By Annalisa Musarra
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) Muslim consumers are growing in the U.S. and they have money to spend. Now, businesses are starting to take notice.
"The emerging American Muslim market is perhaps the new area that a lot of businesses ... are starting to look into," said Rafi-uddin Shikoh, managing director and founder of DinarStandard, a marketing research firm specializing in the emerging Muslim market.
Shikoh said his New York-based firm conducted research in 2011 on the Muslim marketplace and found that, while Muslims are just as hard to categorize as other groups, there are plenty of opportunities for different industries -- food, retail and finance -- to reach them.
With an estimated disposable income of between $107 billion and $124 billion, Muslim Americans are realizing they can use their size to influence the market, he said. If a business offers halal food products, for example, Muslim consumers will pick that business over the others. "There are these unique things that businesses are not realizing but there's an opportunity for that," he said at a recent forum sponsored by the American Islamic Congress.
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey last year on Muslim Americans and estimated a population of about 2.8 million Muslims in the U.S., and they're growing thanks in part to a higher fertility rate than other Americans.
While the exact number of American Muslims has been disputed, the general consensus in the business world is that the majority of the growing Muslim consumers are young, middle class and misunderstood. Pew also found that U.S. Muslims (14 percent) roughly mirror the general population (16 percent) on the percentage of households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more.
Businesses now want to connect with this new market, said Sarab Al-Jijakli, account director at Ogilvy Noor, a boutique subsidiary of the Ogilvy & Mather global ad agency, which specializes in the emerging Muslim marketplace.
"Many brands are playing catch-up," Al-Jijakli said at the forum.
Arsalan Iftikhar, a contributing editor for Islamica magazine and author of "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era," said the American Muslim growth trend line is positive and he is glad American businesses are seeing the potential of selling products to a "previously untapped minority population."
"I think it is quite heartening that our nation's corporate and business leaders are beginning to notice our community as an up-and-coming minority group within America today," he said.
The racially and ethnically diverse Muslim population in the U.S. is concerned about the same issues as everyone else, like jobs, the economy and health care, said John Pinna, the AIC's director of government and international relations. But, like other immigrant groups, they're also looking for ways to participate in society.
And in America, that often means shopping.
"Now we're looking for products, we're looking to participate in the democratic process and we're this young population that's hungry to be noticed," said Pinna, an Afghan-American Muslim.
"The American Muslim community isn't really extraordinary at all," he said. "It's just that it's now starting to be noticed."