By Laviza Syed

Have you ever wondered why deep talks and conversations always begin at night? Studies show that people become more emotionally vulnerable during the later hours of the night, which is why talks at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. become infinitely more hypnotizing. 

Entrepreneur Saima Zaidi realized the appeal of late-night “deep talks” through her conversations with friends and family, especially during Ramadan. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. People typically stay up till much later in the night. Zaidi capitalized on this and launched 2AM Talk, a spiritual discussion conversation starter card game. 

2AM Talk encourages vulnerable conversations addressing deeper, taboo topics within the Muslim community to create open and honest discussion. Zaidi aims for these conversations to span Muslims and non-Muslims alike, from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and identities. 

“These conversations were really important to me personally. I feel so spiritually connected and close to my religion and my own sect because of conversations like these,” Zaidi said. “Not just because I have Muslim friends, but because I have a mix of friends, and opened my mind to so many perspectives, and revalidated everything I already believe.”

Launched in Pickering, Ont., 2AM Talk,  Zaidi aimed to build a connection between fun, lighthearted card games and spirituality, and has reached Muslim communities throughout Ontario, and parts of the United States.

Zaidi has loved games since she was young, whether it be Uno, Monopoly, Scrabble, and many others. She prides herself on being the designated host of family and friends’ parties and owns a plethora of games to keep the night fun and lively.

Her close-knit group of friends have always been fans of board and card games, too. One pivotal night, Zaidi’s close friends purchased the card game, “We’re Not Really Strangers,” and invited the crew over. Zaidi had no idea she was about to be introduced to the idea that launched her business.

“We’re Not Really Strangers” is a card game designed to create meaningful connections between the players. Within the deck of cards, there are three levels of questions, with increasing levels of vulnerability to deepen the relationships of those playing. Zaidi enjoyed the game but thought there was a piece of the conversation missing. She wasn’t too satisfied by the relationship-centric nature of the game and felt there was an opportunity for her to fill the gap.

“My friends and I always said how these were our best nights, when we stayed up talking,” Zaidi said. “We’re from different religions and different sects, and we’ve learned so much about each other, and it’s never felt judgemental, it’s felt like a safe space, and I think it’s really rare to have a group of friends like that.”  

2AM Talk has a similar premise. The deck comes with two levels of questions titled “us” and “self.” The game is best played amongst a group of people, with each player taking turns pulling a card out of the deck, reading the question or conversation starter aloud, and the group then discussing their experiences and thoughts regarding the topic until they are ready for the next question.

Zaidi designed the questions with the Muslim community in mind and tackled issues within the Muslim community that had been overlooked or deemed taboo for ages. Zaidi mentions how the game covers interfaith marriage, gender, privilege, connections to God and religion, inclusivity, the impact of culture on religion, and much more. She realized that debuting the game with Ramadan right around the corner in 2020 would be the perfect opportunity. She sprang into action and produced and launched the entire first batch of the game, from idea to execution, within three weeks. Coming from an extensive marketing and business background, she was equipped with the knowledge and capabilities she needed to make it happen. Zaidi packs and assembles each box of the game at her house and gets the pieces from different suppliers. The cards were printed in Markham, Ont., the boxes came from California, and she delivered them herself if it was locally bought but shipped them out for orders further or outside of Canada.

Saima Zaidi talking about her process behind creating 2AM Talk.

In the meantime, she asked her relatives, friends, and family to play a mock run of the game. She watched as they went through rounds of the game and took their feedback on the questions she had asked. This became her process of elimination for certain questions. If they found it to be too surface-level, too personal, or too invasive, Zaidi would eliminate the question. Similarly, she took advice on which questions to keep or add. This process of elimination and inclusion allowed her to be confident in the idea.

Aliya Batool knew Zaidi and heard of her game through mutual connections at the mosque they attend in Pickering. Batool said playing 2AM helped her create new friends, and strengthened the friendships she already has. “I love the 2AM Talk game not just for the conversations, but because it helped me bond and connect with girls at my mosque when we all played together,” said Batool. “You got to see new perspectives from everyone’s lived experience.”

Rija Jafri, an avid lover of the game, emphasized how people are up late during Ramadan. “My friends and I would stay up till dawn playing 2 AM Talk over Zoom. We were so entranced by the idea, and Ramadan was the month that we would be awake at late hours of the night anyway. 2AM Talk was a perfect fit into our lives, and felt so natural to play,” she said. Jafri felt closer to the religion by playing 2AM Talk, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, because she would be able to spend time thinking about Islam in a way she had not been exposed to before.

Although Zaidi’s target audience was the Muslim community, she wanted her game to have inclusive questions, so that people of all communities and religions could play. But it wasn’t all that easy. Being a Shia Muslim came with a unique set of struggles.

When posting about Shia-specific events and concerns through her platform for 2AM Talk, Zaidi experienced immense backlash in the form of hateful messages and comments. Zaidi also remembered one specific incident where she was unable to work with one organization after they were informed that she was Shia. 

“Everything on social media is mainstream Sunni,” she said. “But I always wanted my business to reflect me and my values.” 

One key question Zaidi made sure to include was “how much do you know about different sects in Islam?” She says people in other sects could go their whole lives without learning about Shi’ism, but Shias are always asked to prove themselves, which forces them to learn about each sect and learn to defend their beliefs in front of others.

One of the main goals of 2AM Talk is addressing these sectarian issues.

“Our community is so small. I know if I were Sunni and had access to the same connections and clubs, I could do much more,” Zaidi said. “As Shias, we don’t have much set up for us to succeed, even in our own community.”

With six hundred Instagram followers and international customers, Zaidi has many plans for the future of 2AM Talk. She hopes to expand her business in the coming years with multiple sets of questions, new decks of cards catered around different ideas and topics and build her merch line. Currently, her merchandise consists of tote bags and crew necks, which she hopes to expand to include more apparel and accessories in the future.

In her personal life, Zaidi is entering a new phase — she is getting married in the coming months. This is the reason why the game is unavailable for purchase at the moment, but Zaidi will continue to produce the game afterwards. Orders can be placed through her Instagram @the2amtalk when she re-launches the production of the game. 

Zaidi is confident 2AM Talk will be something she continues well into the future, with many exciting things in store for the expansion.