The rising innovation of Muslim women

Muslim women have expectations that companies will innovate to meet their needs. And when they don't, they innovate themselves

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There is in the Muslim world the rise of a new kind of Muslim, self-empowered individuals who combine faith and modernity, who are creative, vocal and game-changing, and believe change is a good thing.

Greater education and freedom has brought increased participation in the labour force and the economic benefits and independence that this brings. And later marriage brings freedom and self determination, all of which are being enhanced by global connectivity among Muslim women's groups which allows sharing of experiences and the creation of solidarity.

It also opens up the business space for women. All of these have been made easier by social media bringing down barriers, and making female participation more immediate and more acceptable.

These significant global trends affecting Muslim women are creating previously unimaginable spaces for innovative thought and activity. Politically, intellectually as well as commercially women are both the producers and consumers of innovation

And it is this aspect of Muslim women and innovation that I'll be speaking about at the 8th World Islamic Economic Forum this week. Now in its eighth year, it aims to bring Muslims together on a business level, bypassing the usual narratives of terror, theology and sectarianism.

I'm fascinated by the commercial and social enterprise aspects that Muslim women are driving, which are in turn changing the social and commercial landscape. This then turns them into entrepreneurs and changes their own social role and economic status.

There are new industries that corporations had never considered such as Muslim fashion, halal cosmetics, modest swimwear and sports apparel, and private banking for women-only investors.

Whatever your opinion on these industries there is no doubt that Muslim women have expectations that social, civic and business organisations should innovate to meet their needs.

A great example is Sunsilk's shampoo aimed at women who suffer from the side effects of wearing the headscarf. Obvious to all women who wear the veil is that hair becomes greasier faster. But how refreshing that a large corporation should understand and cater for this. Plus, their communications too engage directly with Muslim women.

Theirs is probably the first shampoo advert ever to feature no hair, only smiling feisty Muslim women with their veils swishing about. Or Hilo in Indonesia focuses on veil-wearing Muslim women's needs for Vitamin D and calcium due to reduced sunlight. Again, it's a sharp insight into the lives of Muslim women. I know, I suffered from this too.

On the other hand when Muslim women see that their needs are not being met they go out to innovate for themselves.

Two halal organic cosmetics companies, One Pure Beauty, and Saaf Skincare were set up by women with cosmetics backgrounds, who became Muslim and found that there were no cosmetics products they believed genuinely met their religious aspirations as halal. So, they innovated, creating new products and businesses.

It all boils down to a simple problem: Muslim women are not just sometimes mis-understood, but they are under-understood, and as a consequence under-served. It is no surprise then that they themselves are the drivers as well as the consumers of innovation, not content to wait to be given economic or social power, but grabbing it for themselves.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at