Meet Generation M: the young, affluent Muslims changing the world


Kaaba: The very first house of God in Mecca

Source: The Guardian

Book Reviewed by Harriet Sherwood

The book written by Shelina Janmohamed


Shelina Janmohamed

Burkinis, misery memoirs and people on camels: the caricatures of Islam don’t leave much room for modernity. The author of a new book argues that this image is absurd – and that a new demographic is about to flex its economic muscles

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case they’re wrong. In the foreground is a young woman with fuchsia lipstick, Jackie O-style sunglasses and a colourful headscarf. Behind her is a young man, with a hip, trimmed beard, headphones jammed in his ears and one hand casually resting in his pocket.

The cover of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World by Shelina Janmohamed
The cover of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World by Shelina Janmohamed

They are part of Generation M, and the eponymous book, subtitled Young Muslims Changing the World, is the first detailed portrait of this influential constituency of the world’s fastest growing religion. According to author Shelina Janmohamed, they are proud of their faith, enthusiastic consumers, dynamic, engaged, creative and demanding. And the change they will bring about won’t depend on the benevolence of others: instead, the Muslim pound, like the pink pound before it, will force soft cultural change by means of hard economics.

To demonstrate all that, the cover image was crucial. “When you’re talking about Muslims in particular, but actually people of religion in general, the images you get are really quite depressing,” she says over coffee and baklava in her garden in the outer suburbs of London. “But I think this really captures it. It’s bold, it’s vibrant, the woman’s got so much attitude. They are exactly the kind of people I’m writing about.”

Janmohamed recalls going into a bookshop some years ago. “They had this display of books about Muslims, and it was all misery memoirs of women in veils with cast-down eyes who’d been kidnapped and sold, and people riding on camels in faraway deserts,” she says.

“But young Muslims are crying out for a voice to say this is not what we’re like, we do ordinary things like everyone else, and we have interesting things to say – particularly when the conversation is about Muslims.” There are precious few mainstream publications about the experience of being a young Muslim, beyond politics and theology, she says.

Generation M are the Muslim millennials, the global generation born in the past 30 years, but with a twist. Unlike their Christian counterparts in the US and western Europe, most of whom are turning their backs on organised religion, Generation M has “one over-riding characteristic, which is that they believe that being faithful and living a modern life go hand in hand, and there is absolutely no contradiction between the two,” says Janmohamed.

In the book, she writes: “Their faith affects everything, and they want the world to know it. This is what sets them apart from their non-Muslim peers. It’s the single factor that will shape them and a world that they are determined should cater to their needs … They are a tech-savvy, self-empowered, youthful group who believe that their identity encompasses both faith and modernity.”

The demographics depict an extraordinary trajectory. In 2010, there were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, a figure forecast to grow by 73% in the next four decades – more than double the general rate of growth. By 2050, according to the Pew Research Center, there will be 2.8 billion Muslims globally, more than a quarter of the world’s population.

Of the 11 countries expected to join the world’s largest economies this century, six have overwhelmingly Muslim populations and two have big Muslim minorities. By 2050, India will have the largest Muslim population in the world, at an estimated 311 million, although they will still be a minority among the country’s vast numbers. Muslim minorities in Britain, Europe and North America are young, affluent and growing. One-third of all Muslims are under the age of 15, and two-thirds under 30.

The Muslim middle class is expected to triple to 900 million by 2030, driving consumption as well as social and political change. Their spending power is enormous: the most recent State of the Global Islamic Economy Report forecasts the halal food and lifestyle industry to be worth $2.6tn by the end of this decade, and Islamic finance is on a similar trajectory. Muslim travel could be worth $233bn. In 2014, Muslim fashion was estimated to be worth $230bn, and $54bn was spent on Muslim cosmetics.

“Through their sheer numbers, their growing middle-class stature, the shift of economic and political power towards the Middle East and Asia, home to most of the world’s Muslims, through the Muslim minorities that act as influential and well-connected leaders, by the inspirational force of their faith and their refusal to accept the status quo, Generation M are determined to make change. And what a change it’s going to be,” writes Janmohamed.

She charts the beginnings of this change. The demand for halal (permitted) products has been the impetus for growth in a range of businesses, such as food, fashion, cosmetics and travel. Among dozens of entrepreneurs cited in the book are the Radwan family, who started an organic halal farm in Oxfordshire; the producers of non-alcoholic beer – a sector that grew 80% in the five years to 2012,according to the Economist; Shazia Saleem, who launched ieat, a range of halal ready-meals including shepherd’s pie and lasagne, which are now sold at Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco; and “a whole new Muslim fashion industry”, incorporating online retailers, video bloggers, catwalk shows and haute couture.

