Islamic designs in the modern world

In April, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the 2012 World Halal Forum, in Kuala Lumpur. One of the other speakers was designer Peter Gould. For those of you that haven’t heard of him, check out:

Peter’s session went down really well, so I asked him to share some of those things here.

Me: “Peter, can you tell us some of the things that you’ve been up to recently – I want to put them in my blog”

Peter: “Yes it’s been a busy few weeks since we met in Malaysia and it was great to come back and launch two major projects.

The first was a special project for the forthcoming Islamic Museum of Australia, which is an impressive $10 million initiative partially supported by the Australian Government. My involvement actually dates back to mid-last year when I joined three fellow Australian Muslims travelling 13,000km across the Australian outback to explore and document historical Muslim connections in our country (which are surprisingly rich and deep). Indonesian traders visited regularly long before British colonization, and our oldest mosque dates from the 1860’s.

My role specifically was to photograph the journey, and then design and feature the images into a coffee table style book and exhibition, which we launched with Yusuf (Cat Stevens). When developing the branding and identity, I wanted to feature a strong ‘desert’ red & brown outback feel highlighted by some contemporary typography and geometric patterns. Our documentary will feature soon on national TV; and personally, it was one of the most rewarding projects I’ve been involved with – both creatively and spiritually.


The second project involved developing the visual identity system, exhibition graphics, publication, children’s activity and promotional material for the Faith, fashion, fusion: Muslim women’s style in Australia exhibition by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Working for one of Australia’s most iconic design institutions was initially a little nerve-wracking, as they attract over 600,000 visitors a year and expectations were high.


My intention was to re-imagine some familiar Islamic design elements such as calligraphy and geometric tiling (the likes of which I’d studied in Morocco and Syria) with a contemporary, edgy street style. I enlisted the help of a dear friend, calligraphy master Haji Noor Deen with whom I often collaborate. The results were very well received and the Museum curator actually just sent me a glowing testimonial, which was wonderful after completing such an inspiring and rewarding project. Even though the exhibition has just opened, it’s been a hit with plenty of press and positive reviews, alhumdulilah.

What’s next?  Well my new iPad app, ‘Kids of the Ummah’ is out on iTunes It showcases global Muslim cultures around the world, with fun and educational activities – for our emerging generation of app-hungry parents & kids.”


UNHATE – edgy marketing, stirring up hate, trying to grab headlines, or a viral stunt?

Benetton launched a new campaign, which I am sure will test the adage, ‘there’s no such things as bad publicity’.Benetton1

On their website they state that:

The UNHATE Foundation, desired and founded by the Benetton Group, seeks to contribute to the creation of a new culture of tolerance, to combat hatred, building on Benetton’s underpinning values. It is another important step in the group’s social responsibility strategy: not a cosmetic exercise, but a contribution that will have a real impact on the international community, especially through the vehicle of communication, which can reach social players in different areas.

Here are screen grabs from the video, which grabbed my attention when I saw it for the first time blazoned across one of their video screen window displays, whilst walking past the Benetton Knightsbridge store, in London.


Now, for those of you that haven’t been to that part of town before, it’s a stomping ground for tourists and especially those from the Middle East. Harrods is down the road and they have previously expressed to me how important high-spending Muslim tourists are. So much so that they have adjusted opening hours to accommodate the culture of shopping much later in the day, which is central to many countries in the Muslim world.

So from the first image, I thought ‘Wow’ a hijabi in a marketing campaign. However, as the video continued I have to say I was shocked!  I am not allowed to show those pictures on this site, but you can see some similar ones from the Benetton UNHATE campaign site here.

Now Benetton have cut their cloth on creating memorable and at times controversial advertising copy, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what effects, if any this will have on Muslims, Muslim consumers and their consumption? For example, will this creative offend a significant number of Muslims and how will they express their offence, if at all? Will such expressions translate into harming the brand and drops in sales in the short and/or long term? And, could it stretch as far as Muslim countries requesting the closure of Benetton stores?

