NON-FICTION: Faith and Consumerism

Published April 2, 2017
The modern Muslims of Generation M are as much in tune with their religion as they are with the world around them
The modern Muslims of Generation M are as much in tune with their religion as they are with the world around them

Shelina Janmohamed, author of Love in a Headscarf, has written a topical book titled Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World. While her earlier work chronicled her 10-year journey of finding love within a traditional arranged marriage framework, this book is a portrait of affluent millennial Muslims. As such, it will be of much interest not only to millennials, but also to the businesses that wish to sell to or engage with them. This may be why Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, has written one of the endorsements on the back cover.

Before diving into the book itself, it is important to examine who millennial Muslims are, or at least, who are those that are the focus of this book’s demographic. In 2010, there were an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and this number is expected to grow to 2.8 billion by 2050. This will make Muslims more than a quarter of the world’s population, with the largest concentration — 311 million — expected to be in India. Examining this population more closely, as stated by Janmohamed, one-third of all Muslims today are under the age of 15 and two-thirds are under the age of 30.

To put this into economic context, according to the Next 11 group, more than half of the 11 countries expected to join the world’s largest economies this century — Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam — have overwhelmingly Muslim populations. The Muslim middle class is expected to triple to 900 million by 2030 which will most certainly have an effect on social and political change as well as impact consumption and retail trends. Currently, Muslim travel is estimated at above $200 billion, Muslim fashion above $200 billion, Muslim cosmetics above $50 billion, and both halal food and Islamic finance are expected to cross trillions each by the end of the decade. The busiest advertising period targeting these groups is Ramazan, writes Janmohamed, citing Vicky Bullen, CEO of Coley Porter Bell, as stating “[Ramazan] is ‘how Christmas used to be in 1972’ … Muslim consumers today are far more sophisticated.”

So this is a group worth studying and of economic as well as socio-political interest to many.


A fresh perspective on the social way of life and economic impact of millenial Muslims


As Janmohamed writes, “Consumption by Muslim women is particularly important. They have gone on to the high streets and found that the products they want are missing. Instead of moaning about their absence, they’ve been busy setting up their own businesses.”

Janmohamed is a child of Muslim immigrants to the United Kingdom, who hid her family’s religious practices as a youngster before finding her own path when she entered the University of Oxford. She lived briefly in Bahrain before starting a successful blog that led first to Love in a Headscarf and ultimately to a job offer from top marketing agency Ogilvy & Mather to help them launch Ogilvy Noor, their marketing advisory house that guides brands on Muslim clientele.

That relationship resulted in this book, as it underscored support and funding and enabled Janmohamed to conduct in-depth research and study to come up with a holistic view on the topic.

Janmohamed describes Generation M as “proud and practicing Muslims” who want the best of all worlds. Globally, the trend — especially in the West — is for millennials to distance themselves from organised religion, but this group of millennial Muslims is doing the polar opposite. These youngsters do not see any clash between their faith and leading a modern life. Instead, as Janmohamed writes, “their faith affects everything, and they want the world to know it.”

She cites numerous examples, writing, “Take Romanna Bint-Abubaker who founded the million-dollar fashion business Haute Elan. Or Salma Chaudhry who set up a halal cosmetics company after she survived cancer and wanted to create a beauty range using wholesome ingredients. Or Nasim Rizvi who founded halal baby food to meet the needs of mums wanting to uphold their halal principles at the same time as working or running busy lives.”

This pride in their faith is what sets them apart from their non-Muslim millennial peers. Otherwise, they are equally text-savvy — just check out all the selfies taken at the holy Ka’aba — and interested in the internet of things, shared assets, and all things of a millennial trend.

Janmohamed cites several Muslim celebrities who have made their mark online including those teaching hijab tutorials, performing comedy sketches, reciting poetry or playing music. She mentions Humza Arshad, the creator of YouTube comedy series Diary of a Bad Man; Palestinian-American Yousef Saleh Erakat, aka FouseyTube, who discusses identity; and California-based writer and speaker Yasmin Mogahed who has written the self-help book Reclaim Your Heart.

Possibly the most interesting part of Janmohamed’s study of Muslim millennials is their commitment to tayyab, which refers here to “ethical and wholesome production and consumption.” This is completely on-trend to the socio-conscious ethical and sustainable choices being made by millennials globally. These Muslim millennials are eco-Muslims by and large and believe in the idea of stewardship of the Earth. This belief system will shape their businesses, where they choose to work and from where they choose to buy.

This Generation M is not only changing the world and the economies they live in, but their influence is sure to grow with time.

The reviewer is a social entrepreneurship specialist

Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World
By Shelina Janmohamed
I.B.Tauris, UK
ISBN: 978-1780769097
256pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, April 2nd, 2017

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