But Generation M, according to the book, wants to go beyond halal to tayyab, which roughly translates as “ethical and wholesome”. They want the entire supply chain of production and consumption to have integrity. “Resources must be properly respected, workers in primary industries must not be exploited. Sustainability and renewability are part of the Islamic idea of ‘stewardship of the Earth’, which Generation M eco-Muslims … are championing.”

According to Janmohamed, this Muslim millennial generation has been shaped by two monumental factors. One is the events of the past 15 years, since 9/11, and the global response to Islamic extremism and terrorism; the other is the internet, described in the book as “the glue that binds [Generation M] together and creates the critical mass that turns them into a globally influential force”.

The internet has also, she tells me, “given space for [traditionally] marginalised voices within the community – younger Muslims and women – to express their views”.

Among those views are frustration and resentment at being defined by their hijabs or being told they are oppressed by their faith. Janmohamed quotes Azra, 20: “I’m a young Muslim woman. I am not oppressed by my hijab, I’m liberated by it. If you don’t understand that, that’s completely fine, you don’t need to … The emotion you’re seeing in my eyes is not a plea to ‘help me’ but one for you to take your self-righteous bullshit and shove it up your arse.”

Rather than being downtrodden and subjugated, Muslim women are experiencing increasing empowerment in education, employment, public life, marriage and childbearing, says Janmohamed. “If we were to pick a face that captures the global pace of change, it would most likely be a Muslim woman – she is part of the largest population, in nations where change is happening fastest, and in the segment where change is most potent. In short, Muslim women are where it’s happening.”

Although beyond the cusp of Generation M at 42, Janmohamed in many ways embodies the young Muslim woman she describes.

She was born in London to immigrant parents who arrived in the UK with a suitcase and £75 in cash, and she went to a school at which there were few non-white faces. “Religion was important in our family – I remember my parents praying and fasting, going to the mosque was extremely regular; the Muslim community they were part of was the foundation of the family’s social life. But at school, I spent my time hiding my hennaed hands, not telling people I was eating curry at home, being very shy about being Muslim.”

Only when she went to Oxford did she start to wear a headscarf. “I found university a liberating experience. I got to explore who I was, and part of that was my Muslim identity, which had been very suppressed at school.”

After university, she joined a graduate trainee scheme in marketing, and later spent a year working in Bahrain, which “opened my eyes to the global experience of being Muslim”. She returned to the UK shortly before 9/11, and following the London bombings in July 2005, began writing a blog “talking about what it’s like to be British and Muslim and a woman. It felt like that conversation, about someone who straddles different heritages and feels comfortable in all of them, just wasn’t being heard.”

The blog led to a book, Love in a Headscarf, published in 2009, about her 10-year quest for love via the route of a traditional arranged marriage. Janmohamed was headhunted to help launch Ogilvy Noor, a division of advertising and marketing agency Ogilvy & Mather, which advises brands on engaging with Muslim consumers.

Ogilvy hired her when she was eight months pregnant with her first child, and Generation M was largely written during her second pregnancy and since the birth of her younger daughter 18 months ago. In the book’s dedication, Janmohamed writes: “To my girls. Because you can do anything. Take it from Mummy.”

Generation M, she says, has high aspirations. “They want to be astronauts, you’ve got fencers at the Olympics and ice skaters going to the Winter Olympics, female air crew for Brunei airways – these are young people who are really battling the fact that they have aspirations that should be unfettered versus a reality that is trying to confine them to a particular box.”

But, she acknowledges, not all young Muslims are Generation M. Inclusion does not depend on disposable income or level of education, but sharing the characteristics of faith and modernity. “Their counterparts might be called the Traditionalists … more socially conservative, believing in maintaining harmony, more deference to authority and, as their name suggests, trying to hold firmly on to what they see as the good elements of family, community and tradition,” she writes.

And a few young Muslims, of course, become radicalised, hijacking Islam for violent extremism and hatred, the polar opposite of Generation M.

I ask her who the book is aimed at. One of her goals was to offer a platform for Generation M, she replies, “for people to have their voices heard”. “So there’s a recognition of their own identity, a consolidation of who they are, how they talk to one another.”

Then, she adds: “There’s a conversation for the wider Muslim community to have, to understand some of the dynamics that are happening within it, some of the challenges young Muslims are facing and how they can be resolved.”

