The hijrah trend describes Muslims’ growing religiosity and brands that want to be successful in the Indonesian market need to know how to relate to and communicate with hijrah Muslims, says EssenceMediacom’s Nasrullah Edikresnha.

For marketers, it is very important to understand our target audiences, that is, the people we are talking to. That includes understanding the culture, norms and values of the society where our target audiences live in.

Globalisation that is driven by the development of transportation, and information and communications technology, creates a space where the transfer of culture, norms, ideas and values are increasingly accelerated. The norms and values of one society might be transferred to and adopted by other societies that are separated thousands of miles away. Religion is one of the most powerful entities that can shape a society’s culture, norms and values, including in a huge country such as Indonesia, where there is currently a trend of growing religiosity among citizens, a trend that many Indonesians call “hijrah”.

What is hijrah

Hijrah is an Arabic word that means “to migrate or emigrate”. It is traditionally used to describe the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina. During the early years of Prophet Muhammad’s preaching, when he faced difficulties in introducing – let alone spreading – Islam to the Meccans, he decided to gain better support from the Medinans.

The use of the term hijrah has been shifting towards describing Muslims’ growing religiosity as they study Islam more seriously. It is also used to explain their changing way of life to be better Muslims as they believe they should be. This can be seen by:

  • Changes in their outfit, with women wearing longer and looser types of hijabs or headscarves, and men donning ankle-length trousers.
  • Changes in their appearances, with men growing a beard.
  • Changes in their lifestyles, with some leaving music, cigarette, alcohol and financial industries, as well as activities that are considered haram or forbidden by Islamic law.

Additionally, hijrah Muslims tend to pay closer attention to their daily prayers. They attend religious services and teachings more frequently in masjids and their Islamic communities.

In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world, Islam and Muslims play increasingly pivotal roles in society. In 2022, over 87% of Indonesians declared themselves to be Muslim. Many hijrah Muslims are centred in urban areas such as Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya. Many are also educated, working professionals and hence have a relatively higher income and stronger purchasing power compared to the average Indonesian.

Drivers of hijrah culture

In a nutshell, there are three key drivers of hijrah culture in Indonesia, namely:

  • Islamic scholars
  • Celebrities
  • Digital media

It is also worth noting that these three actors are actually interconnected and influencing one another to accelerate the hijrah phenomenon among Indonesian Muslims.

Islamic scholars as the brain or messengers of Islamic knowledge

Hijrah Muslims learn more about the religion from Islamic scholars (ustadzs or ulemas). Interestingly, many Islamic scholars who become references for the recent hijrah phenomenon are those who hold degrees from Saudi Arabian universities and who carry a relatively conservative understanding and textual interpretation of Islam. They believe in the purification of Islam, as practised by Prophet Muhammad and his followers in the early years of the religion. In my presentation at WPP Stream Indonesia, I call these scholars the “brain” or messengers of Islamic knowledge.

Hijrah celebrities: The voice or mass communicators of Islamic knowledge

The hijrah movement is mostly embraced by millennials and Gen Z, including public figures and influencers. There is also an increasing number of Indonesian hijrah celebrities who are adopting a more religious phase of life. The most obvious examples would be female celebrities who start wearing the hijab and musicians who quit the entertainment industry, with prominent names such as Laudya Cynthia Bella, Teuku Wisnu and Dude Harlino. Some, like Peggy Melati Sukma, have become Islamic preachers to motivate people to embrace hijrah through their life stories. I call these hijrah celebrities the “voice” or mass communicators of Islamic knowledge.

Another influencing factor of hijrah celebrities is how they are shifting the persona of religious Muslims. In the past, religious Muslims were perceived as less modernised and often associated with elderly and lower-income people living in rural areas. Nowadays, their traits include being good looking, modern, stylish and relatively wealthy. 

Digital media: The accelerator or virality driver of Islamic knowledge

A key commonality between hijrah Muslim millennials and Gen Z is that they are digitally savvy, with Gen Z being digital natives. In fact, the hijrah movement among Muslims has been driven by digital media, social media, in particular. I call digital media the “accelerator” or virality driver of Islamic knowledge.

Overall, this is how the hijrah phenomenon works: Islamic scholars (the brain) convey Islamic knowledge to their audiences, including celebrities (the voice), through both offline (such as Islamic teachings and seminars) and online channels. The interaction between celebrities and digital media (the accelerator) creates virality of the movement among the mass audience.

How brands have responded to the commercialisation of hijrah culture

There is huge potential for brands to tap into the hijrah Muslim market. The biggest challenge is ensuring that brands and products are relevant to the values and principles upheld by hijrah Muslims.

The most common strategy used by brands to relate to hijrah Muslims is to feature hijrah celebrities as their brand ambassadors or the face of their advertising campaigns. Some examples are: 

  • Islamic-based brands: Beauty brand Wardah is perceived as one of the most prominent Islamic brands targeting Muslim audiences in Indonesia, with hijabi brand ambassadors such as Dewi Sandra, Inneke Koesherawati and Umi Pipik Dian Irawati. Interestingly, albeit perceived by the masses as an Islamic brand, Wardah does not always showcase hijabi women or Muslim figures in its advertising. In fact, many of its cosmetic ads feature both hijabi and non-hijabi women. This strategy is critical in targeting non-Muslims and non-hijabi women, as it is crucial not to lose their market share.
  • Non-faith-based brands: More than a decade ago, many fast-moving consumer goods brands did not feature hijabi women in their ads. In recent years, more hijabi women have become the face of their ads. For example, Fabric care brand Downy worked with Laudya Cynthia Bella, a shar’i hijabi woman, as its brand ambassador.

Another example of non-faith-based consumer brands catering to Muslim audiences would be those with Islamic-based variants. Previously, these brands did not have products specifically designed for Muslim women or feature hijabi women as their brand ambassadors. In recent years, haircare brands such as Rejoice and Pantene have been launching hijabi variants. 

What’s next for marketers who want to tap into hijrah culture 

With the hijrah phenomenon in Indonesia, there are some things marketers have to bear in mind to win the hearts of Muslim audiences in the country:

  • Firstly, Islamic identities should go hand-in-hand with popular culture. Just because brands want to appear more Islamic does not necessarily mean they have to lose their cool factor. Examples of how brands can be perceived as religious yet remain modern and current are seen in urban Islamic communities such as Shift, Terang Jakarta, Musawarah and The Rabbaanians. Marketers need to carefully combine and balance both the Islamic identity and the core identity of their brand.
  • Secondly, while showcasing Islamic or hijrah celebrities as brand ambassadors could be a solution, it is also important for marketers to ensure that non-hijabi women and non-Muslims are still able to relate to their brands, similar to Wardah’s examples. Although the majority of Indonesians are Muslims, there is still a remaining 13% of the population to target. 
  • Thirdly, the use of digital media is imperative to cater to hijrah Muslims, given the hijrah movement itself is largely driven by social media. With more hijrah celebrities and influencers on social media, partnering with these key opinion leaders can be a point of entry to penetrate the hearts and minds of Muslim audiences. This could be complemented by Muslim-based platforms that are online, such as websites and apps, and offline, such as events like Hijrahfest and Islamic teachings in masjids.

Indonesia is slowly becoming more religious as more people commence on their hijrah journey. It could either be a stepping stone or stumbling block for brands. The increasingly prevalent hijrah phenomenon can be a stepping stone as long as brands know how to relate to and communicate with hijrah Muslims – and appearing more Islamic, staying modern and going digital are the keys to success.