Beyond this, was there an opportunity to deliver less contentious creative, which would be equally as memorable – but perhaps with more of a positive ‘Muslim’ effect? For example, there appears to be little mainstream creative from many brands, which shows Muslims as passionate, loving and deep members of an integrated society – beyond a token housewife buying tea and cheese.

With these in mind, here are some creatives from Malaysia, which take a different tack:

Also, are they appropriate for non-Muslim countries? In my opinion, I would say yes. With fragmented markets requiring the application of more intricate segmentation criteria, my feeling is that the brands that are willing to take calculated risks in moving away from neutral and idyllic actors stripped of their cultural identities, will triumph. A case in practice of this can be seen with HSBC:

Benetton-Blog2 (1)

Riots, consumerism, hyper-communication and a moral compass

In my last post, when I wrote that some people were unhappy in London and were looking forward to further consumerism, little did I know how far they would go! England has been hit by a terrible spate of riots and my fear is that this is an evolutionary form of behavior, which is the new sports hooliganism. Will fluid flashmob groups form and be egged on by partisan and territorial rivalry?



The more information that emerges, the more it appears that establishing causalities remains problematic. My position on the riots is that whilst the outcomes are apparent, the root causes are non-reducible. In short, this is all very complicated. Instead, it’s perhaps easier to understand the causes as coming from a large series of factors, under ‘drop-down menus’ – which when put together then lead to the same endgame. However, these choices are dynamic, time specific and perishable. Unfortunately, I think it’s also safe to say that as it has happened now, it can happen again.

These events also reminded me of the novel, manga and one of my favourite movies, Battle Royale. The prologue to the Japanese movie, released in 2000, reads as follows:

“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…”


The most obvious conclusion from recent events, is that with this phenomenon and others like the Arab Spring, hyper-communication and social media has two effects. Firstly, the great levelling of the digital revolution gifts access to knowledge capital. This information is consumed by more and more ‘collective individuals’ and is available in a format where ranking is less about quality and more about conspicuousness. Qualifiers are often based upon notoriety and number of hits. Therefore: ‘whose view is right?’ and ‘is there something to be said for being able to consume information in a real, rather than a virtual context?’ are being processed in more self-regulated ways. Secondly, social media shows that its stakeholders react quickly and spread information amongst their networks. As I watched the news stories unfold on my television, I reached for my phone to check on Twitter, in order to see how close to my area the riots were and where they would spread next. Twitter gave me a faster response that rolling news teams.

As a side issue, I can’t help thinking that concerns over hoodies and face-covering may indirectly lead to courses of action which have a knock-on effect on Muslim women, who wear the hijab or niqab. I didn’t see any hijabis or niqabis looting in various pieces of news footage, but as with debates concerning terrorism, there always appears to be calls to tighten definitions of freedom – using a blend of soft and hard power. For rioting and terrorism, tenuous links to dress codes have already been made. Will England lose faith and go down the same route that France has, in passing laws to ban additional items of clothing in public places?

Will England lose faith and go down the same route that France has, in passing laws to ban additional items of clothing in public places?

Will marketers driving consumerism have to shoulder some accountability?

Will role of religion in society be seen as positive?

At some stage I am sure that some will point the finger at marketers driving consumerism and therefore having to shoulder some accountability. The usual suspects violent video games and rap music have already been brought into question. However, for a change religion is in the spotlight for a different reason. The media has run numerous pieces showing religious groups rallying to heal wounds. Many former gang members featured have also reported that, religion and the support of religious institutions have been instrumental in their rehabilitation.

Therefore, is this a good time to re-open the debate about the role of religion in society, in a positive way? Can religion provide the necessary moral compass, which helps individuals to:  become self disciplined, forgive, trust that justice will prevail, and believe in recompense beyond temporal human existence? A few days ago during the Birmingham riots, Tariq Jahan saw his son Haroon die in his arms, after he was mown down by a car – whilst Harroon attempted to protect businesses and the local mosque. Tariq asserted that he was a Muslim, he called for a calm amidst racial tensions, and that his faith teaches him to accept that everyone’s time to go is fixed by God. My condolences and utmost respect go out to the family.