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Archives from month » February, 2013

BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought: Happiness

I was broadcast this morning on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought speaking on the subject of happiness. If you are in the UK you can listen to it at approximately 45 minutes into the recording.

I’ve just recently upgraded my mobile phone. The shiny chunk of metal with its gleaming screen arrived home a few weeks ago, and when I held the object of desire in my hands, it felt like something I had been missing had finally arrived. I felt happy.

After my brief tingle of excitement, I asked myself – more soberly – if it was really the object that had made me so excited and whether money had just bought me happiness.

According to scientific research it turns out that money can indeed buy happiness. Money that gets you out of crushing poverty, and all the basic misery associated with it, undoubtedly improves happiness. After that, it’s relative. If I have more than my peers, I feel happy. But after a certain point, more money doesn’t make us more happy.

The research identifies the different ways we spend money that really give us different amounts of happiness. Buying things makes us happy, just like me and my phone. After that we spend our money on experiences. And finally on other people.

And it’s this final act that increases our happiness the most. As the saying goes “there is more pleasure in giving than receiving”. And now we have science to say the same thing.

And yet despite knowing this we continue to aspire to gain more money and more things which don’t necessarily improve our happiness. Most of us spend so little time doing good things, things that make us truly happy.

Unfortunately, those things that make us happy aren’t very fashionable. Expressing our gratitude for what we have improves our state of mind, but isn’t always very cool. It seems harder than ever to be randomly kind to a stranger without having your motives suspected. And sometimes it’s just pure lethargy: it’s easier to be unhappy and moan about it, than to go out there, do some good and be happy.

According to the Prophet Muhammad, one very vital form of giving to others is smiling. It’s easy and contagious and will brighten up someone’s day. And if you’re still doubtful, according to science, smiling makes us feel better too. So to start all of our days in a positive way – this smile is just for you.


I am nominated for the IPA’s shortlist for Women of Tomorrow

Exciting news! I’ve been nominated to the shortlist of Women of Tomorrow by the IPA and Campaign magazine. The full article is below along with a link to the list.

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IPA reveals Women of Tomorrow shortlist


Twenty-seven women from across the media, digital, branding and creative industries have been shortlisted for the IPA and Campaign’s Women of Tomorrow Awards.

The awards celebrate women in middle management who are potential industry leaders of the future. They have been chosen by some of the IPA’s women of today and Claire Beale, the editor of Marketing.

Nine women have been shortlisted from media agencies including MediaCom, ZenithOptimedia, Maxus, Carat and Vizeum, while five women have been shortlisted from integrated and digital agencies, such as LBi, DraftFCB, Razorfish and TMW.

Six women from across creative agencies Beattie McGuinness Bungay, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Karmarama and JWT were shortlisted as well as women from Barclays and Spotify.

Specialist agencies such as the retail agency Portas Agency, youth specialist Livity and Islamic branding consultancy OgilvyNoor are also represented.


Financial Times: Horsemeat scandal companies can learn from halal

This is my article published in the FT yesterday.

Guest post: horsemeat scandal companies can learn from Halal

By Shelina Janmohamed of Ogilvy Noor

The horsemeat scandal has raised significant consumer questions: what is in the food we eat, how can we be sure it’s properly labelled, and most importantly, who can we trust?

For Muslim consumers who wish to observe halal in their food and beverage consumption – an industry worth an estimated $661bn a year – these are questions they ask daily. For them, halal certification from a trusted authority is vital, otherwise they simply won’t buy. No trusted halal logo, no sale.

Halal champagne

This means that getting your products halal certified is crucial. A sampling of news stories demonstrates that halal certified food is on the upswing in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Kenyan businesses are remaking products with halal certificates. Brazil exports over 85,000 metric tonnes of halal certified meat products each month.

The Canadian halal meat market is estimated at $214 million and Muslim households spend double weekly average on meat products. The UAE halal food industry will hit $8.4bn by 2020. A lack of certification can keep you out of the market, like in Oman where meat without a halal stamp isn’t allowed to enter the country.

Halal certification means that food has been put through approved processes that guarantee to consumers that nothing in the food has any forbidden components. Halal certificates are usually issued for a fee by a certifying body. Once the product is approved, it is stamped with a logo to indicate who has approved it.

Busy shoppers rarely have time to read detailed information on a product, so a recognisable logo picked out in a quick glance when scanning supermarket shelves can make them reach across the last three feet of the aisle and pick up the product. Restaurants, butchers and grocery stores sport logos to draw in trade, which are then used in directories, the internet and apps.

Since it is part of the certifying body’s brand, the logo tells the Muslim consumer about the religious promise on which the certification is based. Globally, there are hundreds of halal certification authorities, often several co-existing in one country. This is because approval standards vary widely despite all being rooted in Islamic practice. Of course there are some basics that they all agree on: products should contain no alcohol or pig derivatives.

