Social Media: Use it, Don’t Abuse it!

How Islamic marketers can harness the potential of social media without causing offence?

Paper presented at 8th Global Islamic Marketing Conference, Alanya Turkey May 2, 2017


It would be no exaggeration to say that nowadays many of us spend a significant amount of time every day staring at a small-lit screen on our smartphones. Apart from revealing our anxieties to us, this also tells us that we are in the middle of a social media revolution. The addictive nature of this medium implies that people are really stuck to it, and this poses great opportunities that marketers are ever ready to exploit.

Social media networking is a more recent phenomenon. Just go back a few years and marketing was a different ball game altogether. In those days, say for example, if a small cause related outfit aspired to promote their cause in front of an audience of millions, it would have to do a lot of hard work and require substantial amounts of money.

Imagine that you have a cause close to your heart that you wish to share with others and you are looking for an audience in a city that you intend to visit. To get your message across to the residents of that city you would require physical travel, booking of venue, spending money on print or electronic advertising, payments for billboards, and hoardings for announcing your presence. You would labor hard to woo the local press and do much more. All this would requires mega amount of funds, and energy which individuals, inspired by a charitable cause, often do not have at their disposal.

But that was then, and this is now. Gone are the days when billions would be needed to reach out to people, even across international borders. Now connection with millions of people is merely a few clicks away.


With the social media revolution, a level playing field has been created, and in-roads are being made by smaller organizations that are in-tune with its power. With meaningful messages and a very small investment of time, Islamic marketers can make themselves heard and be responded to by millions across the globe. Social media allows those striving for Muslim causes to not only engage with, but also considerably influence a relevant audience, all with a small handheld device! Harnessed properly, it has the potential to capture hearts and minds. A global phenomenon, with billions of people on it, the absence of any cause-related organization or individual from social media networking will result in oblivion from the public eye. Some prominent features of social media networking include:

  1. Interactivity

Interactivity is at the center of social networking sites. It enables ongoing dialogue rather than monologue and facilitates interaction between users by actively involving them.

  1. Community-led

Social media networking is communal. It allows a number of individuals to be connected virtually, radically diminishing the constraints of time and space and allowing the formation of a community centered on common interests. Thus families, friends, work colleagues, fans, customers all form their own communities engaging in conversations that flow around their connections.

  1. Relatively low cost

In comparison to other traditional forms of marketing, social media provides a relatively low-cost solution to engage with customers in different parts of the world. For organizations that do not boast large budgets, social media is an ideal choice for customer outreach and interaction.

  1. Free speech

Social media is a relatively democratic medium, which facilitates freedom of expression. Initially there was little or no censorship, however legislation is increasingly tightening its grip on social networks regarding what gets posted online. But as it is a network of individuals communicating in real time, who say whatever it is they wish to say, freedom of expression is not that easily curtailed using this medium.

  1. Influential

In recent times social media networking sites facilitated a number of political movements. Through this medium, leaders are able to influence and goad people to action. The Arab spring, the Turkish Military coup and the US elections are prime examples in which social networking sites played a key role in moving people to take action.

  1. Global

According to recent reports, nearly one third of the world’s population or about 2.34 billion people regularly use social media. As of the fourth quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.86 billion monthly active users. Getting on social media truly means going global and marketing across borders.

  1. Addictive

Social networks are habit forming and massively addictive. People spend a lot of time online often to the detriment of other day-to-day tasks. Social media has the propensity to disrupt lives of users. Sites create content that is meant to draw users and advertisers in turn profit from people’s vulnerabilities. Its appeal to emotion and functionality to share information at a deeply personal level draws people to social networking and makes it addictive.

  1. Immediacy

Why wait long on the phone for customer service representative to shuffle you back and forth to another colleague or pay for the ordeal when you can simply tweet your query and get a quick response. Immediacy is one of social media’s greatest features as it allows things to get done quickly.


