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Dawah and Interfaith

Marketing Islamic Knowledge – Professionalism or Selling at All Costs?

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This is the third and final installment in the Islam for Sale series.

Part 1 – Islam For Sale | | Part 2 – Format of Seeking Knowledge | Part 3 – Marketing Islamic Programs

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Every single Islamic program nowadays is doing the best it can to showcase itself as the best program on the planet, being as flashy as possible, and utilizing whatever strategies are at its disposal to convince people to attend. In this age of commercialization, some people contend that Islamic knowledge has become a product to be ‘pushed’ on ‘customers’ while others argue that as long as results are produced, employ whatever means are at your disposal. Everyone is “marketing” their program – some more successfully than others. While I cannot give a full breakdown of the effective versus ineffective techniques, I do hope that we can discuss general practices we are seeing across numerous organizations and evaluate the positive and negative impacts they are having on our communities.

The ‘Islam for Sale‘ post raised a number of issues that come up in conversation amongst many ‘active’ Muslims today. It critiqued both the method in which knowledge is sought today, as well as the promotion (or marketing) of seeking that knowledge. After reading it, my personal take on it was that it was a reaction to the perceived over-commercialization of Islamic knowledge – a point that I feel does bear merit.

The marketing, or perceived “commercialization” of Islamic knowledge, has been a huge source of controversy over many a cup of chai for budding Islamic activists.

I want to take the discussion to a more macro level and force us to evaluate how the manner in which we market Islamic programs affects the perception of Islamic organizations, and to some extent ‘ilm in general?

The negative points mentioned in the Islam For Sale article do occur, but I think the negative scenarios outlined happen only with a handful of overly energetic volunteers that will do what they think is best to help their cause, and may inadvertently create negative repercussions without realizing it. It is difficult to call this the norm when the experience of many indicates otherwise. However, there are some negative elements that have crept into the promotion of Islamic events that I feel need to be discussed openly, and it is my sincere hope that highlighting some of these issues will allow us to self-evaluate ourselves and make adjustments to our strategy to be even more successful in the long run insha’Allah.

Let’s first set a premise for what marketing constitutes before continuing further:

Marketing is an integrated communications-based process through which individuals and communities are informed or persuaded that existing and newly-identified needs and wants may be satisfied by the products and services of others. [Mufti Wiki ibn Bedia]

Though we use ‘marketing’ throughout the article (to stay consistent with the manner people discuss it in), it should be noted that it is slightly different from advertising –

Marketing differs from selling because (in the words of Harvard Business School’s emeritus professor of marketing Theodore C. Levitt) “Selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about. And it does not, as marketing invariably does, view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs.” from the Business Directory

In this context then, we are discussing the manner in which people are made aware of Islamic activities, their importance to the individual being ‘marketed’ to, and finally convincing the individual to commit to the end goal (i.e. registering or attending). Though many of the criticisms may in fact be against “advertising” – for the sake of discussion we’ll note the distcintion, but use ‘marketing’ to make it easier (and more consistent with the way this issue is discussed in our communities).

Marketing is also closely tied to branding – or the perception that people have of your organization. For example, if you run an organization closely tied to youth activities, people’s perception of you will always be of being youth focused. Even if you later try to brand yourself as something tailored for adults, it is hard to shed that reputation. Just like Nike may brand itself one way, but people invariably associate its “brand” with sweatshop abuse. The reason this is important to keep in mind is because I strongly believe certain types of marketing practices can brand an Islamic organization one way or another (most often in a negative fashion).

Take the following 4 car commercials. Which of the following do you consider to be reputable , sophisticated, lame, over-the-top, or sleazy? Also consider which of them are marketing the product (i.e. the qualities of the car), and which ones are just marketing a gimmick or a cheap price? Do you leave with a positive or negative impression? These will help illustrate some of the points I make below. Remember, all 4 have the same end goal: selling cars.

Ad #1:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbGS1pRGBmQ[/youtube]

Ad#2:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy0_xao0Q8I[/youtube]

Ad#3:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BYU7riiMJk[/youtube]

Ad#4:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxqyRq9IM7s[/youtube]

With that in mind, I want to begin by discussing why marketing Islamic programs is important, and then discuss what I feel are inappropriate tactics that have come into play.

