of love, loss and life.
“If the world stopped, and they [Muslim women] were on a major stage and had everyone’s attention and everyone’s ears, what would they say?” asked Mohamud.
By the release of the second and third episode, a two-part story of Hilaal, a Black woman who found solace in the Quran after her divorce, the podcast was making its way up the charts.
“And that’s how I see this storytelling, I have this actual stage and everyone has the opportunity to go on the mic,” Mohamud said. “We’re taking the narrative back.”
The episodes went from having a couple hundred listeners to three thousand.
Women were listening.
Mohamud’s prayers had been answered.
“When she [Hilaal] told her story it kind of broke the glass ceiling and not only were we getting a large audience of listeners, but people were sending us heartfelt pleas to keep going,” Mohamud said.
Mohamud works with producer Muna Sckeomar, a Black Muslim woman and creative from Minneapolis, Minnesota to bring the best stories to the digital platform. Scekomar is the founder of Beautiful Light House, a media production company for Muslim creatives.
The women prioritize raw storytelling, creative expression and faith-based experiences.
“We look for individuals who have gained a form of gentleness and depth through their experiences,” Scekomar said. “The good storytellers also accept themselves, which in turn encourages everybody to accept their stories.”
A key branch of the Muslim faith involves community and feeding off of the energy of one’s brothers and sisters to enhance the quality of worship or be motivated to be a better person.
Without direct access to mosque groups or Muslim friends, it can feel impossible to feel that connection.
Through Mohamud’s introduction of every episode, women immediately relate. Mohamud begins by sending peace to all her listeners and introduces herself as “your friend and sister Cadar.”
“Her Name is Hana” contains triggering details of a Black Muslim woman, Amal, who lost her mother to suicide and now works as a mental health advocate.
Mohamud received a message from a man who travelled to Mecca, Saudi Arabia to perform a holy pilgrimage for Amal’s mother.
Amal did not know the man, nor did the man personally know Amal.
“It’s one thing that it is impacting the audience and the listeners but also how it is impacting the guests because of the sincerity in intentions,” said Mohamud.
Scekomar emphasizes “coming as you are” with Mohamud and the guests of the podcast when it comes to storytelling.
“My job is to get you to be as authentic as possible. I would tell our guests that the only way you could do this wrong is if you try to be somebody else.”
When Mohamud was recording with a guest, Maryam, who shared her struggles facing cancer and a chronic illness, Mohamud was concerned about her health.
After the release of Maryam’s episode, “The Luckiest Person in the Room,” Mohamud met Maryam and found her to be in the best of health. Maryam credited her recovery to the millions of listeners, who must have prayed for her.
“God gives them so much more than they gave,” Mohamud said. “And to be a witness of it honestly makes me so emotional.”
The two-part story of Hilaal, a Black Muslim divorcee, titled “When the Crescent Moon Became Full,” gave the podcast its fame.
When Hilaal and Mohamud were driving on Eglington St. heading to the studio one day, Hilaal received a message from an unknown listener, who told Hilaal she was facing depression because of a rough divorce and was thinking about ending her life. But then she heard Hilaal’s story.
The message read: “After listening to your episode, I decided not to commit suicide. So, thank you for telling your story because it saved my life.”
Mohamud turned to Hilaal and said, “We can’t drop the ball on this. We see the outcome of it. How could we stop now?”
This sisterhood has extended worldwide.
Juweriya Mohamud, a listener from Alberta, says The Digital Sisterhood (TDS) podcast fills a whole in the space for Muslim women.
“I truly believe that Muslim sisters were missing this type of platform where there was a space provided by sisters to connect with sisters,” Mohamud said.
It gives women the opportunity to feel emotions that society told them they cannot feel.
“Vulnerable,” said Mohamud. “I think that’s the perfect word for TDS. This podcast has sparked conversation between sisters to dig deep, to not shy away from their vulnerability.”
Mohamud attends conferences across Canada and America to represent The Digital Sisterhood, and sees the sisterhood come to life.
“When I travel, I have people tell me that Hilaal’s story helped them start their Quran journey, or women who beat cancer like Maryam did, or women who tell me about their grief like Faysa’s story in ‘Living in Grief’,” Mohamud said.
While the podcast episodes cover a myriad of topics, Mohamud sees one common theme arise in all the responses she receives.
“Everyone I meet says the same thing: It [the podcast] changed how they saw themselves and their relationship with God.”
With a global audience of millions, Mohamud and her team at The Digital Sisterhood aim to connect women worldwide.
Mohamud wants the podcast and the start-up to create a community in which no woman feels alone.
“It’s for Muslim women to take and to hold on to.”