While social media has given an opportunity to smaller organizations and individuals to reach out to massive audiences, it has also attracted unscrupulous elements that exploit its potential for their vested interests. There are many forms of abusive behavior that one encounters online. Prominent of them are:

  1. Online Deceit

It is commonplace to discover fake news, fake social networking accounts and fake followers. There is also identity theft and fraud. Increasingly social networking sites are being used to defraud and lie to people. In contrast to such behavior Muslims marketers are to be honest and truthful in their presentation for such is exhorted to, tremendously in Islam’s holy text, the Qur’an.

“…and speak words of appropriate justice.” (33:70)

“..and avoid false statement.” (22:30)

“So he (the devil) made them fall, through deception…” (7:22)

Acting on these commandments, it is unlawful for a Muslim marketer to engage in any form of deceptive practices using social media networking sites or otherwise.

  1. Plagiarism

Increasingly texts and images are plagiarized from websites and blogs and styled as one’s own creation without giving due credit to the original creator. The online world is rife with copyright violations and plagiarism, especially when committed by individuals who are in jurisdictions where laws do not exist to tackle this theft. Creators spend much time and energy to create intellectual property only to discover later on that someone has stolen their ideas and is now styling it as his own! In contrast the Qur’an counters the problem of stealing other people’s creation when it receives a pledge from believers about not stealing:

“O Prophet, when the believing women come to you pledging to you that they will not associate anything with Allah , nor will they steal..” (60:12)

  1. Hate Speech

One frequently encounters online harassment in the form of cyber bullying and abusive commentary when perusing the likes of micro blogging platforms like Twitter. Also common are incidents of racist, misogynous, defamatory and hateful commentaries online. The Qur’an forbids such when it instructs Muslims against using offensive names:

“..nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith” (49:11)

Defamation and slander are clearly forbidden in the divine text:

“Woe to every (kind of) scandal-monger and-backbiter.” (104:1)

“..neither defame one another..” (49:11)

Hate speech is curtailed by instructing that people should speak good words to each other and not words that sow seeds of dissent:

“And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.” (17:53)

  1. Bombardment with unsolicited messages

Many marketers shoot themselves in the foot when they resort to spamming i.e. by repeatedly sending unsolicited messages to users of social networking sites. In contrast, the Qur’an commands Muslims to respect peoples right to privacy and not to enter their space without permission.

“And if you do not find anyone therein, do not enter them until permission has been given you. And if it is said to you, “Go back,” then go back; it is purer for you. And Allah is Knowing of what you do.” (24:28)

Legislation is now increasingly being implemented to counter the misuse of social media, but for Muslims, divine guidance is the check on behavior, which is far more important than worldly legislation. To be embraced willingly rather than being enforced by an external authority, there is plethora of guidance in Islam’s holy text, the Qur’an on acceptable behaviors. Such Qur’anic guidelines relate with social media marketing behaviors and inform Muslim marketers about the parameters within which they are to operate.


As with other marketing media, Muslim marketers should not have a reactionary approach with social media but a planned one. A strategy that identifies organizational capabilities and matches them with market opportunities should be developed, which should then be operationalized.

  1. Research the customer

Muslim marketers should investigate who their target audience is, what are their needs and demographics, the devices they use and the networking sites they subscribe and tailor their content around all of these factors.

  1. Your content should add value

Social media content should not be posted for its own sake but it should add value for the users. It should give some sort of a solution to a problem such that the social media account is seen as a useful tool and resource by the user that helps him or her in daily life.

  1. Use visuals

Images tell more of a story than just text. Communicate visually with your customers by adding good-looking images, and visuals. Images process quickly and people are drawn to them. This way your social media content becomes more responsive than simply posting dry text.

  1. Embrace Diversity

Social media transcends countries and cultures. Islamic marketers should incorporate cultural diversity in their content so that it relates to everyone who is connected with them.