What Islamic Marketing Should Be

While some have an aversion to being inundated with flyers and announcements, I believe they play a vital role in our Islamic communities – that of spreading information. When a program or event is taking place, there is a need to inform others about it so they can make plans to attend. This can be accomplished by flyers, phone calls, videos, text messages, facebook, twitter, juma annoucements, posters, internet ads, magazine advertisements, radio shows, and other mediums. Most people would agree though, that these things in and of themselves do not actually bring people in through the door, but what they do is disseminate information about the program. They can also reinforce a perception about the program based on the professionalism (or lack thereof) of these flyers and ads.

I feel that the utilization of these techniques in recent times is a positive trend and has positively impacted the way dawah is done now in our communities. It forces us to raise our level of professionalism and sophistication in regards to our activities. A nice flyer might not convince someone to attend a class, but it does establish a certain set of expectations by showing that this organization is taking what they are doing seriously. The attention to detail gives a strong impression of what the upcoming program should be like. When you contrast this to your gut reaction after seeing a flyer advertising “Come on come all, we our having the good upcoming clas at masjid on Friday,” it becomes even clearer. It should be noted that fancy and professional are not always hand in hand. The important quality is professionalism, however that can be communicated.

One thing that people seem to agree on is that while all of the items mentioned above are good, contribute to the overall dissemination of information, and create perception of the program – the real clincher is ‘word of mouth’ marketing. You might have the most amazing flyers and marketing in the world, but I probably would not be bothered to pick up a certain book or attend a certain event unless someone I know has given me a personal recommendation. This is why things like user reviews on Amazon are so powerful. I know that these people are giving their own honest feedback without solicitation from the company. When I see that 500 people have given a certain book a 5 star review (as opposed to ten 1 star reviews) then I am more compelled to get that book regardless of the strength or weakness of their marketing efforts.

We also need to keep in mind the goal of what we are promoting. If we are promoting a charitable cause, or an educational cause, then we should be cognizant of some important points. Firstly, in the Islamic community, if I am marketing an academic activity (like a halaqah or seminar) then the people I am speaking to see me as a representative of that cause. If you are promoting such an event, but the community never sees you as taking an active role in education (such as attending other educational activities, helping other programs, or teaching), then how can they take you seriously? Imagine if you have an Imam at your masjid who teaches 3 times a week, but you never attend anything by him. Then you and your organization decide to invite a guest speaker for a one day event. Do you really feel as if you can go up to this Imam and with a straight face ask him to “support Islamic knowledge” in your city by promoting this event? Should he be expected to take you seriously if you have never attended a single class by him or taken part in any other local activity? As marketing expert Seth Godin says, it’s very easy to just wrap your idea around a brick and throw it over the transom, but that doesn’t always mean that you should,

The internet has made it so easy to wrap your idea/proposal around a brick and throw it that we forget sometimes that just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.

What sort of proposal should you write to be sure that someone who gets it over the transom will read it? You shouldn’t.

Instead, spend the time earning the right to make the proposal. Spend the time building a presence that gets you an invitation, or, at the very least, earns you the credibility to walk in the front door. If you want to pitch a great business development idea to a big company you don’t already work with, allocate three to six months of focused, patient effort to earn the right to make the presentation in the first place. (source)

If you want to be able to market your programs in your community, make sure you are an active and productive member of that community. One of the goals of the programs we promote is is building and solidifying our communities – show it. I remember in college, there would always be a group of students who were not as “practicing” as others. Some people chose to make dawah to them by randomly showing up at their apartments every few months and yelling at them or laying a guilt trip on them, while others befriended them and were patient with them. The latter group invested time and effort with these individuals, helping them with even mundane tasks such as getting their cars fixed or working on school assignments. You can guess which of the two groups was more successful in eventually making headway with convincing them to begin attending the Masjid more regularly.

We need to look at every program we involve ourselves with in this light. If people do not see me and my project as a serious attempt to make a positive change, then it will not succeed. And for that to happen, it requires a significant investment into the community and its betterment on our own behalf.

