Annie Qaiser always dreamed of becoming an author.
Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri as one of the few young women of color and an even smaller group of Muslim children, Annie didn’t have many spaces where she felt that she could express herself freely.
A quiet girl with a self-described “cautious personality,” Annie turned to writing to explore her identities. The blank page was a place of zero judgment, zero misunderstanding. Pen in hand, she was unfettered and free to work through her complicated, sometimes messy thoughts about who she was and where she came from.
Today, Annie isn’t a New York Times bestselling author — yet — but she is a proudly published writer and researcher. She has four books about American history, which she studied at the University of Toronto in addition to her communications major.
For Annie, history is another means of connecting with her identities. The classic question of “Where are you from?” — often aimed at people of color or anyone else perceived as existing outside of normative Americanness — threw her for a loop for a long time.
“What defines that question? Is it a geography question, a culture question, a religion question?” She could answer it so many different ways. Born in Pakistan and raised in Kansas City, Annie moved to Canada for university and finally settled in Minnesota to start a family. But as for where she’s from and where she belongs, studying history provided a glimpse into her past and her present, her family’s and her faith’s roots.
“As human beings and as spiritual people, our roots are our background,” Annie firmly believes. “Our history is what makes us who we are. Anything I am, anything you are, it’s because of our ancestors.”
The winding road of history led Annie down uncharted paths as she explored her ancestry, her culture, and her religion. When she became a mother, she was especially interested in herbal medicine and other alternatives to mass-produced personal care products, and she began researching ancient Islamic healing and wellness traditions.
“I questioned what was going into our bodies and the adverse effects, so I researched and started making products for myself with natural, herbal ingredients,” says Annie. She didn’t know it yet, but this knowledge of traditional healing systems and Islamic/prophetic medicine, along with the requisite home remedies of every South Asian household, would soon morph into the unique concept of her own halal skincare and wellness line.
Soon, Annie’s family and friends were asking for deodorants, lotion bars, and face masks that she was creating for her own use. For years, she gave them as gifts, until the demand made it clear — she had stumbled upon an untapped market, where her community was eager for products based in the principles that she practiced.
Annie, of course, understood that need. Growing up in Kansas City, there were no restaurants where her family could eat halal food, no stores where they could buy halal products. They were one of very few Muslim families in the city and observe halal practice, meaning that they follow a lifestyle in accordance with Islamic law. Halal is the Arabic word for “permissible” and contrasts with haram, which means “forbidden” and refers to anything prohibited in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Adhering to practices of purity and sanctity are especially important when Muslims go on pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In order to cross the pilgrimage boundary into this holiest city, they must be in the sacred state of ihram, which prohibits any scents on the body. For those preparing to embark on Hajj, the major pilgrimage, or Umrah, the minor pilgrimage, searching for soaps and other products without scents is almost part of the journey.
As any Muslim will tell you, these products can be tricky to track down. Halal denotes a holistic Islamic lifestyle and applies to everything — good business practices, ethical transactions, environmental protections, social and moral accountability, and more. And though halal is a wide-ranging concept, it’s a word often attached to food, and the method of slaughter used for meat products is a key consideration for Muslims. To avoid consuming something haram, Muslims often avoid anything — from meals to beauty products — that contains animal products.
So when Annie launched her skincare business Silk Road Wellness, which features her signature Hajj and Umrah Kit, she had an enthusiastic customer base at the ready. Her commitment to relying solely on natural, organic, vegan ingredients attracts many — both Muslim and not. After all, Muslims aren’t the only ones who abstain from consuming animal products or who might prefer traditional herbal healing methods.
“We aspire to be accessible to everyone. I want Silk Road to be known as a Muslim business with Islamic principles and to use my family’s skills as a way of representing our faith, but I don’t want to isolate our customer base to only Muslims,” she says. And whether or not she’s selling to another Muslim, her business enables Annie to put her faith principles into practice.
“If you create a moment of ease for any person, Allah [Arabic for God] is going to help you when you need help,” says Annie. “By reading the Qur’an and the Sunnah, we know that these natural ingredients are powerful, so if they can help others, I think that just makes it sweeter.”
And even sweeter when you consider how personal Silk Road products are to Annie.
The culmination of years of research, experimentation, and creativity, each neatly packaged lotion bar is a “representation of myself,” she says. “Down to the font choice.”
Take a look at the little label on the back, for instance — “the amount of work that goes into that is incredible. I’ve had to research what order the ingredients need to be listed, what information needs to be included,” she says. Like its giant corporate counterparts, Silk Road Wellness must adhere to strict FDA regulations around cosmetic labeling.
And as a perfectionist with high standards for the ethics and the aesthetics of her brand, Annie remakes any product that she feels doesn’t live up to its name. Her background as a writer and researcher gives her the confidence to grow exponentially as a new entrepreneur. “You can never ask too many questions,” she says. “Questions lead to answers, which lead to more questions — it's a beautiful, never-ending cycle.”
She spends most evenings after her day job as a medical copyeditor and many late nights preparing products and packages to be sent out. Thankfully, she’s got an entire team behind her — her husband, her children, and their cat. Her husband, who owns an IT business himself, is the technological and financial expert who keeps their website running and their finances in order. A behind-the-scenes hero, he offers emotional support and encouragement and helps the team stay focused, Annie says.
And Annie’s children help out with counting, labeling, and often coming up with new ideas, whether it’s for Silk Road Wellness or their own future business endeavors.
“My kids have developed an entrepreneurial streak — they have amazing ideas and conversations about making their future mark as Muslim business people. They are already brainstorming business ideas, cards, advertising, brochures,” Annie smiles with pride. “Just the other day, I overheard them talking about what kind of services they want to offer in their respective businesses.”
Her children aren’t the only ones who are inspired.
When we see the beautiful success that Annie has brought to her business and her family, we’re reminded of the creativity, curiosity, and power of our sisterhood.
Pursuing a radically nontraditional career path and making her own space in the business world has opened Annie to scrutiny. But every day she’s growing as a businesswoman, a Muslim, a writer, researcher, and deep thinker. She says, “Creating new boundaries as a Muslim woman by choosing to take a different path, while balancing faith, culture, and life, is an acceptable goal — and an attainable one.”
“What you do with faith in mind will work out,” she wants her sisters to know. “It will always work out.”
Wherever our own interests and passions may lead us, her journey is a guiding light, sparking our courage and conviction to keep going. Annie, thank you for being our Shero.