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Targeting Muslim consumers requires more than a halal label. Fundamental approaches that build brand affinity are also relevant across the Islamic world. How is the merchandise positioned vis-à-vis competitors in the marketplace? Does the product line have a faith-based personality? Enthusiasm for the potential of halal-related profits is checked by commercial reality.
Burgeoning pools of capital across the Islamic world include institutional investors with Shariah-compliant mandates. Some of these players mirror institutions in conventional finance, such as venture capital funds. Others, like takaful, are unique to the Islamic world. Many are active cross-border investors because of the comparatively small size of their local economies.
Islam and the Caribbeans seem like a peculiar pairing. There are, however, some 400,000 Muslims across the region. The largest groups reside in Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname. Islam was originally brought to the region by slaves and indentured servants from Africa and Asia; its early footing was tenuous as colonial powers imposed their Christian heritage on these workers.
The Islamic world is not a monolith. There are disparate voices within the faith. The schism between Sunnis and Shiites may be the most pronounced to Westerners, but there are other differences. Within fiqh—human understanding of revealed law—there are at least four distinct Sunni schools. Views on jurisprudence can evolve because human effort is considered imperfect.
A shift from multilateralism to bilateralism has caused economic diplomacy to stumble. Instead of using finance and trade to harmonize viewpoints, some leaders weaponize them. This approach may be an extension of strongman politics, which will mitigate itself over time. Or it could lead to deeper fractures in the international order, with degraded outcomes.
Muslim travelers prioritize halal food and prayer facilities when structuring their itineraries. Meeting those requirements is now easier with mobile apps and internet-based research, but the faithful are still frustrated outside of the Muslim world. The hospitality industry increasingly caters to these requirements. Muslim-friendly hotels, for instance, are alcohol-free.
Some entrepreneurs ascribe to faith principles outlined in the Quran. That angle impacts their working environments and product offerings. While a halal approach may limit funding and monetization strategies, it also can define the market for goods and services more precisely. Halal ventures are prominent in the Islamic world because of proximity to like-minded capital sources.
Understanding others’ religion strengthens social empathy. As Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have more in common, than not. Yet our cultures focus intently on the differences, breeding skepticism and nurturing violence. The ability to charitably explore divergences in belief is a form of communication art that may be lost in modernity.
Attire in the Islamic world is based on concepts of modesty and humility. Aside from basic guidelines on coverage, the Quran says little about clothing. The debate on Islamic style—either nurturing oppression or fostering empowerment—lingers because many Western voices define Muslim fashion by the hijab or burqa. This rigid viewpoint runs counter to broad commercial opportunity.
The United States has a contorted relationship with Islam. Contemporary views tend to be framed by the September 11 attacks, despite the fact that Muslims have been part of the national mosaic since the country’s earliest days. In America, the town square of public debate provides a framework for the West to better reconcile its Christian heritage with this other Abrahamic faith.
Shariah-compliant investments extend across the allocation spectrum. Levying or benefiting from interest is forbidden; some considerations are haram because of their speculative qualities. Geography itself is not a qualification or constraint. In Muslim-dominant nations, there can be both halal and haram alternatives within established sectors, such as banking and finance.
The Islamic banking industry is an integral part of the global financial system. During its growth spurt in the first decade of this century, the industry was fueled in Southeast Asia by government-induced restructuring and in the Middle East by oil-sourced liquidity. The sector is a magnet for faith affinity. Strengths in retail banking support strategies to grow wholesale efforts.
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