The other point that this underscores is that of what you are promoting in the first place. Treat people with intelligence and respect. Give them honest reasons why a program will benefit them. No one likes to see cultish followings around specific individuals or organizations. The more appropriate way to show that love and respect is by telling our own experiences. What do these shuyookh teach, what is the tarbiya that they give, and how has it impacted your own life. Tell people about the content of the program you are promoting, and let them make an intelligent decision to attend or not – and then respect that decision. Personal testimonials are the most powerful way to showcase the importance of something. Have your parents ever told you, “if that halaqah is so good, then how come you don’t listen to anything I say?” Well, it’s true. Be the example of the positive effect you want others to experience.

Part of respecting a person’s decision is respecting the person you are speaking to. Do not treat people like a “potential sale” that you need to “convert”, but treat them as your brother or sister, being the mirror of another believer, being a brick supporting the other brick. Our marketing should be for a sincere desire and betterment of ourselves and others.

Another important tactic is clearly defining the achievable goals. Let people know what the benefits are of the program, and what they will achieve after completing it. A good (and timely) example is that of a Hajj workshop. One person is attending hoping to know the bare minimum of what he needs for hajj, and another is attending thinking he will get a comparative fiqh course contrasting different scholarly opinions and their evidences. No matter how good the program is, without proper marketing of the expectations, the program will be a failure for one of them.

I believe the most important goal to keep in mind is considering yourself and your materials an extension of what you are promoting. If we are promoting coming closer to Allah (swt) and His Rasool (saw) then it needs to be done in an elegant, sophisticated, and above all professional manner. We are dealing with serious issues and it requires us to give them their due respect.

What Islamic Marketing Should NOT Be

Losing Focus

This is just the opposite of the last point above. Sometimes volunteers get too energetic and lose sight of the core of the class in general and instead just tell you about how “awesome” the class/instructor/experience is without a real tangible qualifier as to why. I remember being asked if I was going to attend a specific class. When I replied in the negative, I was told, “Why not? It’s going to be SO AWESOME!” Really? How can someone who hasn’t taken the class know this for a fact? The more that programs are marketed by volunteers solely due to it being a specific instructor or organization, the more it will appear as clique-ish to others.

Another mistake that comes from this energy is that we lose focus of the end goal, which is to help bring people closer to Allah(swt). You may find someone attending or volunteering for one thing, and someone else comes and says, “oh thats nice, but you know, xyz organization is SO AWESOME.” It is the attitude of – what you’re doing is nice, but it’s just not as good as what I’m doing. Oh yeah, that Imam is ok, but he’s nothing like Shaykh so and so. It is ok to be passionate about your project, its a requirement to its success, but we cannot let that passion cause us to discard or degrade other projects. Unfortunately, it has become too common for volunteers of one organization to degrade and boycott others over seemingly minor issues. Show loyalty to  helping people learn, not to one particular vehicle. In my personal (and limited) experience, the brightest students I have met are those who benefit from multiple organizations and activities instead of limiting themselves.

Recently, I spoke to one brother who was being recruited by a particular organization, and they gave him their – for lack of a better term – “orientation packet” that outlined the expectations of their volunteers and their general policies. One of their guidelines was that once you join, you are explicitly not allowed to partake in the activities of any other organization. You are only allowed to involve yourself and promote activities of said organization. This is ‘missing the forest for the trees’ so to speak. We often forget how to cooperate with one another, expecting every masjid, organization, and email list to promote and announce our own programs, but we become unwilling to return the favor when called upon.

Unfortunately, there is still yet another hindrance to reshifting our focus – price. Let’s leave aside the debate of “paying” for classes [separate issue], and instead focus on what ends up happening. Nothing bothers me more than being approached about an Islamic program and instead of being told what it’s about, I am given a sales pitch with 38 different ways to get a discount and save 5 dollars. Are we spreading information about a program to bring people closer to Allah or are we just here to try and figure out which discount or pricing plan best suits their needs? Bring the focus back to what is important.

