It was the disconnect between young Muslims' experiences and narratives in the mainstream media – noticed by our community at The People – that proved to be the catalyst for our platform and subsequent report, “Next-gen Muslims”.
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity, with more than two billion followers. But only 1.6% of respondents to the Advertising Association's 2021 All In census identified as Muslim, with a corresponding figure of just 0.4% of British journalists. This tells you that the Muslim experience is often narrated from the perspective of others. As a result, Muslim communities feel unseen, misrepresented and stereotyped.
Our report is the distillation of six months of community interviews, surveys and analysis. The community response has been unreal from the start. More than 16,000 young Muslims agreed to share their stories with us.
From this, we’re able to produce three lessons to help brands and agencies connect with young Muslims as consumers and employees in an authentic way:
Understand the nuances of Islam
A new generation of young Muslims is redefining what faith and cultural identity look like. Many are first, second or third-generation immigrants and have grown up in a completely different world from their parents.
The latest census shows that Muslims now make up 6.5% of the population in England and Wales (3.9 million people). Muslim is a broad umbrella, including practising, non-practising, cultural Muslims and converts. It is estimated that 5,200 Britons embrace Islam annually, with 100,000 converts in the UK.
If your brand doesn’t have a strategy to engage with Muslim communities, you are limiting its total addressable market and revenue. Future-facing brands can use their platform to ensure Muslim audiences feel comfortable with their faith and identity.
There’s as much variance within Islam as there is outside. Every Muslim community, culture, sect and school of thought is different. Brands need to treat Muslims as individuals with unique hopes, dreams and ambitions, not as a homogenous group. Western media struggles to accurately represent the nuances and intricacies of the Muslim experience.
Our research uncovered that 97% of young Muslims don’t feel accurately represented in media and popular culture. Many young Muslims feel their experiences are translated into lazy but palatable stereotypes. Marketing teams should apply an intersectional approach to Muslim representation to avoid stereotyping. The most effective marketing plans will be built around the shared values that unite Muslims.
Recognise the ‘Muslim tax’ and act on it
Muslims experience the greatest economic disadvantage of any faith group in UK society. They are more likely than non-Muslims to experience unemployment, housing, education and health difficulties. Nearly 40% of Muslims live in the most deprived areas in England and Wales. According to the Muslim Census, 50% of Muslim households are living in poverty in the UK, compared with 18% of the national population. Moreover, about one in five British Muslims has used a food bank because of the cost-of-living crisis. If that wasn’t enough, one in five Muslims is in full-time employment, compared with one in three of the overall population.
Within the Muslim community, these external barriers are known as the “Muslim tax”. Muslims feel they need to apply extra effort to be on an equal playing field with the rest of society. Young Muslims have limited networks and employment options. The “Muslim tax” motivates many young Muslims to work harder and change their trajectory. Companies have the resources to widen access to opportunities and networks for young Muslims in the UK.
Grasp new market opportunities
Muslim consumers are hyper-aware of how brands communicate and represent their communities. Facing limited representation and widespread generalisation – including Islamophobia – many Muslims have been in defence mode since the early 2000s. Nowadays, when brands attempt to reach young Muslims, it draws scepticism. And rightly so, given decades of misrepresentation or incommunicado.
Muslims in the UK contribute £31bn to the economy with £20bn in spending power. While most marketers want to communicate with the Muslim community they are unsure where to begin. Young Muslims are actively looking for brands to connect with them in a creative and honest way so those that do can benefit from first-mover advantage.
Getting it right is predicated on collaborating with Muslim community members to inform your brand strategy and activation. Most brand campaigns still centre on Ramadan. Muslims expect communication all year round, not just on special occasions. Using positive, well-researched and accurate narratives is paramount. Your campaigns don’t need to be overly preachy, worthy or serious. Think of them as an opportunity to collaborate with Muslim communities and celebrate their cultures.
Kian Bakhtiari is the founder of creative research and strategy company The People.