But beyond such fundamentals there are grey areas such as the contentious question of whether an animal be stunned before slaughter. The popularity and proliferation of a particular certification body is therefore linked to the credibility of its processes, the people who have established it, and the scholars who accredit it. And like any brand, the track record of the certification body and its processes are part of popular Muslim consumer scrutiny.

Muslim consumer confidence underpins this market. Muslim consumers want reassurance from a trusted authority. Sometimes the government takes on this responsibility, such as Malaysia’s JAKIM, Saudi’s shoura council and Pakistan’s halal board.

Sometimes an existing Muslim body extends its authority into certification due to consumer demand, as in the recent case of Indonesia’s Nahdatul Ulama, one of the country’s largest and oldest Muslim membership bodies with 30 million members.

Sometimes, Muslim consumers are so disheartened by the seeming untrustworthiness of certification bodies, they take matters into their own hands as in South Africa by setting up a Muslim consumer council to hold service providers, suppliers, and producers accountable after a scandal where pork was labelled as halal meat.

This lack of consumer trust is something that Malaysia recognises so an halal audit body has been proposed in order to address low Muslim consumer confidence in halal integrity.

For brands deciding which certification to choose, the importance of Muslim consumer trust, and how to build credible relationships with them, there is no better object lesson than the recent saga unfolding in the UK about contaminated meat.

Halal food being served to prisoners was found to contain pork DNA. The halal certification body that had approved the products – the Halal Food Authority – has come under intense criticism. One regional body of mosques urged their communities to boycott it. The national body the Muslim Council of Britain championed the Muslim consumer voice with the clear directive – and brands should take note of this rather obvious but crucial point – “It is the community’s right that whatever is sold as halal is in fact halal.” It added that halal certification agencies must “come together to restore consumer confidence.”

Muslim consumer acceptance is based on Muslim community acceptance. Once the community loses trusts and therefore rejects it, the brand is doomed. It is a slow and perilous crawl back to trusted status – if that is it can ever be regained – and the only route is significant scholarly authority and transparency of processes being put behind a story of redemption in order to restore it’s reputation.

By contrast, this body has probably signed its own death warrant by trying to downplay the seriousness with which Muslim consumers take such matters. It’s first response was to assert that “It is not the case of an ingredient, rather a case of DNA being found” and according to the MCB it has “yet to express any regret over this whole affair.”

The Halal Food Authority stated that “HFA categorically affirms that our standards and audit protocols are in compliance of the Islamic dietary rules and in conformity of the relevant EU regulations.” Their challenge is that the damage to Muslim consumer confidence in their brand has already been done.

So what can brands learn from this matter? Confidence must be absolute, the merest doubt undermines any authority. And consumer concern must be treated with absolute seriousness. Understanding which logo is most trusted by Muslim communities is vital, or your product simply won’t get picked up. But if you can show that you’ve done your research, that you take the matter with the utmost seriousness, and the community’s approval is important to you, you’ll have won their trust.

Getting halal certification is not enough, living up to its promise is just as important for your brand. In the USA, McDonald’s and one of its franchise owners has agreed to pay $700,000 to members of the Muslim community to settle allegations that one of it’s restaurants falsely advertised its food as halal. McDonald’s and Finley’s Management deny any liability but say the settlement is in their best interests.

Global brands understand how halal endorsement opens doors. Krispy Kreme announced halal certification for its products in the UK. While their ingredients were already compliant, and so their doughnuts remain unchanged, they had acquired the halal certification because it “means a lot to consumers.”

Kingsmill bread and bakery goods took a similar approach with its products whose ingredients were already halal compliant by acquiring halal certification.

The comparatively small amount of effort required in obtaining halal certification is likely to win Muslim consumer loyalty and repeat purchases. Muslim consumers feel particularly positively towards brands that make even the smallest effort to reach out. And the best part is that they will do their utmost to spread the good word.

Shelina Janmohamed is vice president of Ogilvy Noor, a part of Ogilvy & Mather.



Women and minorities the losers in power politics in Bangladesh

Here’s my latest weekly newspaper column published today in The National.

Amid growing political turmoil in Bangladesh, the arrest of 20 female activists at the end of last year went almost unnoticed by the world’s press.

The women’s hijabs were forcibly removed and then they were forced to remain in an open public space, presumably to humiliate them. They were all denied bail, even the pregnant one.

The police admitted that there was no evidence to support charging them, or refusing bail. But the 20 were held for a further two days for “questioning” even though Bangladeshi law limits such custody to 24 hours. Meanwhile 13 other women were arrested for protesting against the treatment of their sisters.

These women were locked up for no crime, and then humiliated, for just one reason: they belong to the opposition party.

