Nadia Doukali’s story reads like a chapter out of One Thousand and One Nights. Born in her grandfather’s harem nearly fifty years ago, as an infant the Moroccan immigrated to Germany and became a successful author and entrepreneur.
Growing up near Frankfurt, the Muslim attended a Catholic kindergarten, and even as an adult, she’s comfortable living amidst and between different cultures and religions.
Doukali created the trademarked “Iftarlender”, the combination of “Iftar” and “calendar” (Kalender in German), fusing the Christian tradition of the Advent calendar that counts down to Christmas, with the breaking of the fast in Ramadan.
“I wanted to create an anchor accompanying people through Ramadan,” Doukali told Salaam Gateway.
As a child, she loved the excitement of opening a door in the Advent calendar in the run-up to Christmas Eve. Her Muslim family did not celebrate Christmas, but the mood infected Doukali.
Iftarlender counts down to Eid al Fitr, one Ramadan iftar at a time. Each door carries an Arabic word, like rahmah (mercy) and sabr (patience). The meaning of these words are explained in an accompanying e-book.
Behind every door is a Belgian chocolate-coated Deglet Nour date, reminiscent of the custom to break the fast with a date and a glass of milk.
“The word of the day serves as a mental and spiritual guide throughout the period. These terms should encourage people to think about the meaning of religion,” said the inventor, who, skilled with the written word, has published several titles for children.
Her first book, “Fayzal, the Cancer Catcher” about a friend’s child with lymphoma, published in 2010, became a radio play voiced by renowned German actor Sky du Mont and rock singer Nina Hagen.
Doukali went on to write “Muhammad, the Prophet of Peace”, in 2011.
As with her books, Iftarlender is another way Doukali educates children about Islam and its practices.
The author turned chocolate entrepreneur was so determined that her Muslim version of the Advent calender would appeal to the German consumer that in 2016, she stored and shipped the first batch of 2,000 Iftarlenders from her apartment. These were made with Brandt, a company known for its rusk products but that isn’t a dedicated chocolatier.
“I started promoting and selling the calendars on Facebook,” Doukali said.
“But I was lucky the press liked the idea and wrote about it,” she added. “Then it took off like wildfire.”
Using a B2B and a B2C model, Doukali now sells at least 50,000 Iftarlenders annually through her company Honeyletter Productions.
German hypermarkets and retailers like Rewe and Kaufland have added the product to their range. The calendar sells at 14.90 euros ($16) via the company’s website.
But the Iftarlender’s success hasn’t come easy.
SELLING THE HALAL LIFESTYLE
While traditions and occasions such as Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Halloween are fiercely marketed in the retail world, Doukali points out that Muslim consumer visibility is missing at the global retail level.
In order to sell Iftarlender to German retailers, she had to go door to door and make the rounds explaining to corporations about Islam and the halal lifestyle concept.
“Finally, companies are starting to think about Muslims as a target group,” said Doukali. There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in Germany, about 6% of the population.
Through selling the Iftarlender, Doukali quickly learned about another niche market in Germany — halal-certified chocolate.
For two years, the businesswoman looked for a company understanding her halal and religious teaching requirements. She finally partnered with chocolatier Callebaut and launched the chocolate bar brand “Iftarlade”.
Callebaut operates one of Belgium’s oldest cocoa roasting facilities and uses sustainably-produced cocoa beans from Western Africa, according to the Honeyletter website.
“My chocolate meets all the requirements for halal certification. This includes ethical production without the use of palm oil, fair wages, vegetable ingredients — all of that at a fair price,” Doukali said about her Halal Quality Control certified products.
Honeyletter Productions won the Sweetie Award 2019 in the start-up marketing category. Organised by the “RUNDSCHAU für den Lebensmittelhandel”, a specialist magazine for the German food trade, the Sweetie is an annual award in the German confectionery industry.
The company will exhibit its product range at the Halal Hannover fair, which was postponed from March to September because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Even as her chocolate business takes off, Doukali remains true to her roots and has kept on writing.
The creative entrepreneur is currently working on a new paperback, writing about autism.
Her books, she says, arise from her encounters with others.
“Kiko’s laughter”, a manuscript about the acceptance of being different, was released in 2017 as a fundraising gift for a children’s hospital. In this book, Doukali examines the social interaction of infants with Down’s syndrome.
“Children can deal well with otherness,” the author said. “But not the adults.”
“I love what I do,” Doukali said. “Money comes, and money goes. However, the joy and memories you create in life are priceless and remain forever.”
(Reporting by Petra Loho; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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