Halal Money Matters
Episode 10: The Economic Impact of Ramadan
Halal Money Matters Podcast
Episode 10 – The Economic Impact of Ramadan
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Welcome to Halal Money Matters, I’m Christopher Patton.
MONEM SALAM: And I’m Monem Salam.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Ramadan Mubarak, Monem.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah, Ramadan Kareem. It’s been an entire year. It’s crazy. We started the podcast last year right after Ramadan and now we’re into Ramadan. It’s been a wild ride.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Yeah, and I still have not seen you in person in quite some time.
MONEM SALAM: Exactly!
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: But... any day now. Any day now.
MONEM SALAM: Any day. Any day. We thought about this idea. Chris, I don’t know if you’ve ever spent Iftar... you know, we do one at the company every year, but...
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Mmhmm.
MONEM SALAM: ... you know, there’s usually a lot of food that gets consumed in Ramadan but not only that but water and other things like that, so we thought you know what? Let’s talk a little bit about the economics of it since this is the halal money matters show.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Yeah, and not just kind of the economic behaviors of individuals but of companies... up and down, all kinds of questions.
MONEM SALAM: We have a great guest today. Rafi-uddin Shikoh is from Dinar Standard. He’s done a lot of work and surveys and research to really understand the OIC market really well. And so, I’m really excited to talk to him.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Alright, let’s talk to him! I’m excited.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON [narration]: Before we jump in, a couple terms you’re going to hear in this episode... One you are going to hear a lot is the “OIC” which is The Organization for Islamic Cooperation. And that is an international organization consisting of 57 member states. The other one you’ll hear a bit later on is “GCC” which The Gulf Cooperation Council. And that is a political and economic alliance of six member states in the Middle East.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Alright, we’re here with Rafi-uddin Shikoh of Dinar Standard. Just to start out, we want to learn a little bit more about you, so why don’t you tell us something about the kind of work Dinar Standard does and how you ended up in that field.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Sure. First of all, Monem, Chris, thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to talk to you guys. Monem, we’ve been good friends for a while so it’s good to catch up as well. Thanks for that question. So, Dinar Standard is a labor of love. It’s something I always had a passion to start and build a venture myself, so I had that fire in the belly of... you know, as many entrepreneurs do, to do and build something myself. A short background to why Dinar Standard is and what Dinar Standard is, it really has a link to September 11th in the sense that, as a professional spending most of my adult life in the US, originally coming from Pakistan, growing up in the Middle East—in Oman—and had come to the States for my higher education and settled and did my MBA and was working in Boston. First in North Carolina where I did my master or my MBA at UNC Charlotte then moved to Boston to work for a strategy consulting firm. And I was there at the time that 9/11 had happened. By that time, I had been immersed in really working with Fortune 500 companies and my job before that—in North Carolina—was actually with a sports management firm. I was doing marketing for a sports media consulting firm, so I met some superstars that I, personally, didn’t know. I wasn’t, like, that enamored and some of those exciting names now are Peyton Manning and Archie Manning, and Dan Jansen and some of these guys. So, given me being an immigrant, at that time, I wasn’t really that much into knowing the personalities but later on, I caught on and realized how cool it was to hang out or know Peyton, which I know all of you would certainly recognize. Anyway, I digress, so, I moved to Boston and worked in strategy/consulting. So, basically built an experience in strategy and especially “E”, electronic strategy, e-business strategy, worked with Fortune 500 companies, saw how you build a brand from zero to multi-billion-dollar brands. And then 9/11 happened and it was kind of... I also lost my job in Boston, moved to New York and worked for a company called Marsh & McLennon. They had their offices in the tower, and they had lost a lot of... I think the most number of employees that were lost in that attack. And I, actually, was recruited in to replace someone who was lost. So, you know, it got very personal in the sense of... the fact that I was hired by that firm and, you know, felt this really strong concern about the role of Muslims and Islam in the world and what has our contribution been? During that time was this urge to do something and link it to this question of, “What is the role of Muslims in the world?” and my observation as a strategy consultant was when I looked at the Muslim world, I was surprised by an observation