Learning Arabic is the newest shtick in my scheme to attain the envious ability of fluently conversing in more than two languages. I enrolled in an elementary course at my college, bought a dictionary and a grammar book, passed through Duolingo, but … I needed more resources. One sleepy afternoon, about three weeks ago, in between online classes, I happened to stumble upon a YouTube channel belonging to one Muhammad Al Andalusi, a scholar, a teacher, and an entrepreneur. Shortly after, this YouTuber was celebrating reaching 10,000 subscribers with a community Zoom session (a town hall of sorts) and I logged in, curious and intrigued. The badinage and camaraderie between Muhammad and his students impressed me (I couldn’t help feeling a little left out), so I contacted Muhammad through Instagram for an interview and what followed is an enthralling life story.
He is Muhammad Mamadou Sall “Al Andalusi” and only 27 years old. Sall hails from Spain originally, then relocated to France at age 14. He initially spoke both Catalan and Spanish, then acquired skill in English and French. From Western Europe, through Spain, Sall found his way to Egypt, where his knowledge in Arabic commenced. The nickname “Al Andalusi” came about whilst Sall was enrolled in an Egyptian school and his teacher differentiated him from all the other Muhammads (a more than common Muslim name) by bestowing upon him the antique Arabic term for Spain, Al Andalus. Sall resolved to set up base in the North African nation of Mauritania in 2019, drawn by its proximity to Senegal, his father’s country, and the dominantly Islamic environment.
Not choosing the traditional professional path is something many, if not most, entrepreneurs do. Sall’s resolve to do so early on discloses a certain tenacity he has. Amidst all the traveling, an interesting point of Sall’s story is him dropping out of school at 16. Sall tells me that he no longer cared for secular studies and didn’t want to waste his time. His career path after elucidates Sall’s predisposition to business: “Before founding Andalus Institute, I did different ventures … the first one was in Egypt. It was an accomodation agency where I helped students coming to Egypt settle down. Second thing, I learned how to sew clothes and set up a business to sell them to people in the West. Then, Amazon FBA … I worked on affiliate marketing and then selling my own products … I did run social media marketing, as well, where I used to get paid by businesses to take care of their marketing. Then I used all of that experience for the Andalus Institute.”
The Andalus Institute was born three months before the Mauritania move. Sall explains that he had to completely self-fund the new company. “I didn’t take any funds from anyone and it cost me maybe a few hundreds. I remember once I didn’t have money to pay one software, which is the software we run and the program is set up on. I e-mailed them and told them it’s a startup and my card failed because I didn’t have the money and wouldn’t be able to pay until a certain date. From their generosity, they told me that they’d scratch this month and it was on them. I was surprised and didn’t expect that.” The educational startup’s structure is quite simple: the Andalus Institute has a small team at its core, a model that Sall prefers due to the closeness among them, giving each member an important say in decision-making.
Living in Mauritania is paradise for Sall. He can enjoy less financial stress, allowing him to run his business with ease and uninterrupted dedication. I asked Sall about his daily routine and any habits that keep him focused on his work. He replied, “After Fajr (dawn prayers), I have a to-do list for enhancing the program. After Dhuhr (midday prayers), I tend to take calls with students … testing them or answering questions. After Asr (afternoon prayers), I take calls with new students and explain to them the learning journey in the program.” Sall gave me advice for staying consistent and maintaining discipline: “Sleep 8 hours a day … after my morning Adhkar, I look at my vision [i.e. goals], positive affirmations, where I was at, and where I am now to practice gratitude. Intermittent fasting for the past two years allows me to focus in the morning (so, I don’t eat anything until 1 p.m. and I only eat between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and I try to stick to one meal. This helps me avoid laziness in the morning. I do tasks that require a lot of focus and deep work, and, after Asr, I do the creative work. [And] I eat healthy (not a lot of carbs or too much seasoning) to increase focus.”
The program carries the title, Arabic Like An Arab, one that effectively conveys the purpose of the material and alludes to Sall’s acuity and acumen. I admire his creativity in combining religious belief with exciting work, but I wondered if the stress would chase Sall back to a traditional 9 to 5 job. “There’s no doubt being an entrepreneur is superior to the 9 to 5 … you have the possibility of being part of the 1% of the world’s population–those in control of the world’s money, but it is very unstable. An entrepreneur makes money for the knowledge and the time he spends building something. So, the amount of wealth you can accumulate is unlimited in comparison to a person working 9 to 5.” I was still a bit unconvinced that the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship wouldn’t be enough to drive someone crazy, so I asked for a rundown of pros and cons to that lifestyle. Sall was gracious enough to oblige. “The pros are that I’m neither location-restricted nor time-restricted. Also, when you’re building something you’re passionate about, it gives you time to do what you love. The cons are few, but the main one is that you’re not guaranteed a salary at the end of the month. This past year, we’ve seen how even people in traditional jobs lost them due to the virus.”
I asked Sall if he is open to other business ventures besides the Andalus Institute in the meantime. “Yes, I do have other ventures in mind But I strongly believe in focusing on one thing to excel at it instead of doing different things and being only good at those. But I’m open to other ventures in maybe the next five years.”