  1. Tell stories

It is vital to avoid technical jargon, complex numbers, facts, figures and statistics that strain the mind. Instead simple yet captivating stories around products and services should be narrated. People have a short attention span on social media and aren’t always geared for straining the minds with complexities but relate more to stories and narratives than numbers and formulae.

  1. Facilitate Sales

Muslim marketers should not have a social media presence to showcase their products and services but it should also facilitate the actual purchase process. They should not hesitate to ask for the sale and give calls to action to the users and the guidance required for making a transaction.

  1. Use video and Audio

Previously videos were the sole domain of video-blogging sites like YouTube, but now almost all social media networks have video featured on them. A more recent phenomenon is the live video feature. Along with text and images, video and audio leave a more lasting impression on customers.


  1. Improve Continuously

Social media is a dynamic medium that evolves continuously. Social networking sites keep adding new features. This requires Islamic marketers to keep abreast with the changes and continuously strive to improve their social media presence for their users.



Social media offers an amazing opportunity to Islamic marketers to connect directly with their customers, engage in real-time conversations, and vitally to hear the perspective of the customer about their organization and its environment. It is vital that Muslims embrace social media marketing with a strong customer focus and a sound marketing strategy. However, while social media brings tremendous and exciting opportunities for Islamic promoters, there are also challenges that the improper or uninformed use of this media poses to their cause. It is expedient that their marketing methodology be informed by God’s guidance and they must ensure that while developing and implementing a social media presence, no divine injunction is violated. Only with such an approach will they qualify as Islamic marketers.



Al-Qur’an: Electronic Mos’haf Project

“Nearly One-Third of the World Will Use Social Networks” (E-Marketer, June 30 2016)

Statista: “Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 4th quarter 2016

“Tackling Nasty Trolls isnt Censorship its Common Sense” (Telegraph, June 25 2016)



Shopping Mania

THE reason why many of us do not wish to face reality is because it is painful. Reality hurts. It sheds light on areas which we want to keep in the dark.

Like the child who cries and screams because he cannot have his way is offered ice cream to calm him down, we adults too seek objects to soothe our pain. A sweet treat to distract us from the bitterness that is reality.

There used to be alcoholics, but thanks to the more recent emergence of ‘in your face’ capitalism, they have been sent to the back benches by the shopaholics. Their kind gets an inexplicable high by stuffing shopping carts mindlessly. With a condition unique to the wealthier class, they fall prey to the cunning of businessmen who fully exploit their surplus wealth and lack of self-control.

Islam calls for a balanced and moderate approach to consumption.

Lured to mega shopping malls by advertising, they return home with stuffed plastic bags, laughingly dismissing their excess as ‘retail therapy’. But little do they realise that such sugar-coating deludes them. ‘Buy one get one free’, ‘special offers’ and ‘seasonal discounts’ are the baits that lure shopaholics to harm themselves. But we must understand that their behaviour does more than bring harm just to their own person, for their compulsion panders not only to their innate desires and insecurities, it also correspondingly brings misery upon their near and dear ones and the environment at large.

What started off as an occasional misdemeanour slowly transforms into a habitual offence, and a fully mature addiction with special thanks to gigantic stores, credit cards and 24/7 advertising. The creed of capitalism contains no compassion, for its policy is to take no prisoners. There is only one interest that it pursues, and that is profit. It influences us to buy, shop, and hoard aimlessly, paying little attention to the utility and genuine need of things and the side effects of such compulsive behaviour.

Excessive shopping adds to clutter in the home, a strain on our finances, and a usurping of time that could be spent with family and friends. By shopping recklessly and impulsively, we clutter our lives with unnecessary items that add little value to our practical existence and merely occupy space and take up our time. The availability of easy credit makes us overlook the ramifications of impulsive spending and makes us fall headlong into the debt trap.

We need to free up our time and space by reducing our possessions, and make it a rule to buy only that which is necessary. Shopping should be a moderate affair. If it is developing into a serious compulsive habit, then it is time to step on the brakes and take action. Reduce, recycle, reuse should be our daily mantra.

