For Generation M, faith and modernity go hand in hand

Culture & Entertainment
Shelina Janmohamed and her book Generation M
Photos courtesy of Shelina Janmohamed

In Shelina Janmohamed’s recent book, Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, she examines Mipsterz (Muslim hipsters) and “hijabilicious” modest-fashion bloggers, a group of Muslim youth that she collectively calls “Generation M”. 

Shelina is Vice President of Ogilvy Noor. According to her, Generation M defines an influential segment of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and the book is an attempt to decipher a powerful market segment that is still largely untapped.

Shelina told My Salaam that research done by Ogilvy Noor shows the key characteristic of Generation M is that faith and modernity go together for them, each improving the other. “Generation M tends to be in the 15–35 age group. Having said that, it is a mindset and attitude. So it can encompass a wider age group,” she explained. “[They] are tech-savvy, creative, entrepreneurial, optimistic. They believe in using their voices to change the world; they are willing to hold authorities to account and believe their faith-inspiration can make the world a better place.”

Book cover_Generation M Young Muslims Changing the World by Shelina Janmohamed
Book cover of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World / Photo courtesy of Shelina Janmohamed

In populations where the Muslims are a minority, such as the UK, US and Europe, young Muslims are affluent and influential, and they play a pioneering role in defining Generation M. She says that Muslim women are breaking traditional barriers in these places. “When they see high-street brands that do not cater to their needs, they create their own products and services,” Shelina noted. She cited the example of baby food, a product that non-Muslim women have been used to ever since they joined the work force and needed the convenience of readymade food. For Muslim women, halal baby food was created to offer them the same convenience that other women enjoyed.

Shelina says she found two factors that helped give rise to Generation M: the War on Terror, launched after 9/11, and the internet. Two-thirds of Generation M are under thirty, so they have spent their formative years under scrutiny. “The War on Terror cast a spotlight onto Muslims. […] It is [Generation M’s] lived experience to have a harsh focus on them and the stereotyping that goes with it. They have responded by asserting pride in their identity.”

A 2010 study by Ogilvy Noor titled “Brands, Islam, and the New Muslim Consumer” introduced the idea of a faith-identity consumer. In the study, 90 percent of the Muslims surveyed said faith affects their consumption. The simple idea is that Muslims buy things. Shelina noted that the small businesses run by young entrepreneurs have grasped this idea, but it is being absorbed at a slower pace by the larger businesses.

According to her, it is only within the last two years that the global mainstream has started to recognise the potential of the Muslim market. The turning point was when Dolce & Gabbana introduced a collection for Muslims women in 2016, and H&M started addressing the Muslim consumer with their ad campaign featuring a Muslim model wearing a hijab.

As for the serious image of Muslims in the media, it is far from reality, said Shelina. “Young Muslims are witty, self-deprecating. They are self-aware about how they are seen and how they wish to be seen. They co-opt ideas from the mainstream and adapt it to their own situations.”

Shelina Janmohamed - writer author and vice president of Ogilvy Noor

Shelina Janmohamed, writer, author and Vice President of Ogilvy Noor / Photo courtesy of Shelina Janmohamed

Some of Shelina’s favourites from the Generation M vocabulary:

Halalify: to make something more suitable or permissible

Haloodies: halal foodies (coined by the eponymous brand)

What the fatwah: a polite way of expressing shock

Hijabilicious: coined by two Muslim fashion bloggers.

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