Tapping into the Muslim World

Have you ever noticed halal food restaurants in Hong Kong? Do you look at whether a product is halal-certified when purchasing it?

While Hong Kong is the shopping paradise where customers are spoilt for choice, we might overlook how limited the Muslim group’s choice is.

Ben Simpfendorfer, an economist and senior adviser of JP Morgan, portrays his Muslim friend’s lack of choice in Hong Kong: when they want to have lunch in Central, they end up eating at an Ebeneezer’s kebab outlet, as there isn’t another halal food restaurant they know of.

Not just in Hong Kong, but also in other parts of Asia, Muslim customers are underserved. In The Rise of the New East, Simpfendorfer points out that the Muslim market will potentially be the next China, namely the next growth source. In the region he defines as the New East, from Beijing to Istanbul, there is more than 1.1 billion Muslim population. Moreover, Muslim customers are also young and lucrative.

No other ethnicity or religious group—whether Chinese or Indian, Buddhist or Hindu—has the same spread across the East.

While the business opportunity is huge, it is difficult to target this market because it is not merely one religion, but rather one religion embedded in multiple cultures. There are a great number of Muslim communities dispersed in almost every country in the East. “They all have their own cultural, regional, or local nuances, preferences, and practices,” said Simpfendorfer.

Simpfendorfer aspires beyond the business domain but also touches upon the cultural diversity of the Muslim group. The Muslim market is not merely about halal food but involves all aspects of their cultural life. Culture is a broad word which includes ideas, customs, and social behaviors of a particular group. The understanding of their culture is the key to success in the Muslim market.

Five years have passed since Simpfendorfer published his book in 2014, and we still don’t see the Muslim group become prominent in the market or be the next China as he predicted. But unrests and conflicts surrounding had certainly increased. The terrorist attack in New Zealand reminds us of their situations as minority groups in many countries. The attack reflects both the hatred toward the Muslim minority group and potentially, white supremacy in many western countries.

Simpfendorfer was sensitive to realize the cultural complexity and challenges faced by this group, how different social categorizations such as race, class, and gender compound themselves and make each Muslim group’s situation unique. These insights are still meaningful today and inspire us to think beyond stereotypes when it comes to minority groups.

Hong Kong is a diverse region and is home to an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 Muslims. There are 98 halal food restaurants, 3 Muslim Markets and stores as well as 11 mosques in Hong Kong. How can we claim to respect them when not knowing what their life is like?

Photos credit to Liu Lang

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