I am increasingly concerned that those in power in Bangladesh see mistreatment of women as mere collateral damage in their zealous efforts to defeat their political opponents.

This is not about the rights and wrongs of the two main political positions in Bangladesh. I will not venture into that minefield, the long history and deep emotion of which are tearing the nation apart. Rather, I want to focus on the fact that women are being targeted as a matter of political strategy. This is part of a wider government failure to protect ordinary women.

In January in Dhaka’s Shah Ali area, an 11-year old schoolgirl died after being gang-raped. The rapists left the girl’s corpse hanging from a ceiling fan. A local protest carried the body to a police station, but the authorities did nothing about the crime.

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts in eastern Bangladesh, the Asian Human Rights Commission reports, police did not register a formal complaint in another rape case, as the alleged perpetrator is an influential political leader. Police also denied the victim a credible medical exam.

Rape is a contentious issue in Bangladesh; there are grave allegations of mass rape during the 1971 war of independence. But denials of justice in recent rape cases give official demands for justice over crimes past the empty ring of insincere rhetoric.

There’s no denying that women in Bangladesh face oppression from traditional patriarchy. But cases like these highlight government failure to enforce existing legislation. As Human Rights Watch says diplomatically, “implementation remains poor”.

Extreme conservatives do Muslim women no favours. But just as pernicious are secularists who put political power above the reality of women’s lives. In Turkey women who chose to wear the headscarf were erased from political and civic spaces by secularists. In France women have been denied citizenship because they wear the niqab. And so on.

In Bangladesh it’s not just women being targeted, but minorities too, in a tolerated epidemic of violence against those seen as “other”.

A Hindu man was shot in his home after being accused of supporting the opposition. He begged for his life explaining he was Hindu. His crime? A beard, a symbol of Muslim piety.

Further, the government has been widely criticised for rejection and harassment of Rohingya refugees fleeing for their lives from neighbouring Myanmar, where they are persecuted for the “crime” of being Muslim.

In its fight for political power, Bangladesh’s government has shown that it finds power more desirable than justice. Women, minorities and refugees are simply collateral damage.


‘Muslim patrol’, anti-Muslim hatred and the need for moderate voices to be heard

This is my weekly column published today in The National

A YouTube video these days has the power of a blockbuster film. Whether budget- busting, or low cost, the viral potential of social media means that their content and messages can spill over into our offline lives.

But the joy of going viral can also turn into a nasty virus when it allows small, almost insignificant voices of hatred to multiply.

In the UK, self-styled “Muslim patrol” videos have become national news. The videos feature a handful of vigilantes who follow young men around east London, approaching unsuspecting passers-by and offering aggressive advice. Claiming this is a “Muslim area”, they bully strangers to wear modest clothes, avoid drinking, or simply get out of the area. The YouTube clips somehow made it onto prime-time UK national news and have proliferated into mainstream discussions, being pointed to as Muslims taking over Britain. The behaviour was forcefully condemned by leaders of local mosques and Muslim scholars. Aggressively accosting people minding their own business is clearly not Islamic. The perpetrators were clearly off their rockers.

And not that I was looking, since I am a good Muslim woman who casts down her gaze, but they had their tracksuit bottoms stuck right up into the most disgusting kind of wedgie.

The police are on the case to bring in the perpetrators, but not before the BBC had broadcast the clips and Islamophobes around the country nearly died of palpitations at how awful all 2.7 million Muslims in the UK are. It even created a resurgence of articles bewailing that the white English do not recognise the place they live in anymore, regurgitating the same old racist tropes.

This week, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, minister for faith and communities, spoke about how fewer than one in four people believe Islam is compatible with the British way of life. She has previously talked about how Islamophobia has passed the “dinner- table test”. This is despite the fact that research showed 83 per cent of Muslims were proud to be British, compared to 79 per cent of Britons overall.

The actions of a few should not be extrapolated to a whole population. But that is exactly what continually happens with stories such as Muslim patrol. Muslims around the world are trying to counter the incessant drip of hatred – it is a difficult narrative to change. The Muslim patrol was countered by the Muslim snow patrol where Muslim men in the UK’s Midlands area helped clear the snowfall last week from neighbourhood pavements. But somehow that did not excite the mainstream news. Good news rarely does.

A “MyJihad” hashtag campaign is being run by Muslims to explain the deep personal meaning jihad holds for Muslims as a form of personal struggle. It aims to reclaim the word from the right wing who bandy it about referring to violence. But the latter are waging their own war on the same hashtag by perpetuating propaganda to stifle true Muslim postings.

Despite the efforts of ordinary Muslims to explain that actions such as Muslim patrol are those of individuals, their voices become lost. American Muslim author Michael Muhammad Knight last month wrote a simple riposte to the Islamophobes. “I love my Muslim family” he wrote, “and you can [expletive]”. Is that the only language the Islamophobes will understand?