which is that when you look at the top 100 global brands or innovations, none of them were from any of the Muslim-majority countries. And that was shocking. That didn’t make sense. Because here you have about a quarter of the world’s population, with a diversity of resources: oil to agriculture to talented people and yet, in this past century, there is really nothing of significance that this part of the world has contributed to the global economy. So, this question, along with the belief in the Islamic ethos and values, that Islam is good for the world and Muslims have underlying good values that are strong contributors. So, how does it equate to the fact that we’ve not really been contributing? However, what gave me confidence was that the legacy has been very strong. Up until the golden age of Islam, around the 13th century, some of the biggest scientists and even when you talk about business concepts or so forth, or medicine, Muslims were at the forefront of it. So, anyway, it seemed like there was something that must be uniquely challenging to this part of the world and that’s the question on the basis of which I started Dinar Standard. First of all, as an online business magazine. I mapped that question with my background which was private sector, business, and really focusing not on this question academically but looking at the business landscape, like I said. There were no global brands. I’m a marketer at heart and by profession, so when I started this question of, “No global brands?” it was really coming from that point of view. So, Dinar Standard was started in December of 2004. Did the first ever ranking of top 100 businesses that are domiciled... that are from the Muslim-majority countries. The 57 OIC member countries. There are 57 countries that form this multilateral body called OIC: Indonesia, Malaysia, a lot of the North African, Sub-Saharan/North African countries, the Middle East, the GCC, Turkey, etc. So, out of that, I did a ranking of the top 100 companies and that ranking in the first edition got into The Economist magazine. They did a whole page because it seemed like, to my surprise again, no one had explored this question of, “What is the economic profile of these countries beyond the oil and gas picture that everybody knows about?”
MONEM SALAM: So just out of curiosity, was this done... the top 100 on market capitalization or revenues, or how did you do it?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: By revenues. And what was unique there was—and again I spend a lot of time, given my background and experience—I wanted to do it rigorously modeled around Fortune 500. When you look at Fortune’s ranking it’s done based on revenue. Now, the challenge with OIC countries is you have a lot of the companies and corporates that are not listed or it’s quite opaque, and Monem you know that very well. So, what I did is in that ranking, included government-owned, government-linked enterprises or privately owned for whom some level of reliable revenue data was available. Again, the point was to give a view into these markets that no one had. Because if you just included publicly listed companies from these countries, you would really not get... you’d maybe get 10% of the picture. So, I did end up getting it and what was fascinating about that top 100 was yes, that top 10-11 were national oil companies starting from Saudi Aramco or the UAE or Libya and Iran oil and all of these oil companies... but the rest of the 85-90 brought out the fascinating picture that there is actually strong, domestic, economic activity and some of the big segments were financial services, so a lot of financial institutions were on the top 100 list. You had a lot of retail conglomerates. You had a lot of airlines: The Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Qatar, Etihad. They were also in the top 100. Then, you had a lot of telecom players on there: Etisalat and so forth. And the threshold of that top 100 was—at the first year we did the ranking—it was I think at $1.6 billion in annual revenue. So, you have now here a list of top 100 enterprises with quite a diverse list. So, the criteria was not Shariah compliance, by the way Monem. I mean, very interestingly, we had Genting Berhad from Malaysia on the list.
MONEM SALAM: That’s funny.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: And that caused a bit of a stir. I got, “How can you have...” and my response was, “This is a reflection of what companies exist from OIC countries.” And all we were doing was saying, “These are the companies that are domiciled from OIC and in the top 100.”
MONEM SALAM: Just so you know, Genting is like a casino company in Malaysia. And you probably know that Malaysia, although it’s majority Muslim, there’s a fairly large... about 40% of the population is non-Muslim.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Hmm.
MONEM SALAM: They’re either Hindu or Buddhist Chinese. And Christians. So, they actually do quite well because they own properties, not only in Malaysia but other countries in Southeast Asia as well.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: And when you push out a list like that, I mean, you’re generating a conversation. Even if some people are like, “How is this on there?” you’re starting a conversation that needs to happen.
