Islam is a religion and a culture, lived differently in various areas of the world. Hence the concept of a Muslim market is in many ways nebulous, and efforts to target these consumers are necessarily contingent on geographical location and context. Despite growing wealth in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Arabian Gulf states, most Islamic countries continue to exist in a third-world economy, with low literacy rates. Muslim immigrants and their children in Europe often feel estranged when returning to their homelands or lands of origin, even as they identify themselves as Muslims and may even maintain citizenship there.
It is important to note that despite some common misunderstandings, an Islamic lifestyle is neither intrinsically anti-Western nor anti-American. The urban landscape of modern cities in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Turkey and the Arabian Gulf states all demonstrate that a growing proportion of Muslim consumers aspire to emulate an international (Western) suburban lifestyle, which includes an air-conditioned home, a private lawn, satellite TV, two cars, access to fast food and children who go to university and indulge in popular sports.
While many Muslim consumers’ lives are defined by the dietary, lifestyle and financial rules of the Islamic faith, they are far from homogeneous. Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims, for instance, speak different languages, wear different styles of clothing and eat different foods. The Turkish and Kurdish Muslims in Germany have little in common save their faith. They have less in common with the predominantly Algerian and Moroccan Muslims of France, and still less with the predominantly South Asian Muslims of Britain. The Muslims of Malaysia, Indonesia and Bosnia differ yet again.
In each of these cases, it is vital to understand an oft-overlooked distinction between Arabs (or Arab world) and Muslims (or Muslim world). As with all religions, Islam has no geographic boundary. There are Muslims in North Africa, in India, in the United States, Spain, China and France. Similarly, Christian and other religious populations can be found throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa. Some Muslim regions—such as the Arabian Gulf reflect Western ideas and tremendous wealth. Others, such as Somalia and Afghanistan, do not. In dealing with the concept of a Muslim market, companies must take pains to recognise these distinctions and take care, when addressing members of the world Muslim population, not to confuse them (see sidebar: Defining the Muslim World).
Despite these distinctions, one striking paradox seems to embrace a growing number of Muslims. On one hand, they are becoming more integrated into the global economy as consumers, employees, travellers, investors, manufacturers, retailers and traders. On the other hand, polls show that Muslims increasingly see themselves as a distinct group, the Ummah (global Islamic community). Even those in the West are far more likely to identify themselves as Muslims than they are as, say, French or British, and to identify with other Muslims in political disputes.