by Khadijah Ali (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 8, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1437)
The halal products industry is a multi-billion dollar business and as more Muslim consumers demand products suitable to their needs, this industry will grow. Will Muslim States take advantage of this?
Unlike most other faith communities, the vast majority of Muslims have not abandoned their adherence to halal products, especially food. From meat and poultry to hygiene products, there is a huge market for halal products globally and this industry is growing exponentially.
To get an idea of how large this market is, consider the following. The global halal food and beverage market is projected to grow to $1.6 trillion by 2018, according to a report by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, up from $1.1 trillion in 2013. Muslim consumer spending today stands at $2.1 trillion and with the Muslim population projected to grow to 2.8 billion by 2050, this is a huge market that businesses will ignore at their (financial) peril.
Given that the current global Muslim population is close to 2 billion and their demand not only for food products but also for hygiene products such as cosmetics and dress is growing, the market potential is huge. The Muslim middle class is expanding rapidly; around 80 million Muslims are added annually. Of the current Muslim population, 62% is under the age of 25. Together with the projected growth in Muslim population, there will be a rise in its purchasing power as well.
Not surprisingly, over the last 30 years or so, airlines have also recognized this potential and are catering to Muslim dietary requirements by providing a halal food menu. Increasing numbers of Muslims are traveling for business and pleasure. There is in fact a growing demand for halal travel tour packages as well. More on this a little later but first, let us continue with the halal products market.
It is quite revealing and something Muslim countries ought to pay close attention to, that non-Muslim countries dominate the huge global halal market. Brazil is the largest player exporting halal products worth $4.73 billion, followed by Hindu India with $2.11 billion and Australia $1.63 billion. Even China is muscling its way into the halal market. Why are Muslim countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran missing from this list? Surely, they are ideally placed to capture a niche of this growing market.
The vast majority of Muslims reside in Asia (south and southeast) followed by the Muslim East (aka the Middle East). There are now also a significant number of Muslims residing in Europe and North America. While their numbers may be small — only a few million, perhaps 10–15 million, compared to billions in the Muslim heartland — their purchasing power and demand for halal products is quite strong. Given their high level of education — Muslims in Canada for instance, have far higher qualifications than the Canadian average — they are also far more conscious of halal products than their fellow Muslims in Muslim majority countries where halal is taken for granted. At least 30% of Muslims in Canada have a university degree or higher compared to only 18% of the Canadian average!
Let us consider one more statistic to round out the picture about the Muslims’ purchasing power. Muslim liquid wealth (owned by individuals, institutions, and governments) is estimated at $11.5 trillion, according to Bloomberg News (August 15, 2016). This does not include the mineral wealth of Muslims that runs into tens of trillions of additional dollars. The “Muslim wealth mountain,” as Bloomberg puts it, has led to an explosion in what is referred to as Shari‘ah-compliant financial instruments.
Together with so-called Shari‘ah-compliant financial instruments, there has also been an explosion in Halal Certification Authorities in Europe, North America, Australia, South Africa, and other places. The issue of what constitutes halal is unfortunately somewhat contested. For instance, most Muslims insist that animals must be slaughtered by hand and the blood drained out properly to be considered halal. Some Muslim organizations in North America — the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), for instance — have issued halal certificates to such companies as Maple Lodge Farms, which slaughters chickens using a machine. ISNA gets a commission from Maple Lodge for such certification.
Are machine slaughtered chickens halal? Most Muslims think not. Well-known Islamic scholars have given their opinion saying only hand-slaughtered chickens are halal. There are also a number of chicken slaughterhouses that employ Muslims to slaughter chicken by hand. And even non-Muslims have realized that halal meat tastes far better than the non-halal meat they get in a butcher’s shop or the grocery store. In Canada, many mainstream grocery stores have started to carry frozen halal meat on their shelves. Some, like Freshco, actually have a halal meat section where Muslim butchers prepare fresh meat on demand.
In addition to meat, a number of other products are also going halal. Take the case of chips. A wide range of ingredients goes into preparing them. Some of these may be derived from pig fat. Muslim consumers have become savvy enough to realize this. Lays Potato Chips producers had a disaster on their hands in Pakistan in 2009 when it was discovered that a pork-based product was used in the chip as a flavour enhancer. The ingredient was manufactured in Europe where pig meat consumption is widespread. Frito-Lay, the manufacturers immediately turned to Junaid Jamshed, Pakistan’s well known Islamic icon, to rescue it from sinking. They immediately switched to an ingredient manufactured in Malaysia (a Muslim country) but did not leave it there. They sought Jamshed’s popularity to assure the jittery consumers that its products are now completely halal.
