Opinion: Can We Really Speak of a ‘Muslim Consumer’?

Shelina Janmohamed

When it comes to the growing arena of marketing to Muslims, the big question that the marketing industry is grappling with is: can you really speak of such a thing as a single homogeneous Muslim consumer, regardless of where they are in the world? The upcoming events of hajj and Eid ul Adha offer us an excellent perspective on the answer to this question.

Whether cultural or religious by nature, whether based in the East or West, the once-in-a-lifetime journey of the hajj is deeply ingrained into Muslim life. The timing of this event, its rituals and its importance are all described very clearly in the Qur’an, the sacred book that guides Muslims in their religion. Eid ul Adha, which is marked in remembrance of the sacrifice that the Prophet Abraham was willing to make by giving up his son for God, is also shared across the global Muslim population.

Wherever Muslims may be, whatever language they speak, or whatever their cultural context, these are pivotal events in their lives, the same the world over. The values they embody are echoed from Iraq to Indonesia to Iowa, from the Maldives to Mecca to Minnesota. The hajj is about the global Muslim community known as the ummah. It is about the ultimate travel to the house of God. It is about experiencing in person the brotherhood and the equality of all nations and races standing together in communal worship. It is about emerging purified of sin once the hajj is completed. It is about experiencing hardship and difficulty in order to complete one of the fundamental forms of worship in Islam.

The Eid too has shared values. Eid ul Adha is about sacrificing what you love in the way of God, just as did Abraham. Muslim families will often slaughter an animal (or more likely, have one slaughtered in an abattoir). Some of the meat will be shared amongst friends and family. Of course one of the collective values of Eid is family. But part of the meat is given away to the poor as a form of charity. And this of course is the other aspect of the celebration of this Eid festival.

Across the world, Eid ul Adha is known in many different ways and is celebrated in many different fashions. In the subcontinent it is often referred to as the “Bakri” or “Bakra” Eid in reference to the slaughter of an animal that takes place. In Pakistan there is a sweet treat for the morning, called ‘sheer kurma’, made of milk, vermicelli, nuts and dried dates.

In Saudi Arabia the tradition for visiting relatives is in order of family seniority. On the first day the patriarch, or the oldest male member of the family, receives the first visit. On the second day the second eldest is visited and so on.

In Gambia Eid ul Adha is called ‘tobaski’. Up and down the country there are barbecues that take place. Children ask for pocket money from family and neighbours in order to buy ice cream or cakes, and on one of the main strips Kairaba Avenue, the children wander around looking to buy the treats.

In North Africa the occasion is referred to as “Eid el Kibir”, Like many other cultures around the world, sweets feature high on the list of local customs, and Morocco is no exception with its own cookies and pastries. Breakfast may consist of herbel, a wheat and milk soup, and other specialties like msemen, a fried dough, and krachel, sweet rolls made with aniseed, sesame and orange flower water. Meats like liver and heart are also prepared on the day of slaughter.

In Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore the festival is called ‘Hari Raya Haji’ or ‘Lebaran Haji.’t is “Tfaska Tamoqqart” in Jerba and “Babbar Sallah” in West Africa. Turkey calls it “Kurban Bayram”, the feast of sacrifice. And the list goes on.

The vast array of names is evidence of a key point: the celebrations have been localised and integrated with the local culture, but they share the same root values. Although they are held in different ways, with different customs and traditions, we can say one thing with certainty: that the meaning and values underpinning this multitude of celebrations are the same.

And that brings us back to our original question: is there any such thing as a homogeneous Muslim consumer? Homogeneous, clearly not. But what we can say is that there are principles and values that bind them together as Muslim consumers. The hajj is a great example of an event unique to Muslims through which experiences are shared. Eid ul Adha is another, where Muslims enjoy expressing their cultural diversity. But wherever Muslims are, they are aware that they are part of the wider Muslim ummah as they celebrate the occasion.