Wednesday 22 November 2017

How big business is waking up to Muslim money of 'Generation M'

One-third of the world's Muslims are under the age of 15, and two-thirds are under 30
One-third of the world's Muslims are under the age of 15, and two-thirds are under 30

Mary Fitzgerald

They are young and Muslim with a growing spending power that is making global corporations and brands sit up and take notice. Author Shelina Janmohamed calls them Generation M. Born over the past three decades, they are Muslim millennials who grew up in the shadow of 9/11 and all that followed, and whose lives and ideas have been shaped by technology.

In her book, 'Generation M - Young Muslims Changing The World', Janmohamed, a British marketing executive, writes: "Their faith affects everything, and they want the world to know it. This is what sets them apart from their non-Muslim peers. It's the single factor that will shape them and a world that they are determined should cater to their needs … They are a tech-savvy, self-empowered, youthful group who believe that their identity encompasses both faith and modernity."

The idea of Generation M is underpinned by some fascinating demographic trends. Six years ago there were 1.6 billion Muslims across the world, a figure predicted to rise by 73pc over the next 40 years, more than double the overall rate. According to forecasts by the Pew Research Centre, by 2050 more than a quarter of the global population will be Muslim. By that year, the largest Muslim population will live in India (at present Indonesia is home to the greatest number of Muslims) despite still being a minority in the country. Some of the world's fastest-growing economies are Muslim-majority countries.

One-third of the world's Muslims are under the age of 15, and two-thirds are under 30. Across Europe and the US, Muslim minorities are not only youthful and growing but also increasingly affluent. These Muslim millennials, along with their peers in more stable corners of the Middle East but also countries like Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, are piquing the interest of big business.

As Janmohamed details in her book, the fast-growing global Muslim middle class is expected to treble to 900 million by 2030, bringing with it formidable spending power. Recent research has shown that the halal (meaning what is religiously sanctioned in Islam) food and lifestyle sector will be worth $2.6 trillion by this decade's close.

In 2014, Muslim fashion - including the all-over swimsuit known as the burkini that recently caused controversy in France - was estimated to be worth $230bn, and $54bn was spent on halal cosmetics (made without alcohol or pig derivatives). The burgeoning Islamic finance industry is experiencing similar trends.

As Janmohamed points out, it all adds up to a trajectory very much at odds with the stereotypes that underpin much of the anti-Muslim sentiment on the rise in parts of Europe and the US.

"Through their sheer numbers, their growing middle-class stature, the shift of economic and political power towards the Middle East and Asia, home to most of the world's Muslims, through the Muslim minorities that act as influential and well-connected leaders, by the inspirational force of their faith and their refusal to accept the status quo, Generation M are determined to make change," she writes.

Some companies are already chasing the Muslim euro, dollar and pound. Marks and Spencer sold out of the burkini range it launched earlier this year. Fashion chain H&M has featured models wearing the hijab, or headscarf, in advertising campaigns.

But Generation M is also producing its own entrepreneurs. Janmohamed writes about a British Muslim family who started their own organic halal farm, Muslim businesswomen who have created halal baby food and ready meals, and young Muslim designers catering for what some have termed 'Mipsters' or Muslim hipsters.

Given the increasingly shrill debate in France, home to Europe's largest Muslim population, over what Muslim women should or should not wear, it is notable that Janmohamed pays particular attention to the growing global cohort of increasingly educated young Muslim women, many of whom are delaying marriage and childbirth to pursue professional goals.

"Being granted permission to take part fully in society is not something these women are waiting for," she writes. "They walk the line between dispelling the stereotypes that surround them and pushing against the cultural barriers that, in many parts of the world, have suppressed their voices.

Far from being held back by their faith, they see it as a form of liberation and they are going back to its roots to determine a new kind of feminism."

The Generation M label does not encompass all Muslim millennials, of course, and applies more in certain parts of the world than others.

On social media, some young European Muslims have railed against its consumption-driven narrative.

But it captures a reality that is too often overlooked at a time when many Muslims feel under siege both by terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam and those who want to blame all Muslims for the acts of an extremist few.

Irish Independent

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