Over the last decade there has developed a growing literature related to how faiths are marketed and sold, with most works focused on Christianity—particularly evangelical Christianity. When I was asked to review Brand Islam, The Marketing and Commodification of Piety, I jumped at the opportunity because I was very interested in learning how this non-Christian faith is promoted. Quickly, I realized that this work is about something completely different. While the book is about the commodification of piety—or really a religion which I would argue is not the same thing—it is not about the marketing of piety. There is a difference, and the distinction is telling both in terms of what this book addresses and what it avoids.
Brand Islam is about the exponential increase in commodity products targeting a Muslim audience. Faegheh Shirazi does a good job providing case studies of a number of product categories where brand extensions have been created to appeal to this specific religious group. People are likely most aware of halal food and a full two chapters are devoted to the complications and intricacies in getting these products to market in a way that fulfills religious requirements. But halal is not just about food; product categories range from clothing to cosmetics, from toys to healthcare. Even with complications, it should not surprise anyone that multi-national corporations have chosen to enter this market, both because of the rapidly growing Muslim world population as well as the significantly higher price point that these brands can charge. Corporations are about creating profit for their shareholders, and Muslims represent a lucrative market.
What is more thought-provoking are the public relations issues that arise—from KFC misrepresenting how they process their chickens, to attacks on Campbell’s Soup from a conservative blogger for producing halal products, to halal being used for political purposes. The latter topic is laid out as a framework in the opening chapter, and it is integrated into the rest of the text.
For those interested in Islam, products sold to Muslims, and how Muslim identity is contested within a consumer culture, this book is successful. For sure, the rise of consumerism around this faith brought on by globalization, neoliberalism, and the intersection of Islam and Western culture is a story that is ongoing, and this work lays a foundation to that understanding.
For me, however, this book fell short. First, it does not address how Islam itself is sold. Maybe it isn’t sold to those outside the faith, but I’d like to know that too. In any case, it is not addressed. Second, I have read and reviewed several books related to religion and marketing, and this is the first one that gives marketing such a short shrift as to almost dismiss a basic understanding of the field. Numerous scholars I would have expected to see quoted are not and I question scholars—particularly the media scholars—who have been included. For example, while the book is called “Brand Islam,” the concept of branding is not considered. Moreover, the author notes that companies are particularly interested in targeting second generation Muslims in the West. Who are these consumers? They are Millennials who use brands as personal identifiers. Understanding how this demographic cohort negotiates their Muslim identity through commodity products would seem to me to be fundamental to this study. Perhaps a better title for work would have been Islam for Sale. That is far more true to its content.
Mara Einstein is professor of media studies at Queens College, City University of New York.
Date Of Review:
February 28, 2017
Faegheh Shirazi is a professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her previous books include Muslim Women in War and Crisis: From Reality to Representation.
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