Shelina Janmohamed is the executive manager of an international consulting company which helps Islamic brands to be founded. As a muslim UK citizen, she is amongst the “Britain’s Top 100 Most Powerful Muslim Women”. Also, as an investigative author Shelina Janmohamed tells the story of a young generation which influences the world on every field in her latest book Generation M: Young Muslim Changing the World. We’ve had a spectacular interview with Janmohamed on “Generation M”.
In your book, there is 400 pages describing the M-Gen. Can you give us a breakdown, max 5 sentences?
Generation M is a specific segment within the global Muslim population that believe that faith and modernity go hand in hand together. They see them as complementary not contradictory. They believe that being Muslim can be a force for positive change. They use their values to improve the world around them, build bridges across communities and assert consumerism as their right and as a badge of their identity. They walk the line between dispelling the stereotypes that surround them and pushing against the cultural barriers that, in many parts of the world, have suppressed their voices. Far from being held back by their faith, they see it as a form of liberation. Although they can be of any age as it is more about an attitude, they are typically 15 – 35, having grown up in the shadow of the war on terror and the emergence of the internet.
You live in the West and you’re trying to live there with your Muslim identity. Is living with your Muslim identity in the West harder than living in a Muslim society?
For Generation M there is a struggle in both contexts because other people are always trying to tell them how to uphold their faith and how they should be allowed to behave. In minority Muslim countries there is a huge amount of stereotyping and structural barriers. In majority Muslim countries, they are trying to live a modern life with faith which might be different to the ones their parents lived. They also see individuality as important and are working to fulfil their ambitions which are inspired by their faith. The personal ambition is often frowned upon in collective cultures.
In your book, you mention that the M generation is very fond of the idea of being a large commune. Are today’s Muslims content with their socialising status?
The idea of the ‘ummah’ is core to Muslim beliefs. This is the idea that Muslims all around the world are connected together as a ‘global Muslim nation’ that has responsibilities to each other. When the internet emerged, they suddenly discovered that this ummah was not far away, but very intimate and very close, and they could reach out to them with the click of a button. This ‘digital ummah’ is the foundation of Generation M and its globally consistent characteristics, because they now connect based on values rather than just geography.
How do the M-Gen see fashion? How do they dress and wish to dress?
For Generation M women, fashion – often described as ‘modest fashion’ or ‘Muslim fashion’ – has been an important part of the development and assertion of their identity. They want to uphold their faith principles at the same time as enjoying the best of modern fashion. As well as doing this, it allows them to reach across the stereotypes held about ‘oppressed’ Muslim women by demonstrating their fashion-forwardness. It also allows them to tackle traditionalist views that focus almost entirely on hijab and anonymising women by taking up modest dress on their own terms. Through their fashion they are exploring and creating their identity.
You have rich research material about Islamic popular culture. Who are the most accepted Islamic popular culture figures amongst the Western Muslim community? A musician or an artist for example…
In different regions, you will see different cultural leaders. Some of these may occasionally cross borders with singers like Maher Zain, Zain Bhikha or Yusuf Islam. Fashion and beauty influencers are also popular with the likes of Vivy Yusof, Ascia Al Faraj and Innoeke Kesherwati.
Do you think the world is aware of what impact the M-Generation will have, globally?
The story of Generation M Muslims is largely unknown, which is why I wanted to write the book, and why it has been so well received. These stories are happening right before our eyes around the world, but because of so much of the weight of global discussions to do with Muslims being connected to terrorism, this group is being totally overlooked. And as a consequence despite their growing population and their influential nature, there is a huge lack of awareness of who they are and what they are doing.
You also provide consultancy services to expand global Islamic brands. Is there an existing brand already? When and how will the number of these brands increase?
The entire Muslim lifestyle sector is growing and this spans all categories from finance and food to health, travel, recreation, fashion and more. It is a vast and growing market, and in it are a whole range of brands from start ups that sell via social media to those that have multinational reach. In Indonesia, beauty brand Wardah is extremely popular. There are a number of Islamic banks that appeal around the world. Fashoin brands include names like Fashion Valet, Modanisa, Hijup and Modist.
Previously, you published a novel called ‘’In Love in a Headscarf ‘’ and it was widely spoken all over the world… I wonder if people think women who wear headscarves can’t fall in love or find a man who loves?
I wrote the book so that readers could get inside the head of a woman who identifies as Muslim, and who – as it happens – also wears a headscarf. There is definitely a myth that Muslim women are oppressed and forced into marriage and that marriage is a miserable experience. To top it off there is confusion about the difference between an arranged and a forced marriage.
In your autobiographical novel, you mention how hard you tried to find a suitable partner. Why did you struggle like that?
Looking for a partner is a universal struggle. It’s the foundation of every romcom, every Mills and Boon novel, and the preoccupation of writers like Jane Austen. The struggles we face are different depending on our cultures, backgrounds and aspirations. The story I told in my book was my struggle to find out who I was as a British Muslim woman, and someone who would be my partner and support that.
We’re interested in your personal choices too by the way… Like, what kind of wardrobe do you have? Do you think your style is different to the m-generation?
I love so many different styles, and it all depends on my mood. Some days I feel bold and brave, others I want to be sleek and sophisticated. I come from a family of dressmakers so the thing that is most important for me is that clothes are well made and good quality. But more generally speaking, for Generation M there is no right or wrong kind of style.
Will the M- generation really change the world, as you wrote in your book? What will be the difference between the world today and the changing world?
The sheer size, location and influence of Generation M means it will undoubtedly have a significant impact. Of the world’s population, more than 1.6 billion are Muslim. They are located in rising economies, and within their contexts they are proving very influential, changing the way things are done, driven by their faith which they see as laying down imperatives for social improvement, business, entrepreneurship and change. We’ve yet to see what the impact of those changes will be, but if Generation M have their way, it will be to do with improving the societies that they live in.
How did the M-generation respond to the book? Do they enjoy “being identified” as M-Generation? How do they see themselves?
Every time I talk or write about Generation M, this audience tells me that at last they feel like someone has understood who they are. They feel pleased to have been recognised and they take courage and solace from the fact that they know that they are not alone in their struggle but there are many out there like them. It makes them feel confident and brave.