Muslims Flex Their Market Muscle

The struggle to win the hearts and minds of Muslims around world has been on the lips of Westerners a lot lately, but there's a parallel battle that has been fought for a long time: the one for its pocketbooks.

The influence of the Muslim consumer is felt in nearly every nation around the globe: multinationals like Pizza Hut have established bases in Yemen and Pakistan, while Halal butcher shops, which serve meat that has been prepared according to the standards of Islamic law, are found throughout the world.

The purchasing power of U.S. Muslims alone is $12 billion yearly, according to the New York-based Center for American Muslim Research and Information.

"There are six to eight million Muslims in the United States," Rasheed Ahmed, with the non-profit Muslim Consumer Group, told ABCNEWS. "There is a lot of potential there."

There is some disagreement over the U.S. Muslim population — others put the figure at 2 million — but considering Islam is the world's second-most popular religion, with some 1.2 billion adherents, the potential profit for those marketing to the Islamic world is huge, including for American firms.

But experts warn that there are also considerable obstacles for those interested in marketing to Muslims.

American companies appealing to overseas Muslims have to contend with growing resentment among their target audience.

Some Muslims believe American firms already dominate too much of the market, while others have chosen to forego American goods in response to Washington's perceived anti-Islamic actions in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks or the United States' association with Israel.

The plight of the Palestinians is one of the foremost concerns among Muslims of all kinds, from Shiites to Sunni, from Gulf Arabs to Southeast Asians, said Raeed Tayeh, of American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice.

Bring in the Replacements

For some Muslim-run companies, that resentment has helped expand their markets.

Zamzam Cola, an Iranian soft drink that was invented as a replacement for U.S. soft drinks after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, recently hit the shelves in Bahrain in response to growing anti-U.S. sentiment.

Bahrain, an official American ally and home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, is considered one of the most liberal and wealthy countries in the Persian Gulf. However, it is also a Muslim country whose citizens have been boycotting American goods to express their frustration at U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"There's a growing demand for substitutes to American soft drinks, which is what prompted us to import Zamzam Cola," an executive at the Bahraini-owned Zamzam Soft Drink Drops told the Middle East Times.

Coca-Cola has also long been a subject of debate among Muslim religious authorities, because it is made from a secret formula, which may include traces of forbidden ingredients like alcohol. Muslims are forbidden to use alcohol.

Zamzam Cola, named after a spring in Mecca that Muslims consider sacred, has not been subject to such debate — mainly because Zamzam is a product of Iran's Islamic government.

Concern about un-Islamic influences has also prompted toy-makers in Iran to create a more appropriate replacement to American icons Barbie and Ken.

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