MONEM SALAM: That’s correct.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Absolutely. The first few years I did this and what happened is it really helped build solid, original research on these markets. It’s been now... twelve years since I’ve on this journey. Now, Dinar Standard is, I would say—quite humbled—but at least within the Islamic economy space we’re quite well recognized because of our thought leadership. We’re not engaged with providing advisory work to sovereign wealth funds in the region to private equity funds to government agencies vis-à-vis economic policies around leveraging this wider OIC opportunity as well as the global halal economy opportunity and Dinar Standard also has always and now also in our advisory work, we are good at also general global innovation work. Because if I talk about the original purpose of starting Dinar Standard, which is, “Where are the global brands from this part of the world?” It’s not just about the Islamic economy given that original tent. It’s about... how do you actually bring innovation? And what’s holding back, for example, Monem, in Malaysia, Proton is the big story for how do you build indigenist competitiveness? In Turkey, Ülker, which is a Turkish confectionary brand, which has bought Godiva. Or Proton in Malaysia which is an auto manufacturer; they bought Lotus in the UK, from a knowledge transfer technology point of view. But yet they’re not able to break through into being a global brand. I mean, as big as foodies as Muslims are. Right? The Muslims of the world are really proud... in the top 100 food companies there’s not one foot company from any of these countries. Now, something is off. It doesn’t make sense. So, I think this is where Dinar Standard is really uniquely placed. And in a way, the nature of these countries is these are developing economies. A lot of our competency is now, “How do you enable developing or emerging economies... from Africa, from Asia, from Central Asia, to really break through and compete at a global level?” With digital transformation this is something that is happening fast, and we’re excited about where we’re taking Dinar Standard forward.
MONEM SALAM: That’s really great. And a couple of things you mentioned that I think we’re tying back into this discussion. You mentioned the Islamic economy and you mentioned foodies. You cannot talk about Ramadan without talking about food. Either the absence of during the day or the abundance of at night. And so, the topic that we really wanted to talk about today was really the Ramadan economics, if you want to call it that. What I mean by that is what happens in the Muslim world but also in Muslim-minority societies within the US and UK, that type of thing, that’s fairly unique, economically, when it comes to Ramadan. And so, I wanted to kind of throw that out there first and see what your thoughts were on that. But really, before I do that, I have to ask you man. Are you still in touch with Peyton Manning?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: You know, the funny story there is I actually went to pick up Archie Manning from the airport and you know, I was fresh out of the MBA program. I had no idea who he was. I picked him up at the airport and I didn’t ask him... I wasn’t at all in awe or anything. So, he’s like, “Oh... you don’t know who I am, right?” And I said, “Yes, should I?” And he’s like, “No... no.”
MONEM SALAM: So, initial thoughts on Ramadan economics. What kind of unique features are there in the Islamic economy during Ramadan?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: So, one thing, let me just kind of be an analyst or consultant. I’ll throw some figures out to contextualize. So, we have around 1.9 billion Muslims today, around the world. It is one of the youngest demographics in the world. So, the average age I believe is in the 30s, whereas in Europe it’s high 40s. And average world is also quite high. So, a young population and you know, you always hear about this, Monem, across these countries. The demographic dividend of these countries. The young, the crisis that governments have is how will you find jobs for the youth? And so forth. Anyway. So, 1.9 billion Muslims, a lot of them young. And food, when it comes to food, an interesting statistic is our estimate—and this is part of our work on the Islamic economy sizing—is last year our estimate of $1.17 trillion is how much Muslims spent on food. This is approximately 17% of the global consumption of food. And you may be surprised, Chris at least, that out of the top ten exporters of food to Muslim-majority countries, the top 9 are non-Muslim-majority countries. So, the number one exporter of halal products in the world today is guess who, as a country?
MONEM SALAM: Australia?
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: It can’t be the United States.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: It sure is! Absolutely. So, the US and France and Brazil, India, Russia. And when I say halal products, Monem, I’m including pharma and cosmetics, but the bulk of it is food. So, non-OIC countries. So, what it means is when it comes to halal food or Ramadan food, it’s part of the global supply chain. There is this drink called, and Monem may or may not know, in the GCC and I’ll link now to Ramadan, called Vimto. Have you heard of the brand Vimto?
MONEM SALAM: I have.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Chris probably hasn’t.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: I have not.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: It’s a UK-based brand. One of the well-known brands in the UK. 50% of their revenue in a year comes during Ramadan from sales in the GCC alone.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Wow.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Because it’s become the staple drink in GCC when you break your fast. So, 50% of the revenue in a year, roughly, comes from the month of Ramadan. One month.
