Can Islamic Values and Modernity Co-Exist on 9/11?

There's often a stark contrast between the way Muslims experience their own values and faith, and how non-Muslims view them. That gap may be closing as "authentic" Muslim values are being surfaced globally through economic forces.

|
Sep 11 2016, 1:20pm

Photo by Yasin Osman via

Today, America grieves for those lost on September 11. Tomorrow, on September 12, Muslims worldwide celebrate the holiest day of the Islamic calendar: Eid-ul-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice. It's a day of prayer, feasting, charity, and remembrance. Muslims honor Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son when called by God by sacrificing an animal and distributing the meat between friends, family, and the needy.

Because the Islamic calendar is lunar and Eid-ul-Adha shifts by about ten days each year, these two sacred days—one of religious celebration, the other of national mourning—almost coincided this year. The prospect troubled many, and American Muslims breathed easier when, after the new moon was sighted on September 1, the Fiqh Council of North America (the local body offering non-binding religious rulings) announced that Eid would be observed on September 12, a day later than initially projected.

"My 13-year old daughter told me, 'Thank God Eid didn't fall on 9/11. Otherwise, people would think that we're celebrating that day,'" says Rafi-uddin Shikoh, the founder of DinarStandard, the world's first research and advisory firms specializing in Muslim lifestyle markets.

Shikoh, an expert in the global Islamic economy with offices in Dubai and New York, tracks Islam's changing face across the modern world. Often, in the West, there is a stark contrast between the way Muslims experience their own values and faith, and how non-Muslims view them; a 9/11 Eid-ul-Adha might have brought that contrast into relief in an ugly way. Yet, Shikoh says there are signs that the gap is closing—that "authentic" Muslim values are being surfaced through hard economic forces, and the rise of a global group of young, affluent "Generation M" Muslims is reshaping Islam's relationship with the West.

ThomasReuters in collaboration with DinarStandard's 2015/2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report found that Muslim consumers spent $1.8 trillion on food and lifestyle in 2014, and estimates that total will reach $2.6 trillion in 2020. The world's Muslim population currently stands at 1.6 billion, and is growing at twice the global rate. According to the Pew Research Center, it's projected to hit 2.8 billion by 2050. Economic power is shifting to emerging economies with Muslim majority populations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan, or with significant Muslim minorities such as India and China.

"We're talking about a quarter of the world's population," Shikoh says. "Islamic countries represent 15 percent of the global GDP, and have the youngest, fastest growing population in the world. These emerging markets have unique Muslim lifestyle needs affected by Islamic values."

Islamic values affect products and services in five categories: Food, banking, travel and tourism, fashion, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. The Qur'anic concepts of halal (Arabic for permissible, often defined as equivalent to kosher) and tayyab (wholesome or good) determine suitability for Muslim consumption. Across the board, strict ethical principles apply. Halal food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals must adhere to Islamic dietary guidelines. Islamic fashion is modest fashion. Islamic banking avoids interest, which the Qur'an forbids as enriching investors at the expense of entrepreneurs, thus widening inequality. Halal tourism replaces hard partying and drinking with family-friendly entertainment.

"For this generation of global Muslims, faith and modernity go hand in hand. Underscoring this is the desire to live a full life in society, to do what everyone else does." — Shelina Janmohamed

"These underlying values have a wider global appeal," Shikoh says. For example, he tells me that 80 percent of Islamic banking customers in Malaysia are non-Muslim because they find Islamic banking ethics appealing. Similarly, he says 80 percent or more of customers of Saffron Road, a halal food brand at Whole Foods, are non-Muslims looking for humane, vegetarian-fed, and antibiotic-free meat products.

"Islam has a lot to offer to modern business practices," Shikoh says. "There is no question that Muslims today don't reflect that vision, but we believe that there is a positive movement toward a global, ethical market in which Muslims will play a very strong role."

In Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, Shelina Janmohamed similarly describes how young Muslims' aspiration to live modern lifestyles aligned with Islamic values translates into demand for products and services with evolving, more holistic understandings of halal and tayyab—i.e. humane, fair trade, sustainable, and eco-friendly, with emphasis on transparency in modes of production and disposal. Thus, Muslim lifestyle trends reflect broader consumer trends, particularly in the West.

"For this generation of global Muslims, faith and modernity go hand in hand," Janmohamed tells VICE. "Underscoring this is the desire to live a full life in society, to do what everyone else does, which [non-Muslim] people sometimes feel surprised about."

Janmohamed offers examples of contemporary culture's weaving together of faith and modernity such as: "Muslim boy bands with hijabi girls in the audience screaming their names and waving glow sticks," halal beer and wine, halal dating apps, Muslim superheroes such as Marvel's Kamala Khan, Ramadan clothing collections by Mango, DKNY, Dolce and Gabbana, and much more.

But as the halal market grows and awareness grows, backlash is inevitable. The French burkini brouhaha has become a lightning rod for debates about whether modernity and Islamic values can coexist. But, as the debate rages, the numbers tell their own story: burkini sales have increased by 200% percent, with many burkinis sold to non-Muslims.

Habib Ghanim, president of ISWA Halal Certification, a 25-year-old organization that certifies halal products, says that bans and protests can actually be good for business.

"The more they do it, the better it is for exposure," he says. "People hear about it, google it, learn more about what halal is."

He describes Pamela Geller's 2011 crusade against Butterball turkeys certified by ISWA Halal as a case in point: "She trucked in a lot of Southern Baptist Christians, and said that we were financing terrorism, and that anyone who would eat the [halal-certified] turkeys would become Muslim. But when people found out the truth, they found that these people are bigots. Now more people are buying halal than ever before."

He adds that, if Eid-ul-Adha had fallen on 9/11 this year, he would have made it a kind of teachable moment, a positive opportunity to talk to non-Muslims about authentic Islamic values. Eid, after all, showcases the best Muslims have to offer: They pray, visit family and friends, and distribute money, clothes, and meat to the poor. (Last year, Honest Chops, the halal butcher co-founded by NYU's Chaplain Khalid Latif, distributed about 4,000 pounds of Eid meat to needy families and abuse survivors.) It's also a powerhouse of a day for the global Muslim economy. Over $3 billion in livestock is slaughtered, and millions more are spent on festive new attire.

Ghanim says, "A [9/11 Eid-ul-Adha] is nothing to fear. I would have taken it as a sign from God to tell people to wake up and remind them that we may have different issues, but we are one human race."

More VICE
Vice Channels