But the book is also – and perhaps mainly – for a wider audience. “People who work in business, politics, culture, development. The UK [Muslim] population is just shy of 3 million, the European population is 50 million and growing, there’s a worldwide population of 1.6bn. I think anyone who’s quite serious about understanding what’s happening around the world has something to gain.”

And the marketing executive in Janmohamed wants global brands and multinational corporations to wake up to the power of the Muslim pound, dollar, rupee, rupiah or euro. “Brands have been a little bit over-cautious,” she says, pointing out that business is not immune to prevailing tropes and stereotypes. “It seems to be a really radical idea that Muslims actually buy stuff. Muslims are saying: ‘Hello, we’ve got lots of money to spend, we’re young, we’re cool, please can you deal with us in the same way you deal with everyone else?’”

Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World by Shelina Janmohamed is published 6 September by IB Taurus


1 reply

  1. Sir we have to fight terrorism shall we send air force to bomb isis ? no .shall we send aid to the rebels ? no shall we decrease number of immigrants ? no . what shall we do sir ? BAN BURKINI . It’s part of western society who can’t seem to stop objectifying women. Look around its everywhere. U get paid more to take ur clothes off, and fined for wearing more clothes.

    It’s ok for Nuns to chill on the beach full clothed but not Muslim females? Absolutely disgrace! Glad to hear of this being suspended!

    Mayors do mot have the right to ban Burkinis. France’s highest administrative court ruled.
    The Council of State’s ruling suspends a ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, and could affect cities around the country that have prohibited the full-length swimsuit.

    I’m fascinated to hear from those decrying this decision exactly what they would do if local authorities decided to ban an item of their clothing and engaged policemen to force them to take it off in public? Hiding behind the nonsense that the Burkini defies France’s secular culture is just pathetic. There is nothing outwardly religious about it as the police proved by their own incompetence yesterday in failing to distinguish Burkinis from similar dress worn by women with no allegiance to Islam at all. The court has ruled quite correctly according to law. Let’s hope that’s an end to it. I am proudly a reactionary person is to defend the common good and the good of society I am in favour of Burkini in Europe

    French authorities have been criticised for imposing the ban, after photographs were published this week of police fining Muslim women wearing headscarves on beaches. It has peaked fierce debate on freedom of religion, women’s rights and the integration of France’s Muslim community. The ban was imposed following a series of terror attacks in France by Islamist terrorists.

    Opinion polls suggested most of the French public supported the bans, which Muslims claimed targeted them unfairly.

    John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director welcomed the court’s decision.

    “By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fuelled by and is fuelling prejudice and intolerance, today’s decision has drawn an important line in the sand,” he said in a statement.

    “French authorities must now drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. Rather, invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women’s choices and are an assault on their freedoms of expression, religion and right to non-discrimination.”

    “These bans do nothing to increase public safety, but do a lot to promote public humiliation. Not only are they in themselves discriminatory, but as we have seen, the enforcement of these bans leads to abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women.

    A long time ago, in Europe, a Catholic woman had to cover her hair when entering a church. Also, before nuns were liberated, they had to wear habits! Very restrictive and ridiculous! The French then didn’t make a big deal out of it as it was A RELIGIOUS RIGHT!

    Long before France attempted to colonise parts of Africa and the Middle East, there was a battle, in 732, at Tours, when an Islamic army, led by Abdul Rahman, tried to colonise all of France, and to force every French person to convert. The French drove them back to Spain, with much bloodshed. So, naturally, they have a reasonable amount of distrust for anything Muslim. After the battle of Tours, France was “ruled” for 1,000 years or so by the Church of Rome, and the “aristocracy”, until the revolution of 1793, when the people decided that no religion or royalty would ever hold sway over the elected government. That`s it, and the laughable attempts by Islamists to justify dress codes mandated by their “prophets”, is just, laughable. Thank you. Banning the Burkini by the French govt. is not the issue but telling me that France is a secular country after the banning of the Burkini is the big issue. This is hypocrisy and we know it.

    European immigrants to Australia, New Zealand, Canada or even the USA did that they took their religion, culture, language and customs with them and then forced the indigenous people to behave like them!! The French government is doing exactly what ISIS and the other terrorist groups want. They want the French government to segregate and discriminate against Muslims, to create a us and them society. Well done France, bowing to terrorism. How many attacks were carried out by French Muslim women in Burkinis?

