JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR: Young Muslim women in Southeast Asia are increasingly cosmopolitan and ambitious at the same time as being religiously observant, according to a new study which suggests these trends represent both opportunities and challenges for brands.

For the report The New Muslimah: Southeast Asia Focus, the Asia division of J Walter Thompson’s Innovation Group, surveyed 500 Muslim women in Indonesia and 500 in Malaysia, as well as interviewing influencers and researchers to assess attitudes on a range of issues.

Almost all those surveyed (94%) agreed that Islam is “very important” – marginally ahead of family (92%) and happiness (91%), Campaign Brief Asia noted. Consequently, halal considerations are a priority when buying products and services such as food, personal care items, clothing and travel.

Alongside these religious views, a degree of professional ambition was also evident. Just over half of younger women in both countries (52% in Indonesia and 58% in Malaysia) said that a career was “very important”.

And around one third of all women travelled outside their country at least once a year, with Asian countries among their preferred destinations.

The study further showed that all are digitally connected, with four out of five spending at least four hours a day online. While much of that is devoted to social media, Muslim women are also shopping for clothing and beauty products, with Japanese brands especially popular.

One in four Muslim women in Malaysia purchased online at least once a week and 58% once a month; in Indonesia the figures increased to 31% and 75% respectively.

“Young Muslim women are showing a new set of aspirations and behaviours which represent both opportunities and challenges for brands,” said Chen May Yee, APAC director at The Innovation Group.

“Broadly speaking, they are more cosmopolitan as consumers than older generations of female Muslims and are also more religiously observant,” she explained.

“These two trends – more Islamic and more global – have created a space of conflict, negotiation, adaptation and innovation that’s playing out across sectors.”

Data sourced from Campaign Brief Asia; additional content by WARC staff