Pictured: Jonathan A.J. Wilson

A snapshot into what the Halal is going on and Professor Wilson’s new book on Halal Branding

What is the definition of halal and how does halal branding differ from other types of branding?

Halal simply means permissible in Arabic - with the implication that those actions are compatible with the teachings of Islam. Most commonly you will find it in the Qur’an being used in connection with meat (what animals can be eaten and how they must be prepared) and marriage. What we are seeing now in many ways is a new school of thought, which argues for the formalized verification, testing, certification, and labeling of goods and services, under the basic principles of Halal. What I argued in a series of academic research papers, the first of which was published in 2010, was that logically, if Halal has its own values, rules, principles, norms, and procedures - then Halal Branding should follow the same approach and be given the same care and attention. Two papers: “Shaping the Halal into a Brand?” and “The Challenges of Islamic Branding, Navigating Emotions and Halal” have now become the most cited on the topic globally.

When and what was the catalyst that triggered the emergence of Halal as an industry?

Really I think that there were two phases of development. The first, where Muslims took their inspiration from the Jewish community in the USA, checking and overtly labeling their food. Secondly, when there was the realization that ‘Halal’ could offer economic stability in terms of consumption and commerce, and move the balance of power in favour of the Muslim community.

Who are the biggest Halal advocates?

I think there are really two types of business who shape this space: ‘For-Muslim markets’ businesses, where a portion of their business exists in the Halal ecosystem, and who see Halal as an enabler that is linked to a form of ethnic or localized marketing. Then secondly, the others are ‘By-Muslim’ businesses (largely SMEs), who live, breathe and think Halal, because it’s the way they want to live their lives and do business.

Do people underestimate the potential of the Halal Branding and what advice would you give those businesses who want to enter the halal market?

I’ve spent close to 10 years researching, writing, speaking, and consulting on Halal Branding. The thing that I would say is that I’ve developed my own methodology, approach and toolkit, and it’s pretty unique - because it bridges the gap between Western, Eastern, and Islamic thought. Two key differences are that Halal branding imposes limits on what you can do – and if understood properly then this can be a good thing, because some people have become tired of overly aggressive and exploitative marketing. Secondly, the time horizon on how you assess the value and accountability in what you do and that of consumers is for all eternity. Therefore, if you get it right, the rewards and multiplier effect is immense. Therefore, what I am presenting in my book are a reference base, blend of models and approach that are designed to increase your likelihood of presenting an authentic branded offering that will perform better in Muslim minority and majority markets. Also, in the golden age of Islam we can see evidence of how the message spread globally and at such a rapid rate, because there was a strong sense of rizq [Arabic for luck or sustenance] being from Allah(God). This meant that Muslims, with the right intention, were adventurous and not afraid to try new things and take on new challenges. I would like to see more of that today, and less of a copy-cat mentality that some quarters show, where they see something in the West and want to produce a ‘me too’ version, which in many ways has the beauty, quality, and excellence stripped out of it. However, having said all of this, on one level you could just read this as being another book on branding that is applicable to all sectors - but is rooted in principles derived from Islamic civilizations, instead of drawing from Western Christian thought, as is often the case elsewhere. I argue that Christianity features heavily in much branding, because the vast majority of top brands, scholars, and literature hail from the (Christian) West, or are educated in the West and use terms such as icons - and as a result view branding through a Western Christian lens. Not to say that this is wrong, but it is debatable whether Halal Brands, or brands from other non-Western cultures can achieve their full potential by following this path. Whether you are a student; researcher; entrepreneur; small business owner; corporate; professional in advertising, branding, marketing, and public relations; or even a conscious consumer - this book has been written with you all in mind.

Books by Jonathan A.J. Wilson

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