Opinion: So what is Islamic Marketing & what’s all the noise about?

Dr Jonathan AJ Wilson small

By Dr Jonathan A. J. Wilson

What is Islamic Marketing? That’s the question I always get. Now I didn’t choose the term or title, but it’s clear that it’s the next thoroughbred from the stable that produced Islamic finance and banking, and Halal. But it’s about more than ‘meat and money’. More importantly, for me, it reflects a growing interest in ‘Brand Islam’; and recognition of Muslims as a significant segment, sector, and audience.

However, having raised the flag, when we look closer, it’s also clear that it’s about identifying homogeneity and heterogeneity; verticals and horizontals; and where there are new contributions, which are conceptual – rather than just data driven empirical bean counting.

Furthermore, it would be a mistake to assume that you [the researcher, participant, or audience] have to be a Muslim; or this is just about shari’ah; or even this is something new.  Just like you don’t have to be Japanese to practise martial arts – but having an affinity and interest helps; and acknowledging that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was first Islamic marketer are important points.

At the recent 9th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), held for the first time outside of the Muslim world, in London, Malaysian Prime Minister H.E. Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, relayed the story of Khadijah, the first convert to Islam.

“Of all the merchants in Mecca, she was the most successful; an entrepreneur who managed an international trading empire. One day, she hired a young man by the name of Muhammad, who she would eventually marry.”

Muhammad was later to become that Prophet Muhammad of Islam whom we are familiar with. We can also take from this that Islam has always had a tradition of framing itself alongside business and management as a lived experience.

I’m also asked whether Islamic marketing is about marketing Islam, or Marketing which is shari’ah compliant? Well I think that it is both of those and something which is broader-based, cultural and ethnocentric. A better description of the Journal of Islamic Marketing (JIMA) and my positioning of it, as I am the Editor-in-chief, would be to understand that first and foremost we sit within the discipline of Marketing, and our focus is to investigate and engage with Islam and Muslim geographies – whether they exist as majorities or minorities. So, as the only international academic journal dedicated to this field of study, JIMA is about when and how Marketing and marketers interact with and utilise Muslim culture for positive gains.

Justification for its importance largely follows three arguments:

  1. The economic argument – where data is being presented to demonstrate the market potential through financial value, and future sustainability through population figures
  2. The consumer-based perspective – where beyond market value and size, there exists a consumer-based religious obligation to develop the sector. But along the way, profiting from Prophethood is okay too. There are growing needs and wants, with a desire to align these with Islam and varying Muslim identities.
  3. The geopolitical imperative – where commerce linked with Islam is influenced by geopolitics, and is crucial to international relations, political stability and national brand equities.

One quarter of the world’s population are Muslim, 60% of whom are under the age of 24. The global Halal market is currently worth US$2.3 trillion, the global Islamic finance sector will reach US$2 trillion by 2015, and the Middle East has seen a 78% growth in brand value, based on demands for Islamic banking products and services. Muslims are reported as the 3rd ‘next billion’ in terms of market opportunity, following global interest in Indian and Chinese billions. It’s also worth mentioning that India has 160 million Muslims and China has 50 million Muslims.

At the 9th WIEF, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) launched their report, titled ‘Changing world, new relationships’, in which I contributed a section on Halal markets, new classifications, and future predictions (pp.68-73) http://read.pwc.com/i/190845/3

So Islamic marketing is big news – and I’ve been kept busy with speaking engagements, travel to some of the most beautiful parts of the World; and those of you with a knowledge of ancient history will know that this includes geographies which are the cradles of civilization. Each trip has offered an invaluable experience, expanding my understanding of how much diversity and pluralism there is; each trip highlights that there are so many areas currently under researched; and each trip puts me alongside people who assert that the role of faith in business and management is all too often overlooked or downplayed.

Furthermore, I’m arguing that it’s not just that more data needs to be collected and analysed, but that more needs to be done to develop new and revised methods and philosophical approaches.

Following WIEF, we hosted a panel session at the University of Greenwich, at the Old Royal Naval College. John Grant author of ‘Made With – The Emerging Alternative to Western Brands’, offered case examples from his new book, where he draws parallels with the Muslim world [which he calls the Interland] and the rise of Japanese brands, like Sony [whose name connoted smart, presentable young men] – which manifested a desire to change negative world perceptions towards Japan. John states that,

“The typical Western brand is all about authorship, personality, and identification; Made By – (and for) the ego. The Interland brand is born out of an ethic that distrusts the ego, having a tradition of unsigned art, avoiding icons.”

Building on John’s points, I framed discussions alongside other recent phenomena, to get a sense of what the future may bring.

Following the 1945 occupation of Japan by the United States of America, and an enforced change in the Japanese constitution to becoming a pacifist nation; a dim view was taken globally of the Japanese military’s role in university and school curricula. After a period of prohibition, Japan was able to adapt the training and practice of Martial Warfare successfully; towards an acceptance of it being something which became a national treasure: preserving culture, espousing ideals of pacifism and sporting excellence, and as an offering to non-Japanese individuals – the birth of Martial Arts. Comparisons can be made with Bushid? (the way of the samurai) and the transformation from European practices of the art chivalry in the Middle Ages, into a sanitised romantic ideal of masculine codes of conduct.

I also charted the roots of ‘cool’ and how it migrated from of being a mask that Africans created during the Atlantic slave trade to project a sense of pride and grace under pressure – into becoming a low profile means of survival; later a youthful rebellious alternative to class-based status systems by all; and finally a commoditized branded identity, embodied by ‘black’ music, comedy, fashion, cosmetics, and sports.

Now, some Muslim and non-Muslim sources have argued that Western hedonism, embodied by conspicuous branded consumption and consumerism is opposed to Islam.  For me, this plays into the hands of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’. He was right to identify the fact that many cultures are based on religion – but his thesis that Islam “and its bloody borders” clash with most other civilizations and this is the “real [Global] problem”, is something I contest.

So, there’s a whistle-stop tour of the Islamic marketing landscape. And, following recent speeches by UK Prime Minister David Cameron outlining various aims and objectives to establish ourselves as the global centre of excellence and education for Islamic trade and commerce – then I’m looking forward to our attempts and no doubt a full spectrum of debates.

Dr Jonathan A.J. Wilson is Editor in chief, of the Journal of Islamic Marketing, and Academic at the Business School, University of Greenwich, London.

Dr Wilson will be speaking at the Global Islamic Economy Summit, 25th-26th November 2013, Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, on Muslim consumer behaviour.