By Kamarul Aznam Kamaruzaman

Islamic, or Halal branding, seem to be the newest marketing catch phrase, having been discussed at length during the recent World Islamic Economic Forum, as well as being the central argument for a new niche offering by a global media and advertising giant.

In both instances, the theme is identical: that the burgeoning modern global Muslim population will create a powerful market force that will sweep the entire established world of consumerism as we know it. Oh, and it will exclude any businesses not already on the bandwagon. Tough luck.

This would immediately exclude even the Muslim-owned businesses which makes up just 15% of the industry. They loose out either because they thought their products would sell because they themselves are Muslims, or because they are just “not there yet”.

A high ranking Halal representative from the host country even suggested that the concept of Halal itself needed to be re-branded. Halal, he says, must be inclusive as opposed to exclusive and catered purely for the Muslim consumers.

Herein lies the problem. If Halal is to be just like any other, what is the point of being Halal-certified in the first place?

From a manufacturers’ point of view, they probably got their products Halal certified just because they want to tap the local and global Muslim consumers. Established manufacturers may actually be contented with the existing market share it commands.

If nobody had suggested that Islam is actually the fastest growing religion, surely the industry would NOT have gone through the hassle and switch their entire production lines to Halal.

For the consumers, the voluntary extra measures taken by the manufacturers to safeguard their religious preference is indeed a welcome news, although most find it hard to show their gratitude.

The problem is, catering to Halal is not without its costs. Malaysia seems to be full of bitter and bewildered Halal manufacturers who got the wrong end of the Halal stick.

Despite putting in significant investments in money, time and effort to be Halal-certified, the majority non Muslim-owned food producers are then subjected to constant lookouts over their gates, not for robbers but for group of religious officers wearing skullcaps.

While market awareness is good, sensational exposés are not, and in multiracial Malaysia, certain consumer groups will not hesitate to use both the race and religious cards to their fullest benefit.

Sadly, instead of protecting consumer’s interest, all they do is cause a deeper divide that will eventually take its own disastrous path in the long run. The history books are full of short term gains with long term consequences, with the price continue to be paid by generations to come.

If Halal is agreed to be universal, for all mankind, there are definitely some serious flaws in the way we Muslims even understand it amongst ourselves, let alone communicate it, explain it, live it.

How then do you explain the angry reactions of non Muslims in France, the UK and Australia who thinks they have been disregarded and sidelined over a few measly Muslim dollars?

In all fairness, nobody wants to come to their favourite fast food joint only to find a new sign on the door that says everything here are now good for the Muslims. What does it say for everybody else?

A manufacturer has every right to cater to the coming trends for safe and healthy Halal food, but please exercise caution and be selective when promoting Halal in non Muslim countries.

Until we perfect the Halal system, iron out all issues within the industry, or have our own united Islamic state (whichever comes first), publicity blitz about the “halalness” of one’s brand should be kept at a minimal, targeted only to the segments of population demanding it.

For effective Halal branding, manufacturers are advised to use interest-specific Halal media and other niche communication platforms targeting different Muslim societies in varying regions around the world.

The mosques during Friday prayers are also a good venue to spread the Halal word, and if done right, and is matched by the good ol’ quality, variety and sincerity, news will definitely spread fast throughout the close knit Muslim communities.

Not only you’ll win new customers, you’ll also get to keep old ones, and increase brand loyalty at the same time. In the end, the whole world would be a better place for everybody.