MONEM SALAM: So, do you, like... the culture is that you take a date and then a Vimto? Is that kind of the idea?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: That’s right. Exactly.
MONEM SALAM: Wow.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: So, date, Vimto. Vimto is part of the breaking of the fast. Very popular among the GCC local population. And that’s a great example to start commenting on your question, which is the linkage of the global supply chain of food and its impact on Ramadan. And this example is not just one example. The whole supply chain worldwide, if you can imagine, like I said. If the majority of the $1.17 trillion consumed is coming from the rest of the world—or a big bulk—it means the rest of the world has a stake in what happens in terms of Muslims’ food habits and Ramadan is a big one, right? With this example of Vimto, like I said. So, you know countries such as Brazil. Their national economies get shaken up if there’s a halal-related scandal, which recently happened. Meaning a scandal of trust in terms of halal compliance, of meat being exported. Today, Brazil is the biggest exporter of chicken to the Muslim world. And it’s so big that it has a huge impact on Brazil’s overall economy, where with one scandal it hits the economy hard and you have the President and the top diplomats engaging at a diplomatic level to try to resolve it. So, first at a macro level, Monem, Ramadan has a significant economic impact to the flow of food supply worldwide.
MONEM SALAM: Because I guess you kind of have to prepare for it right after Ramadan is over, for the next year? Because you have to have all of the shipping lanes and everything all prepared. Especially for Vimto is 50% of their money is coming from there. It’s almost like a retail space in the US between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Absolutely, in the case of Vimto, and what has happened, and has been happening a long time, is that they have a huge manufacturing facility now in Saudi Arabia I believe, in the region, so you have a lot of those players who will set up domestic manufacturing which is another side note, and you know, in this conversation we have to talk about COVID and its implications also going forward. But in general, at a macro level, yes there is that to start with. Of course, it would behoove me not to hone in and talk about the individual level, you know. Ultimately, fasting is a very personal endeavor in Ramadan, and it starts there, right? It starts from the virtue of Ramadan at an individual level. There’s so much good that comes during Ramadan, and we feel it. Collectively, as communities, we feel the good that it brings. And one of the big virtues of Ramadan at a personal level is giving. So, as you know, the charitable giving also exponentially... I mean, again, we work, for example, for the UN United Nations Human Commission for Refugees and they have recently, about three years ago, they’ve launched a zakat fund, which we helped them launch. And Ramadan is the biggest season, quote unquote if I can call it a season. The biggest time when people give. The amount of charitable giving by Muslims... this is the time of the year when the most giving happens. You know? We have our good friends at LaunchGood, a crowdfunding platform for social good with a lot of charitable giving to Muslim community-related projects and I know Ramadan is a huge thing for all of these philanthropic activities.
MONEM SALAM: So, on a macro level, how does the pickup in charity affect the economies. I know you’ve been doing this, Mashallah, for a good 12-15 years and you have data going back that far on different statistics in the OIC, so is there an impact one way or another... you know, I can think of multiple examples just on an economic level, where you have food inflation because people are trying to buy the products right away. Even if you’re trying to donate the food, you have to buy the food first, right? So, you can talk about that. You can talk about, you know, are there some areas of consumer discretionary that fall in Ramadan. You know? Those types of things. Can you shed some light on that?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Sure. Exactly ten years ago we did a major study on the impact on the economies of OIC during Ramadan as well as Muslims’ professional productivity and impact on their professional lives during Ramadan. And that report still gets quoted even though it’s dated. So, one of the things that we evaluated was, at a macro level, as you asked Monem, was, “Does Ramadan have a positive or negative impact on the economies?” In the macro sense. Is there any correlation? Is there any correlation, right? And interestingly there has been some other empirical studies done that have looked at the stock market performances in OIC. There are about 28-some stock exchanges within OIC markets and we, ourselves, for that work had done an analysis of, “Is there any correlation for the month of Ramadan?” Because as you know, the month of Ramadan also shifts every year. So, we could kind of ascertain that there is, or not, any correlation. And interestingly, there was some correlation, and it was, at that time, for the most part, positive correlation i.e. Ramadan actually had an uptick in investment activity within OIC countries.