Let us switch off this never-ending soap opera of commercialism for a moment and hearken to the call of Islam for a balanced and moderate approach to consumption. Take some time out to reflect on the Quran and you will discover its exhortations to manage your finances astutely, remain within the budget, save for a rainy day, and check impulsive spending. According to the Holy Book, consuming for the sake of consumption alone is a trait of kufr (disbelief): “…Those who reject Allah will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat…” (47:12). Spendthrifts are not in good company, we are clearly warned: “Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful” (17:27)

That moderation should be the rule in the spending behaviour of a believer is the glaring rejoinder: “Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard’s) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute” (17:29).

Moreover, surplus wealth is not meant to be blown away on frivolities but to be shared with those less fortunate: “….They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: “What is beyond your needs” (2:219).

Alms are mandatory and excessive spending is to be curtailed to meet the ideal that wealth: “…may not (merely) make a circuit between the wealthy among you…” (59:7)

The addiction of shopping brings temporary happiness, which is short-lived and attached to sadness. If owning material possessions attained happiness, the rich would have always lived very happy lives. But this is definitely not the case. Like others, the rich have their fair share of sorrows. So the formula for happiness definitely lies somewhere else. The discipline of Islam provides a moderate approach to consumption. When followed it results in happiness, harmony and balance.

First published in DAWN dated 21 April 2017


Preview: Why Islamic Marketing Is About Principles And Not Profits?

Profit maximization or service to God?

The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines Marketing as “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” It follows from this definition that the customer is central to marketing. It is the customer’s requirements that determine the entire focus of a business. However customer needs come in a wide variety of choices and are as diverse as customers themselves. What type of customer requirements should a business fulfil is determined by a business often in conjunction with the legal or ethical framework governing it. While customer needs are the centre-point of conventional marketing, in Islamic marketing it is not the customer, but the Creator whose good pleasure is sought by the Marketer first and foremost. Thus profit maximization is not the ultimate goal of trade in Islam (Al Serhan, 2011).

Islamic marketers are those marketers that apply the principles of Islam to the marketing function rather than pursue profit maximization by any means possible.

Law, Ethics and Revelation

When it comes to business transactions, there are two categories. Transactions that are legal, and one’s that are not. Some are legal, but not ethical, such that although there is no law barring such a business, people do not consider it to be the right thing to do. Ethics and legislation both have one thing in common. Both are man-made. Laws are what parliament
or government decides upon, while ethics is what society considers as acceptable. To be noted that ethical norms and legislation are not permanent. A law of today can be repealed by a legislative body of tomorrow. Similarly, what is ethical in one society is not necessarily
in the other.

Many equate the word ethics with religion, however the etymology of the word gives a different picture (Albuquerque, 2010). Moreover, ethics also vary with time. In the past it was considered unethical for women to go out to work, but not today. So we see that both, ethics and legal rules vary according to time and space. Both are a product of the human mind, and do not claim perfection.

This is where Islamic marketing comes in uniquely. Muslims believe that the rules to govern business in Islam are not the product of human minds, but are revealed by God. As such they are not restricted to time or space. Believers of one generation are to follow the same God given rules as believers of a previous era. These rules are applicable in any society and within any given time or era. Since God is the one who has given these rules, they are permanent and immutable as the definitive guide to human behaviour. Islam is called Ad-Deen in the Qur’an (3:19), a term which is loosely translated as religion or faith. However these English counterparts do not convey the full essence of the word. Deen encompasses every sphere of human activity, whereas some may argue that religion is concerned mostly with matters like dogma, creed, ceremony, worship and festivals. Whereas some may think that going to one’s place of work is a non-religious act and going to a place of worship for an observance a religious one, in Islam there is no distinction between the two. When a believer conducts his business or profession under the guidelines
revealed by God, then his economic affairs are an act of Ibadah (Servitude, worship).
Deen Al Islam is concerned with not only the spiritual life and salvation of its adherents but also their worldly and economic affairs. It has a finely tuned set of rules governing all aspects of life (Al Serhan ) How a believers buy and sells goods and services is also within the domain of Deen Al Islam. How wealth is managed, and acquired and shared with others, the Qur’an is not silent about such matters, but discusses them at great length. Thus all actions undertaken by Muslims are acts of worship (AlSerhan, 2011)

