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  • Do Muslim consumers want shariah, and what does it mean anyway?

    With the world’s Muslim population estimated at 1.8 billion, and their spend worth in excess of $2.1 trillion, businesses are starting to wake up to the potential of the Muslim consumer market.

    Muslim consumers have specific needs and aspirations when it comes to their relationships with brands. In terms of the latter they look for brands to show an understanding of their desire to live an Islamic lifestyle, and that their consumption should assist them in doing so.

    Whether it is from cosmetics to travel, from finance to fashion, they are becoming increasingly demanding of their purchases.

    Even in the communications that brands use, Muslim consumers want them to be respectful of their religious parameters. For example, the use of nudity and flesh display so commonly used is anathema to Muslim consumers.

    But before a brand can establish itself as part of a Muslim consumer’s lifestyles, there are specific needs that it must attend to, and the key need is for the product to be shariah-compliant.

    For large global brands, especially when based in minority Muslim countries, the word shariah can make them nervous.  But for Muslim consumers it is a far cry from the shariah law that is applied in just one or two nations.  For smaller brands, start ups and SMEs, their shariah-compliance is at once a positive differentiator, but also a worry when reaching out to broader audiences who may not know what it means to be shariah compliant or halal.

    According to Ogilvy Noor’s research, Muslims see shariah as a moral compass by which to live their lives. Even when it comes to shariah law (as distinct from shariah), it covers a whole range of legal situations, of which most are in the personal and family domains, and only a few related to capital punishment, which themselves are contentious.

    It is this level of nuance that brands need to embrace, because this is the nuance with which Muslims themselves understand it.

    A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life which surveyed 38,000 Muslims in 80 languages across 39 countries aimed to get a deeper understanding of what shariah actually means to Muslims.

    Muslims have different understandings of what shariah means in practice. The percentage of Muslims who say they want shariah to be “the official law of the land” varies widely around the world, from fewer than one-in-ten in Azerbaijan (8%) to near unanimity in Afghanistan (99%).

    The application of shariah by Muslims is an aspiration that it should not necessarily apply to all, rather  most supporters of shariah think Islamic law should apply only to Muslims.

    It is with this more subtle, personal code of conduct that we can square our own finding, that over 90% of Muslims that we asked said that their faith affects their consumption.  Undoubtedly then, shariah compliance of products is crucial.

    In the colloquial parlance of shariah in western discussions, there comes tied to it a sense of a historic or backward law, which can make brands feel apprehensive in terms of how it will affect their brand positioning. Brands, do not fear. The last thing that Muslim consumers want is to have backwards or retrograde products.

    In fact, according to the same Pew report, most Muslims see no inherent tension between being religiously devout and living in a modern society.

    Nor do they see any conflict between religion and science.

    Many favor democracy over authoritarian rule. They also believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time.

    Interestingly from a brand and communications perspective while they say they personally enjoy Western movies, music and television most think Western popular culture undermines public morality. This means there is a gap here to use familiar cultural reference points, but build into them the kind of religious values that Muslim inherently feel are more suited to their Islamic aspirations.

    In short, shariah compliance is something that Muslim consumers do expect, but this compliance is not the scary, or incompatible-with-modernity idea that at first glance brands might think. It simply means an adherence to basic Islamic rules such as methods of slaughter (meat), instrument structures (finance) and ingredients being non-alcohol based, non pig-derivatives (personal care) to name just a few.

    And the great thing is, when these technical terms are put into ordinary consumer parlance – meat is properly inspected, finance shares risk and profit, rather than loading risk on the consumer, ingredients are healthy, ethical and organic – the wider consumer base finds them appealing to.

    So while Muslim consumers need shariah compliance, the wider consumer base may want it to, once we all have a shared understanding of what it actually means.

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