MONEM SALAM: You mean in stock markets particularly?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Stock markets, specifically.
MONEM SALAM: So, you’re looking at fund flows? Fund flows in? And you’re looking at whether there’s a rise and fall? Correct?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: We were just looking at the rise and fall.
MONEM SALAM: Okay.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Which, which you know, is reflected in funds. We were just looking at the rise and fall of the stock exchanges market value and its performance year-on-year, during the period that is Ramadan across the geographies.
MONEM SALAM: On the aggregate, you’re saying that if you look at the OIC markets, they’re usually up, but on a country-wide level, it could be up or down, right?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Yes, correct.
MONEM SALAM: What do you attribute that to? Is that like a consumer sentiment? People just feeling better about Ramadan, so they invest more? Is there something else fundamentally going on?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Yes. I mean, this has been a question we have always had. Because there isn’t... you know, you can attribute philanthropic giving to Ramadan because it makes sense, right? I mean, that’s just clear. No-brainer. You can attribute certain categories of products: food, in particular, growing, and that makes sense. Just like during COVID we got to understand the importance of essentials, right? We really understood what essentials are, you saw as, across sectors, into 2021, the markets dropped, and we did, in our latest Global Islamic Economy Report, where we cover other sectors: food, clothing, cosmetics, media, finance of course, pharma, and travel... and just as the rest of the economies around the world... pretty much every sector got hit. But we know food—and many segments within food—actually were up. As you know, online retailing was up. Entertainment was up. I mean, during COVID times, certain segments benefitted, and you know all of the stories of the digital platforms like Zoom and so forth. So, even within context of Ramadan you have certain sectors that you imagine would do well. Monem, to the point about how do you answer if people were investing more... maybe certain sectors are performing better. But it seemed like it went beyond just those sectors of food and directly linking. So, there has to be something to say about yes, feeling good and investing more. Or you know, trusting. In general, as you know, there’s a general ethos within Islamic tradition of not just sitting on your money and making your money be productive. So, maybe something to that, as well.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: I’m glad you mentioned the report because I was looking at it, and you talked about how its broken out into sectors. And one of the sectors is media and I noticed in the report, it refers to Ramadan as “arguably the most important month for media companies in Muslim consumer markets,” and I wondered if you could kind of talk about that a little bit: the why and how that manifests.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Absolutely, I mean media goes crazy during Ramadan. You know, just like you’d have Christmas specials or Thanksgiving specials, I mean you have major... in the Arab word, the word is Mosalsalat [serialized]. You have special drama serials that are created—thirty-day serials—for Ramadan. These are multi-million-dollar productions that become huge hits. And they have the themes of Ramadan in it. Sometimes they are family topics. Sometimes they are heritage topics. One of the very well-known ones—Monem you may know, a few years ago—called Omar, which was an Arabic serial. They just went crazy successful. It was a $50 million meida production and a TV serial produced just for Ramadan. So, you have the same concept in Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim population in the world. And they have special serials and so forth. You have a whole media ecosystem. You have musicians that—just as you have Christian music—you have Muslim music. So, you have these superstars. There is a company out of the UK called Awakening Music that has brands now, stars, that do Muslim music... you could say, content. They’re superstars. You’re talking about a billion plus views on their videos. Maher Zain is a name, and many others. And they are not just popular within English. They are popular across OIC countries and, you know, in the GCC you have these young folks, so forth. You have them in Indonesia and Malaysia. But what’s interesting, Chris, in the media... first of all: that. Second, media spending, and this links to your point about, “Does buying go up?” because I guess people shop more during that time. You have a little bit more time, so certainly, a lot of marketing across OIC or Muslim-majority countries, you’ll see a lot of... I mean, to a certain extent, it’s actually sad. Just like people don’t like Christmas being so commercialized, which it is. And a little bit of that has happened to Ramadan as well. Anecdotally, I’d say not to that extent but it’s getting there.
