Why Capitalizing on Islam Isn’t the Same as Inclusion

Hello brands, it’s me…just your average Muslim girl here, ready to share some advice. 

So, you see it, right? The fact that your marketing department starts to go into “Muslim-inclusive overdrive” around a certain time of year? It’s okay; you can be honest, because we can definitely see it too. In recent years, whenever Ramadan rolls around there have been a few of you who have seen it as an opportunity to tap into a new market, but this year was a little different. This year, a lot of you were in on the money-making industry secret of catering to a Muslim audience, starved for inclusion and desperate for some positive attention.

I get it – we’re your perfect consumer. A lot of us are willing to buy anything that is remotely marketed towards us, because, capitalism or not, at least we finally get to be a part of the conversation. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m guilty of it too. The first time I saw the Coca-Cola ad for Ramadan on Instagram it made me really want a Coke, and then I had one with my iftar that night. And after first hearing about H&M’s “modest” collection, I can’t say I wasn’t excited. But the issue, brands, is that inclusion with money as your motive isn’t really inclusion at all. In fact, it’s more along the lines of exploitation.

The issue is that inclusion with money as your motive isn’t really inclusion at all. In fact, it’s more along the lines of exploitation.

Please don’t get me wrong; we really appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to learn about us and our religion. But if you had done a little more research, you would know that a big part of Islam is that your actions are rooted in your intentions. It’s not enough to put out something that’s vaguely targeted at Muslims during Ramadan, collect your money, feel good about yourself, and call it a day. There are a lot of us that are in your industries – fashion, tech, food, you name it – and there’s definitely a Muslim company that’s being doing it better and for a lot longer than you have. If your intention was truly to include us, those companies and individuals would have been consulted and involved. But sadly, they’re often not, and we’re left with ad campaigns and products that really miss the mark (see: H&M) – and that’s really disappointing.

But what’s worse than that is Muslim-owned businesses could also suffer. Like late last year, Nike released their “Nike Pro Hijab,” a one-piece sports hijab with the Nike logo printed on the side. And while it was cool to see some representation from such a huge brand, there were a lot of Muslim-run businesses that were already catering to the modest sportswear market way before Nike. But people are a lot more likely to purchase a hijab from Nike – a large company with an equally large advertising budget – than one of these smaller, experienced businesses.

So my advice to all the brands out there is this: Muslims are willing pay for things. Muslims like to buy things just as much as anyone else. We especially like to buy things that satisfy our needs – that’s how capitalism works. But we don’t like being manipulated and exploited to put a dollar in your pocket. It’s impossible for you to be putting out Muslim-targeted content and products without first consulting Muslims. In order to build a brand around inclusivity you need to actually be inclusive. That means inclusion at every step along the way: Research, product design, marketing, everything. We want to see people that look like us in ad campaigns and not just ethnically-ambiguous models. We want to be listened to and not just given what you “think” we want (I can get a thousand abayas from the motherland for like a dollar, please stop trying to sell me abayas and kaftans branded as “modest wear.”) And most importantly, we know that there are haters out there who will hate your inclusivity. Losing some business is the risk that you take by doing this properly – but it will be worth it because there’s a large group of people who will appreciate you for it.