Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Meet the Editor of… the Journal of Islamic Marketing
Article Type: Interview From: Journal of Islamic Marketing, Volume 1, Issue 1
Interview with: Dr Bakr Ahmad Alserhan by Margaret Adolphus
Dr Bakr Ahmad Alserhan PhD, the founder of Islamic marketing as a new scientific discipline, is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) University. His work experience spans both academia and industry. He held various positions in Abu Dhabi University (UAE), the Hashemite University (Jordan), and Microsoft European Operation (Ireland).
He publishes extensively in international refereed journals and is currently working on numerous papers focusing on Islamic and Middle Eastern markets. He has signed an agreement with a major publisher to write a book titled Principles of Islamic Marketing. His research interests include Islamic marketing, Islamic branding, Islamic hospitality, marketing strategy, marketing research, and cross-cultural studies.
About the journal
Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, with around 1.5 billion followers worldwide – nearly a quarter of the world’s population. This constitutes an enormous market, and one that is spread across three continents where Islamic values have helped shape the societal structures, culture and legal norms that influence consumer preferences and behaviour.
The Journal of Islamic Marketing aims to lay the foundation of, and advance, Islamic marketing as a new discipline. It will identify the features of the Islamic framework for marketing practices and ethics, and provide a forum where researchers, academics and business people can debate the main issues.
The journal identifies the features of the Islamic framework of international marketing practices and ethics. The benefits of understanding the Islamic perspective are both harmony and cooperation with Muslim target markets, and the potential for a more ethical approach to marketing as a whole.
The inaugural issue, to be published in April 2010, will include an interview with Ernst & Young, Bahrain; a case study of an Islamic e-brokerage company; articles on advertising in Malaysia; and information sources on fatwa rulings on behaviour and products.
There has been a lot of media attention devoted to the Islamic prohibition of interest and how this affects financial transactions such as mortgages. Other key Islamic principles that could have a bearing on business include social justice and inclusion, honesty, protection of the weak, and a strong sense of fair play. What are the key influences on marketing ethics and what distinguishes “Islamic” marketing?
The Islamization of the marketing function through applying the principles of Islamic marketing, which are intrinsically ethical, will allow businesses to be more at peace with the world as well as with themselves. It will also establish relationships that are honoured by customers with an almost religious zeal.
Islamic marketing addresses current marketing thought and practice within the overall framework of Islam. It studies how Muslim market behaviour is shaped by various religious and cultural concepts affecting almost all economic decisions in these markets. Doing business successfully in Islamic markets requires that conventional marketing knowledge be tailored to comply with their requirements. In other words, current marketing thought and practice needs to wear a turban, a veil, or at least a head scarf in order to appeal to these markets. To be more specific, Islamic marketing blends the religious, the ethical, and the business worlds to:
create a more humane world market where buyers get a fair deal and sellers accept a reasonable profit, in a better-maintained environment;
help both Muslim and non-Muslim marketers understand the needs of the massive Muslim markets; and
provide marketers with current information on the behaviour of Islamic markets and their needs, as well as analysis of their future trends.
Are there products or groups of products (other than the obvious, i.e. alcohol, pornography, pork) which are off limits to Islamic marketing?
The areas affected by Islamic marketing are much wider than commonly understood, i.e. forbidding the use of interest rates and the consumption of alcohol and swine products.
Islam approves only wholesome products that have been raised, prepared, and transported wholesomely from “farm to table”. The implications of Islamic principles on the marketing aspect of business are very thorough and encompass the entire marketing mix for both services and goods.
The first component of the conventional marketing mix, for example, is the product. In Islamic marketing however, it is the halal product, and the difference between the two is huge. From an Islamic marketing perspective, the product that a company sells must be entirely halal. This means that all inputs, processes, and outputs must be Sharia compliant, i.e. the product and all that was involved in its creation, delivery, and consumption must be environmentally friendly and totally harmless, as Islam clearly prohibits causing harm to anything that God created (all-embracing harmony in the universe). An un-halal, or haram product will be very difficult to sell to the Muslim consumer because the latter’s behaviour is mostly dictated by the common understanding of what is permissible and what is prohibited under the sharia law. Being Sharia compliant is the quickest way to promote the company and its products.
Journal mission and editorial objectives
How and why did you found Islamic marketing as a new discipline, and what was your rationale for launching the journal?
This discipline of Islamic marketing was a natural outcome of developments in the global economy, where the Islamic perspective on commerce is increasingly gaining momentum. However, despite that growing importance and influence, Muslim consumers have largely been ignored by academic researchers and very little is known about them. Thus, Islamic marketing as a discipline was developed to help conceptualize and clarify the relevant Islamic teachings and guidance, so that both Muslim consumers and their suppliers – Muslim or non-Muslim – can define their expectations of each other and learn how to establish sustainable relationships that are built on mutual understanding, not on the widespread stereotypes.
What are the journal’s editorial objectives and mission?
The short-term mission of the journal is to enable Muslim consumers and their suppliers to connect more closely. In the long term, the journal aims to help create a more humane business environment; one where man can prosper without bringing demise to his surroundings. It seeks to do so by advocating Islamic principles and ethics as they relate to business in general and marketing in particular. It will be a medium for researchers to discuss the marketing opportunities, challenges and traditions in Islamic markets, and it will provide insights into the various aspects of marketing to Islamic markets such as franchising, distribution channels, retailing practices, branding, hospitality, consumption patterns, etc.
More specifically, what are your objectives for the next couple of years, in terms of numbers of papers in each issue, numbers of issues per year, special issues, etc.? For example, do you intend to do an issue on marketing financial products?