MONEM SALAM: I think you’re right and that’s a good point because when I was in Malaysia, there was this commercialization of the month, right? But it really was the first time I was experiencing it outside the US in a Muslim-majority country. I don’t feel that much of that Ramadan commercialization in the US or amongst... I don’t know, I can’t speak to Europe and other Muslim-minority countries, but you definitely don’t see it in the US as much as you do. And it’s growing every year as people realize, “Oh, I can actually make money,” more people begin to do it, so it’s a chain reaction that actually happens.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Actually, I think that because you’re in a Muslim-majority country. It’s visible anyway. I mean, of course, if you come to Dubai during Ramadan, everything is Ramadan. Every billboard has a Ramadan thing. Much like you’d have Christmas carols playing all around you during Christmastime, so forth. Same thing here. Schools to malls to offices: Ramadan, Ramadan everywhere. And then Eid which is the celebration time. But I think even the US, Monem... I mean, you would know as well that a lot of US-based product launches, you know... I know we have a small community when you talk about the Muslim product ecosystem, but Ramadan is the milestone. I know entrepreneurs within the Muslim community on propositions towards the Muslim community, would plan the whole year for launch pre-Ramadan because that is the time to launch your proposition and because, you know, the whole community is focused, and you get the attention. But you’re right, you don’t see luxury products being up. Here, of course, in Muslim-majority countries, I mean everything is... I mean, you have Dolce & Gabbana having a Ramadan campaign. But in the US, Dolce & Gabbana doesn’t need to. They’re not targeting the Muslim audience. But the Muslim community propositions are. You know, from fintech to halal products. I mean you’ll see a lot of new product launches timed to Ramadan, actually.
MONEM SALAM: So, let’s kind of break it down a little bit more. So, even though, you know, we’re not consuming anything between sunrise and sunset, right? Do you find that the consumption or the demand for food and drink actually is higher in Ramadan?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Yes, yes. You know, I mean, as you know, here, it’s, again.
MONEM SALAM: I mean, on the macro level, right? If you say it’s higher... you would think that’s kind of counter-intuitive basically, to think that.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: I think it is high and I think facts support that, which is because people... specifically food. Food is the thing that you buy a lot of during Ramadan because you’re buying it not just for the breaking of the fast. Everything between breaking of the fast and your morning when your fast starts, people are—as you know—they’ll have a post-break of fast, late-night eating. I mean, here in Dubai, there’s actually... you know, you have Ramadan tents that start at like 9 pm and they’ll go to midnight or 1 am and it’s basically a buffet setup. Every company will set their Ramadan tent up for a certain time period for one or two nights and it’s just... there’s a lot of food going around. And hopefully, there is a lot of good happening as well. You’ll see it on the street and people are just coming out and companies will just have food that they’re giving away for breaking of the fast. Making sure all the mosques have their own breaking of the fast. So, everyone... I mean, Ramadan, I would say, nobody goes hungry because people are in the giving mode. So, even if you, you know, all share with the neighbors and send an iftar or make sure any poor on the street is taken care of. And I’m not just talking about Dubai. I feel countries like Pakistan or low-income countries: Egypt and others. Ramadan is just about feasts. So, food, I would say yes.
MONEM SALAM: So, food is an obvious one, right? I was thinking about this... maybe some outliers... different knock-on effects that Ramadan has? Maybe you can talk a little bit about... what is one area that you looked at and said, “Oh, that’s interesting. That went up; I would have never realized it.”