Jamshed has his own line of clothing both for men and women. Unlike other Pakistani fashion designers, he does not use female models to advertise his line of clothing. Lest someone screams “discrimination,” this is in keeping with Islamic tenets. Women’s bodies should not be exploited to sell products as is widespread in the West. Under the rubric of freedom, women are forced to dress scantily to sell all kinds of products from clothes to cars and everything in between. The shameless spectacle of beauty contests is gradually scaling down under pressure from women’s groups but not fast enough. Muslims are required to observe modesty, especially in their dress and conduct.
This brings us to the question of dress, especially women’s dress. The most visible symbol of a Muslim woman’s dress is the hijab — the head-covering scarf. While this has been made controversial in some Western countries, especially France, it is a fact that a woman in hijab looks far more attractive than one without it. The hijab enhances a woman’s beauty that uncovered hair cannot. But it would be wrong to assume that hijab is the only dress Muslim women wear. There is a long line of other products.
Despite being made controversial in recent weeks, the burkini — the full-body swimwear of a Muslim woman — has aroused far more interest from non-Muslim women than Muslim women. The burkini, however, is a pathetic distraction from the wide range of clothing Muslims wear. These include trousers, tunics, and coats for all seasons. There is a lot more to Muslim women’s fashion. No short sleeves or shorts for Muslim men or women; modesty is the guiding principle.
Halal cosmetics and hygiene products are also making a strong presence in the market. Again, the emphasis is on clean, healthy products. Muslims do not use alcohol in their products although many perfumes are alcohol-based. It is now being realized even in the West that some people are allergic to such products. It is not uncommon to read signs in hospitals and clinics requesting visitors to refrain from using scented products. Non-alcohol based fragrances are far superior in quality to alcohol-based fragrances and do not carry any of the negative consequences such as allergic reaction.
With the rise in Muslim consumer spending, increasing numbers are turning to halal tours. Muslim families would like to go to places where their Islamic values are respected. A number of Muslim countries have realized this potential and are catering to the needs of Muslim tourists. Both Turkey and Iran have been pioneers in this area relying on their history. There are many historical monuments in both countries. They also have exceptional natural beauty. Coupled with relatively cheap prices, both destinations can be considered a Muslim tourist’s paradise.
Islamic Iran also has separate beaches for women free from the prying eyes of men. These provide a safe and secure environment in which women can also enjoy a swim. Unfortunately, other Muslim countries do not provide such facilities. On the beaches in Tunisia and Morocco, it would be hard to tell whether one is on a beach in Europe or a Muslim country.
At the other end of the spectrum, Saudi Arabia, which has the natural magnets Makkah and Madinah for the Muslims’ religious and spiritual journey, is busy destroying the land of the Prophet (pbuh) by turning it into a replica of Las Vegas. Saudis are cultural hooligans; they have no sense of history or respect for Islamic heritage. The manner in which Makkah and Madinah’s historical sites are being bulldozed into oblivion to be replaced by steel and concrete monstrosities has appalled even non-Muslims. Their pleas to preserve these historical monuments have fallen on deaf Saudi ears.
The Saudis want to turn Makkah and Madinah into tourist attractions but only for the rich. Both Hajj and Umrah have been reduced to mere rituals emptied of their spiritual content and confined to a matter of days. When the aim is to gouge visitors — even those coming to the House of Allah (swt) — then there is something seriously wrong with this approach. What could be a spiritual journey for Muslims connecting with prophetic history is turned into an experience no different than visiting a Western capital city. Even in that, the Saudis lag far behind. Western capital cities have some degree of cleanliness, a feature distinctly missing from Saudi cities.
Despite these impediments, Muslims still go for Hajj and Umrah, not because they have any regard for the Saudis but because one —the Hajj — is an obligation, and the other — Umrah — is a Prophetic Sunnah. How much more meaningful both experiences would be if Muslims were to experience the Prophet’s (pbuh) era, even temporarily, without the contamination of imposed modernity with its noise pollution, unhealthy greasy Western food (McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken) and other filth that is the natural consequence of bringing in Western fast-food chains into Muslim lands.
While Muslims today are vilified and targeted in Western countries with some politicians turning anti-Islamic rants into their campaign platforms, this cannot possibly last forever. The growing strength of Muslim consumers, the rise in their purchasing power, and their demand for halal products will force even these pigheaded politicians into seeing the error of their ways. The Chinese example may be instructive. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Chinese were vilified and shunned. Today, Western politicians make a beeline to Beijing seeking audience with their rulers. This is the direct result of China’s spectacular economic growth and global influence.
The rise of the Muslim consumer will force a rethink in the current hostility directed against Muslims. What is needed is for Muslims not to lose their cool and not succumb to the temptation of accepting unhealthy Western consumption habits or dress. Muslims must hold their heads high and weather the current storm with dignity.
The darkest hour, as they say, is before dawn. The Muslim dawn is about to break.