The Islamic marketing mix

If marketing involves the management of 7 Ps, namely product, price, promotion, place, people, processes and physical evidence. (Wilson & Gilligan, 2005) and Islam applies to all spheres of human life, including economics, then it should be made clear what type of products are within the remit of Islamic marketing? How are they to be priced? What type of
promotion is to be pursued? How are goods and services to be distributed? Are there any rules governing the role of people involved in the marketing function by what processes and in the acceptable physical environments? Answers to such and Qur’anic guidelines that apply on the marketing mix, need to be seen before affiliating any marketing project with Islam.

I will be speaking on WHY ISLAMIC MARKETING IS ABOUT PRINCIPLES AND NOT PROFITS? at the 4th Global Islamic Marketing Conference (GIMC4): “Visionary Marketers Building a Better World”, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, 29-30 May 2013.


Islamic Marketing

Though the discipline has been documented in academic circles relatively recently (Alserhan 2009), Islamic marketing has been around since ever Muslims have under taken consumption and promotional activity in the light of the teachings of their faith. To many, Islamic marketing is concerned with marketing of goods and services to Islamic communities as an untapped and viable market segment, while to others Islamic marketing involves marketing of such products and services that are considered as “Halaal” (permissible) Few also see Islamic marketing as the branding and packaging of conventional goods and services using “Islamic” or “Arabic” symbols. Such is the interest in the field that even those organisations that are considered secular in nature, and are owned by non Muslims have also jumped the boat to have their share of the “Islamic” dollar (Sandikci, 2011).

However,  though its academic study is new, Islamic marketing is not really a new phenomenon , but one which has existed since ever Muslims, put into practice the teachings of the Qur’an within the sphere of their economic and corresponding social lives. Marketing is no longer the domain of Marketing departments, but an activity at the heart and soul of the organisation (Kotler 1999), hence Islamic marketing is not a niche but at the heart of the organisation.

Islamic marketing is a holistic activity, not restricted to marketing to Muslim consumers only but to all consumers as Islam does not bar Muslims from trading with non Muslims. Similarly, branding with Arabic text, images and symbols is not reminiscent of Islamic branding but as the Qur’an says that all human languages and colours are among the signs of Allah, such can be done is every mode of communication of the target consumer.

The diversity of beliefs and cultures within the global Islamic community mandates that a stereotypical approach to Islamic marketing and more specifically branding be discouraged.

The ethical and moral dilemmas that Marketers face in contemporary times, and how Islamic marketing in the light of Qur’anic guidance binds Muslim marketers to ethics in business needs to be explored. The importance of the Qur’an as a text of guidance for the Muslims and its application in all spheres of human activity is key in this regard.

Social uplift and community regeneration through Islamic Marketing should be  brought into the limelight through examples and best practice, and it should be emphasized that Islamic marketing is not at all about increasing profits, but also concerns community welfare. In essence, the dynamic nature of Islamic marketing gives birth to the Islamic organisation, which as a social business exists to solve problems faced by communities and works towards providing material as well as spiritual needs of consumers.

Kashif Shahzada will be delivering a lecture on the topic of “Islamic Marketing: Marketing to Muslims or Marketing in the light of Qur’anic Guidance?” at the 2nd Global Islamic Marketing Conference (GIMC): “Putting Ethics Back into Business”, to be held in Abu Dhabi from 16th to 18th January 2012.