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: So, again when we talk about Muslim and Muslim behavior and these questions, you have to account for the fact that you’re talking about 1.9 billion people spread across the world. You know? All the way from China, which has, you know, a significant, at a minimum, over 20 million, to Russia having roughly around that number of Muslims, to the known countries, to South Africa or even South America, Poland, Europe, et centra. So, the reason I bring this up is there is so much diversity that the answer is very diverse. And if you break out at the very aggregate level, at least at the minimum OIC countries and non-Muslim majority populations such as the US, UK, France, Germany etc. there’s also a difference in terms of what goes up and what goes down. Now, let me kind of share with you an example. If you look at OIC countries, and again, Chris, these are the Muslim-majority countries where governments... at a government level, do practice. Ramadan is an official thing, right? And so, you have national holidays. So, what we looked at, interestingly, was the effect of how different OIC countries... their policies on office hours and its effect on productivity. That was a fascinating analysis. So, you have the Gulf countries, the GCC which is Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, so forth, which on average, gave the highest reduction in office hours, officially. So, government offices, and then private sector follows as well and it becomes a culture where, in Saudi... you basically have, instead of 8 you have a 5-hour working day, right? Whereas in Indonesia, there is no reduction of hours. They basically just move the clock up one hour. So, the working time starts early and ends early. No change. So, there’s a theological question of is that needed? Is that really needed? And we did a survey along with that in these different markets. And really, do people utilize that time off to do more of the prayers or are they just going home and sleeping and preparing for food and all of that? And I think it’s the latter. There isn’t really, at an aggregate level, a huge need to reduce our work hours. And as you know, Monem, the ethos there is we’re supposed to fast and keep our normal day normal. So, it’s not like, “Oh, it’s Ramadan, I have to take the month off, I can’t work because it’s going to be so hard, oh my God, I can’t have any water or any food, this is... I need to sleep half of the day or rest.” No. You’re supposed to have your normal, average day and fast. So, that was a fascinating assessment in that study, which was there were a lot of the OIC countries where their official hours are reduced, and we derived... this was a self-assessment... we derived, and I have this up so I can mention it. It has a roughly a 4% impact on the month’s GDP per hour of work reduction per day. So, if you calculate it, those countries that were cutting the hours, that translates, if each hour is a unit of productivity, as a country, you lose roughly 4% of the GDP per hour of work. So, per hour of the reduction was equal to 4% reduction of the GDP.
MONEM SALAM: Just for the month or for the year?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: For that month, which is... you know, and again, we just kind of worked backward from an hour a day of reduction and how does that translate to productivity? So, I think this is something at a policy level... and when we did that, we did get national-level attention where this was covered in media as a topic in different countries as a result. And this was interesting, where you see in Indonesia and Malaysia either there is very little reduction or they just kind of move the time, to a lot of other countries who are having a reduction in time and not really finding an increase in spiritual time being utilized on that hour saved or two hours saved per day.
MONEM SALAM: What about an industry that you would have not expected to go down or go up? It would be interesting to find out whether alcohol consumption went down in Ramadan.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: [laughter]
MONEM SALAM: Right?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Okay. Alright. Noted. I will put that on our research agenda as a potential survey question next time around.
MONEM SALAM: It’s double-faced right? You would think no, it would stay the same, but wait a minute, Muslims drink also, so they might not drink during Ramadan, so it might go down? That type of thing. Sometime like that. In Dubai, for example, where it’s pretty much a free for all where anybody can go drink or do whatever they want, would it actually go down or not?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Yeah, but you know, as you know here in Dubai and countries where alcohol... in Dubai you are actually not allowed to serve, or it’s closed. I mean, they separate it, and they don’t serve alcohol. On religious days, even those places that usually would serve alcohol, they are not allowed to serve alcohol. So, I think they do have some controls there. Or some official laws there.
MONEM SALAM: Interesting.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: But yeah, that’s an interesting question. I think your general point is the outliers, or the unexpected. For example, luxury goods. Cars, automobile sales. Do automobile sales go up during Ramadan, and if so, why? I guess they have to run to the Mosque five times, so they need fast cars? I don’t know.
MONEM SALAM: It ties into Eid gifts as well. Because the Eid gifts are usually bought in Ramadan, right?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Giving of gifts and buying of new clothes as one of the traits or characteristics.
MONEM SALAM: Interesting. And then, one last point. When you talk about Ramadan marketing, right? And media going up, the media spends... What are the general themes of marketing when it comes to that? For example, what I mean by that is...
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Messaging.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah, messaging. Is it spiritually tied to the product or is it... how is the messaging done so that people are encouraged to spend during Ramadan?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Again, I think it’s quite diverse to the markets. And at the minimum, in Muslim-majority countries where everything... Ramadan is all around you. So, I think the general messaging in a lot of the Muslim-majority countries would be around families getting together. You see a lot of feel-good families getting together, having a meal together, which is part of the ethos and one of the beautiful things of Ramadan. You know, families get together, have their breaking of the fast. The elders, you see a lot of humility being shown. You see a lot of charitable giving. Everyone emphasizes the importance of taking care of people. So, you see that in the messaging and a lot of the branding. I remember, back to the US, you’d know a very good brand, very successful American Muslim brand called Saffron Road with our good friend Adnan Durrani. Saffron Road is a halal food brand which is, in fact the majority of his customers are not Muslim because of his high quality of healthy and ethical branding and sustainability focus. Because ultimately when we talk about halal food, it’s really about ethical food practices, right? How an animal is treated, what is it being fed, and of course the notion of how an animal is prepared, much like kosher, but it goes beyond. It has very strong sustainability and ethical angles. So, Saffron Road, when it launched, Whole Foods... it became one of the most successful new product launches for Whole Foods. And early in its launch, there was a lot of backlash, an Islamophobic backlash. I mean, this was national. I don’t know if you remember the controversy with... what’s the turkey?
