x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emirates emerges as home to 'modern Muslim' consumer

A growing number of Muslims seek to be modern, but not Western, according to a new survey.

Shoppers in the contemporary mall have access to fully-Halal products.
Shoppers in the contemporary mall have access to fully-Halal products.

A significant and growing percentage of the world's 1.4 billion Muslims are striving for lifestyles that are both religious and modern, representing a largely untapped market, a new study of Islamic consumers says. This profile particularly describes consumers in the UAE, where 45 per cent of the national population - the highest percentage of all the countries studied - fit this category of the so-called "New Age Muslim", according to the study by the advertising agency JWT and the market research firm AMRB. "We often try to describe an lslamic or a Muslim consumer as westernised or not westernised, which is totally stupid," said Roy Haddad, the chairman of JWT MENA. "No Arab, or no Muslim that I know, wants to be more westernised. Yes, we want to be modern. But we are not western." "Effectively, there is no contradiction between modernity and Islam, and that is what people don't understand a lot. Dubai is the best example of that." The research consisted of interviews, focus groups and surveys conducted with nearly 8,000 people in 10 predominantly Muslim countries: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan and Turkey. While the study did find that there are certain traits - such as identification with religion over nation and strong emphasis on family - that unite all Muslim consumers, it also broke each country's population into social and cultural groups that could help marketers target them better. These included religious conservatives, societal conformists, pragmatic strivers, liberals and New Age Muslims. One of the most surprising findings, according to the researchers, was where actual religious conservatives lived. This group was defined as extremely religious individuals who do not approve of gender interaction, expect others to follow religious practices and override their personal choices for religious beliefs. They were also described as "anti-media and information averse". The study found that Saudi Arabia, the country traditionally thought of as being among the most religiously conservative in the world, actually had less than 20 per cent of its population fall into this category. In contrast, Jordan, often thought of as a relatively liberal country, had nearly half its population fall into the religious conservative category. "This is the discovery that astonished us," Mr Haddad said. "Egypt and Jordan are the two highest proportions of religious conservatives. It is not where we thought we would find them, in Pakistan or in Saudi." Saudi instead had a large proportion of its population fall into the New Age Muslim category. These were defined as religious individuals who do not expect others to follow religious practices, believe in societal progression and support female empowerment and gender equality. They were described as "pro-media" and aware of the potential advantages of the internet. Because this category tended to be both affluent and receptive to media, it represented a huge potential market for brands, Mr Haddad said. "People are really underestimating how important this sector is and how fast it's growing." As an example, he pointed to the halal food market, a US$580 billion (Dh2.13 trillion) sector, according to a 2007 Forbes report, but which is not served by a single global halal food brand. As a result, Muslims in the US spend $16bn a year on kosher food, which is also halal - more than the country's Jewish population. "There are opportunities here that no one is tackling," he said. khagey@thenational.ae