    Women should be allowed to wear WHATEVER THEY WANT on the beach. Whether that be a bikini, a swimming costume, a skirt, leggings, a dress, pyjamas, trousers, a jacket, a coat, a jumper, a hoody, a Burkini! It’s their body so should be their choice whether to strip off or cover up. The West is fast becoming very oppressive and hypocritically doing the very thing it’s accusing other nations of. Whatever happened to tolerance, acceptance, equality and freedom? Leave innocent people alone. Fed up of this nonsense. I think forcing the woman to take off her clothes was wrong. A bit like forcing a Sikh to remove his turban. They should have explained the new law to her and given her a chance to leave the beach, or just face a fine. I am wondering how this law could be implemented in Australia as stinger suits and wet suits are not dissimilar to Burkinis. Will they be outlawed too?

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the Burkini — an Islamic dress for swimming that covers the whole body except the face, hands, and feet — and stood for individual rights during a meeting with his ministers on Monday (22 August). He said that Canada did not like to seize personal rights and respected cultural diversity.

    While speaking to media, the Liberal Party leader addressed the controversy swirling in France over a Burkini ban and said, “We should be past tolerance in Canada”. He added that the country could never think of a Burkini ban or any kind of prohibition that would affect any person’s individuality.

    “In Canada, can we speak of acceptance, openness, friendship, understanding? It is about where we are going and what we are going through every day in our diverse and rich communities,” he was quoted as saying by AFP.

    He also added that individual rights should be “at the top of public discourse and debate.”

    Some policymakers in Quebec province of Canada had requested for the ban after 15 towns in France’s southeast banned Burkinis, but Trudeau dismissed the ministers’ call.

    Societies which force people to dress a certain way cannot call themselves ‘democratic.’ This Burkini ban claims to protect “secularism” and ban “beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation.” My question: do you think someone wearing beach clothes decorated in Jewish religious themes would face the same fine and treatment? What a low hypocrite and disgusting country. No wonder why France is becoming almost a poor country and having millions of its own citizens immigrating to England, USA, Dubai, Canada seeking a better life.

    Should we start dressing down anyone wearing a nighty and a shower cap because of “national security” This isn’t a law that targets criminals, or terrorists. This is a by-law that targets Muslims for not wanting to show skin. Which is ridiculous. If tomorrow in any country someone said “white people cant wear trench coats” because of the amount of American mass shooters who have worn one would be met with complete anarchy.

    There is a thousand and one other outfits from different cultures that similarly represent the Burkini. This is state sponsored racism. No one seems to have a problem with Sikhs wearing turbans and rightfully so… You see this is borderline apartheid on the grounds of “national security” and “protecting western values” when in reality it’s just a way of segregating and disenfranchising those who are ‘different’ from us.

    They have no problems with Sikhs, Jews, Buda’s etc… When it comes to Muslims, yes everybody is against them! Com on guys those are not our values, we were not raised like this, at least not in the US… We should all condemn these stupidities which divide us more than anything else and give terrorists more ground to recruit other ignorant people. This is really what the terrorists wants and the French are doing exactly what they want to segregate those Muslims and make them feel the society don’t want them although those ladies weren’t terrorist. This is how the terrorist wants and the French are doing exactly. Congrats and now many of those who got fined eventually will feel ashamed that society cant accept them for who they are… thus what do u think these people would do? God knows how they feel.. and just so u people know that many Muslims themselves are targets of terrorist too.

    West must learn to respect and tolerate those who are different. Discrimination against Muslim practices, such as France’s recent stance against the Burkini, can have the opposite of the intended impact. In making Muslim communities feel threatened and under siege, discriminatory policies can make the narrative of extremists that the West is at war with Islam that much more appealing.

    Muslims are not embracing western life’. What do we do? In our free time us English go down the pubs and get smashed, do the same in clubs, sleep with random people and as a result have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. Can anybody please tell me what integration means? other then speak English!!! The Jews did their best to integrate in Germany. They even took German names! Look how far it got them. If the Muslims try to integrate, the Germans/British will complain about the ‘pollution’ of their identity once again. I wonder how many English people were saying “Multi-Culturalism does not work” when they were busy invading and taking over other people’s countries!? India, the Africa, the Americas, Australia, to name but a few. I wonder how many English people are saying “Multi Culturalism does not work” when they are busy sunning themselves in the south of Spain, speaking only English, eating in English restaurants, drinking in English bars, and complaining that not all Spaniards speak English!? Monkey see? Monkey do? And what is English culture, anyhow!? Our football teams are full of foreign players and some are owned by foreign owners, Christian Church attendance has dwindled, we love our curries (influenced by Indian food), we holiday abroad often…so I really would like somebody to define to me what is English culture, these days. If you mean by integration going down to the pub with the lads, getting drunk, picking up a few girls, and then on Sunday maybe going to church – then I’m sure that Muslims will not integrate.

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