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Butterball.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Butterball, right. So, Butterball, it was found was actually halal in the US. And there was a big backlash on it.
MONEM SALAM: Oh man, I should have known that ten years ago!
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: [laughter] Yes. We all were like, “Whoa, we didn’t know!” Exactly.
MONEM SALAM: Exactly.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: But because they were exporting it... they were like, “We’re kind of making it, who cares, in the US it can be halal,” so there was a big backlash on that. And so, Adnan’s product also had been hit with a similar backlash. Whole Foods doubled down on their Ramadan campaign supporting Saffron Road and, in the end, came out saying that the sales actually went up by 300% of Saffron Road in Whole Foods. What a great testament to number one, an American brand supporting a halal product, which was not just halal, it was sustainable and ethical, all-around just a good, wholesome, healthy, sustainable product. But really, supporting and going against the risk of an Islamophobic reaction, who asked for boycotting Whole Foods. It was on CNN and all of that; I think this was four or five years ago. Similar story happened with Campbell’s Soup out of Canada and they also kind of came back and supported it. So, I think messaging-wise, one of the things is, you know, within the US, and we’ve done some advisory work for brands in the US, is you don’t necessarily need to make it a national campaign, rather to do it very targeted, focused, community specific campaign.
MONEM SALAM: Makes sense.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: So, you don’t need to have an ad in USA saying, “Happy Ramadan,” although I think that’s a great thing. It should happen. But you now, just from a risk management, reputational risk management point of view, and we see that in a lot of European companies because we do advisory work for brands in France, for example, where there is a very strong sort of... first of all, over 10% of the population now is Muslim in France, very strong halal products or products that are geared towards Muslim communities there, but there’s a strong reputational risk to the mainstream brands there, so they’re very hesitant. So, the messaging has to be smart, and I think in the US, probably still, needs to be, you know, a bit smart that way. But, when you come to Dubai or Malaysia, it’s like Christmas and you really bring all aspects and flavors and the good that Ramadan has.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah, it does. Any final thoughts, Rafi, that you have?
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: I think the question of economic effects of fasting... I feel, in these times of COVID, post-pandemic, or still in a pandemic but slowly coming out of it, I think the excitement of Ramadan is even more so. I feel it within my friend circle and friends and family, really looking forward to Ramadan. And I think it’s a... people have been humbled by the experience of the Pandemic and Ramadan... I expect a lot more giving. I think eating will still happen, will continue, and all of those things. But I think the giving and philanthropic part, number one is needed. There’s a lot more, as you know, people in dire situations, poverty levels have gone around, across the world, including in the US, up. And I think one of the economic effects of fasting is the good it brings to the downtrodden and you know, I think this Ramadan will be super important from that point of view.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah, I hope so, too. It’s a really significant year-over-year increase. Last year, anecdotally, from the charities that I work with, they had a banner... one of the best years they ever had was last year in Ramadan. So, if we have it even go up from there it’s even better. That would be great to do.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Exactly, like I said we work with UNHCR on their zakat fund and various philanthropic programs. Exactly... everyone I know of has said that they’ve had the best year.
MONEM SALAM: Yeah.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: Which is... good and Ramadan is a big boost for them.
MONEM SALAM: It’s true. Hamdullah. Thank you very much, Rafi, for joining us.
CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Thank you.
MONEM SALAM: Really, a pleasure having you and hopefully we’ll have you on again for another segment sometime in the future.
RAFI-UDDIN SHIKOH: My pleasure. Thanks, guys. Thanks, Monem. Thanks Chris, good to meet you.
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