During the first year, three issues will be published, each containing nine successful submissions that include papers and case studies, one interview, and one book review. After that, we are aiming to issue the journal four times a year and probably increase the number of articles from nine to ten or 11.
Special issues are particularly high on our agenda. We are planning special issues on Islamic branding, Islamic hospitality, and marketing of Islamic financial services. Also, another issue on place marketing is being planned – this was actually inspired by Philip Kotler who in our communications talked fondly of Dubai’s efforts in that regard. Other topics that are also being considered include relationship marketing in Islam. Established authors who are willing to become guest editors on special topics are very welcome.
How will you ensure that you reach researchers and practitioners?
The journal is being heavily championed by a very professional and dedicated team from Emerald. Distinguished persons who helped, and continue to help in this regard include: Joe Bennett, Juliet Norton, Victoria Buttigieg, Chris Hart, Valerie Robillard, and Emily Hemus, to mention a few.
We have built databases that include many thousands of researchers across the globe and we have received impressive feedback from them regarding the journal.
Extensive promotion in related events such as conferences is being pursued as we strengthen our relationship with our potential readers and contributors.
Personal relationships and social online networks also play a role in creating more exposure and awareness among the journal public.
At what sort of levels, and where, is Islamic marketing taught, and how will the journal help?
Interestingly, Islamic marketing is being explored at the very best business schools around the world. For example, Oxford University in the UK has embarked on a large Islamic branding and marketing project that was announced less than a year ago. The École Supérieure des Sciences Économiques et Commerciales in France offers an MBA course on Islam and marketing. Similar initiatives are under way in Malaysia, Brunei, and parts of the Middle East.
The journal will play a major role in encouraging researchers to focus their research efforts more closely on Islamic marketing, thus creating the world’s first academic resource on the subject, which will make it the number one reference on the issue.
What are the key research issues that you will take on, and will you favour any particular research approach, e.g. quantitative as opposed to qualitative?
The journal’s scope is fairly broad. Issues that are of particular importance to us include Muslim consumers, Islamic markets, commercializing Islam, Islamic marketing ideals, Islamic marketing mix, Islamic business ethics, marketing Islamic financial products, the halal market, Islamic hospitality, Islamic branding, the Islamic e-market, the Islamic fashion and clothing industry, Islamic pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletry, Islamic law and marketing practices, selling to Islamic markets, and buying from Islamic markets.
Contributions related to any of these broad subjects are welcome regardless of the research approach. We understand that this is a new subject and therefore we expect many of the submissions to be exploratory and descriptive in nature. However, the type of the approach is of little relevance when it comes to publishing decisions; what matters is the quality of the submission and its contribution to creating the desired understanding of the various aspects of the Islamic market.
Aside from (obviously) relevance to the topic, what are the quality indicators you will look for in your articles?
Submissions to the journal have to be well written, precise, to the point, well focused, flowing smoothly, engaging, and not rigid. This is neither a political nor a religious journal; it is a business journal with an academic mission so we expect submissions to be balanced in that regard.
Journal publishing is becoming more and more niched, and while your journal provides an identifiable receptacle for all the research and the topic, how will you persuade people to publish with you and not with journals that are already established?
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So far, we have taken many successful steps in that regard. At this point, in the Journal’s development, we understand that we are no match for some of the journals that have been around much longer, but we promise that this will change within a few years. It is our clear objective that in less than five years’ time, the journal will be among the most widely acknowledged in the field of marketing, and we are hurrying towards achieving it. As you said, the journal is very well differentiated from other journals; publishing in it will give researchers a different exposure and will greatly expand their readership base.
Getting Philip Kotler onto your Editorial Board was a considerable coup. How did you achieve this, and generally, what do you see as the role of your Editorial Board?
Philip Kotler is a visionary scholar; he is no stranger to foreseeing business trends, especially in marketing. I have been raised on Kotler’s books, I read them, I was taught them, and I lecture about them. I approached him in Summer 2008 and requested his help in the establishment of the Journal and he very kindly accepted to do so. I believe the field of Islamic marketing owes him a lot for his support and understanding.
Moreover, the journal’s editorial board includes the best of the best in the field of marketing internationally. For example, it includes, Professor Marin Marinov, Professor Abbas J. Ali, Dr Lyn S. Amine, Dr Tim Beal, Professor Rafik Beekun, Professor Salih Tamer Cavusgil, Professor Zohheir ElSabbagh, Naseem Javed, Professor Erdener Kaynak, Professor Cedomir Nestorovic, Dr Ozlem Sandikci, and Dr Paul Temporal, among many distinguished others.
The Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) plays a vital role in the establishment of the journal. As well as the traditional role of making sure that only qualified submissions are published, it helps set the future direction of the journal through its continuous monitoring, guidance, and direct involvement. No journal could have a future without the active participation of its EAB. The Journal of Islamic Marketing has been blessed in this regard.
Can you sum up the impact, actual and potential, of Islamic values on business ethics?
We acknowledge that the effect will not be immediate. Like all other ethical initiatives that are aimed at society as a whole, realization takes time; it begins with creating awareness and gradually building momentum. It is like stirring a lake with a pebble, it begins with a tiny splash and grows into consecutive waves that encircle the entire expanse of water.
Consumers are fed up with how they have been treated. They want to be seen as humans, not as wallets for marketers to drain. They want products that will keep the planet habitable for their children and their grandchildren. They want marketers who care more about the health and well-being of their consumers. They want companies that view the interest of the community as a minaret that guides their operations, not as a target to shoot at. The ethical principles of Islamic marketing can help greatly in this regard. Businesses that Islamize their entire marketing function will have a tremendous competitive advantage over others that delay such a transition.
Dr Bakr Ahmad Alserhan was interviewed in October 2009.