Lastly, and perhaps one of the most important points, is losing focus of the appropriate religious etiquettes that govern our behaviors. There are a significant amount of respectable scholars (classical and modern) who consider the following two things impermissible: displaying pictures/videos of uncovered women, and music. Whether or not you consider them halal or haram is irrelevant in the context of this marketing discussion. What is important is the perception that is created about your organization should you choose to utilize either of these. If you feel it is ok, and your promotional materials include it, then that is your prerogative. But keep in mind the ramifications of this. Your organization will be ‘branded’ as liberal, or lax in regards to Islamic fiqh, and you risk of alienating the conservative crowd, or even worse, undermining your own reputation as an Islamic (academic) organization. The better marketing practice would be to tailor your materials to the ‘lowest common denominator’ of your audience. Let me give you an example to illustrate. Some people consider “outside meat” to be halal, and others consider it not so much. When you cater dinner for the masjid, would you ever cater in McDonald’s Big Mac’s for everyone? Of course not! It’s a disaster waiting to happen. You respect everyone’s decision and order halal food from a Muslim restaurant.

Our marketing needs to be the same way. Respect others opinions, and don’t lose focus of what you are trying to achieve.

Bully Tactics and Lying

A volunteer from organization X comes to you and asks you to attend a program. You let him know you can’t because you have family obligations, other plans, or some other (legitimate) excuse. Response? “You’re just not serious about knowledge.” This is one of myriad responses along with others premised around making assumptions as to the ‘true’ reason someone does not want to attend something. It is not our job to judge others and their level of seriousness. In fact, this is the opposite of the respect portion in the section above. If we show someone that we cannot respect their decision to say no, then they will feel disrespected by us (and by extension the organization we are representing).

This is one example of a bullying tactic, or overly aggressive marketing. It must be noted that there is a fine line between pushing or prodding people, and going overboard. Some people do need an extra push, and extra motivation. They do need to see you as enthusiastic and energetic about your project. But if it reaches the stage where people begin avoiding you because you can’t seemingly talk about anything else at any time, then it’s most likely an indication that you have crossed that line.

Lying comes into play when our aggressive tactics to get people to attend turn into ‘little white lies.’ One example is setting artificial caps on the number of people who can attend a program in order to pressure you into coming or signing up quickly. This doesn’t really happen that often, but in a few cases I have heard of people ‘inflating’ things in order to set certain perceptions that were not necessarily true.

Selling a Bentley Like it’s a Used Geo Metro

Can you imagine the owner of a Bentley or a Maserati dealership walking up and down his car lot with a shotgun firing out windshields because the down-payments are too high? Didn’t think so. We, as activists, have a responsibility to recognize the magnitude of what we are “selling” to people. We have amazing shuyookh, amazing institutes, amazing classes, amazing programs, amazing conferences, and amazing activities in general. They are literally top notch. They are programs of the highest virtue – calling people to learn sacred knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal-Allahu ‘alayhi was-Sallam), to live with the akhlaq of the Qur’an, and the holistic life example of the Rasool (saw). When we have this treasure, we want to share it with everyone. But we have to remember to share it in a manner that is befitting the glory and splendor of the treasure we have.

Sometimes out of our zeal to get people to attend programs and benefit from them, we sometimes use strategies that can degrade the noble thing that we are calling to. Seth Godin gives a great explanation of the negative impact of such behavior,

It’s very easy to underrate the value of cultural wisdom, otherwise known as sophistication.

Walk into a doctor’s office and the paneling is wrong, the carpeting is wrong and it feels dated. Instant lack of trust.

Meet a salesperson in your office. She doesn’t shake hands, she’s fumbling with an old Filofax, she mispronounces Steve Jobs’ name and doesn’t make eye contact.

Visit a website for a vendor and it looks like one of those long-letter opportunity seeker type sites.

In each case, the reason you wrote someone off had nothing to do with their product and everything to do with their lack of cultural wisdom.

We place a high value on sophistication, because we’ve been trained to seek it out as a cue for what lies ahead. We figure that if someone is too clueless to understand our norms, they probably don’t understand how to make us a product or service that we’ll like.

This is even more interesting because different cultures have different norms, so there isn’t one right answer. It’s an ever changing, complex task. Cultural wisdom is important precisely because it’s difficult.

And yet…

Who’s in charge of cultural norms at your organization? Does someone hire or train or review to make sure you and your people are getting it right? At Vogue magazine, of course, that’s all they do. If they lost it, even for a minute, they’d be toast.

It’s funny that we assume that all sorts of complex but ultimately unimportant elements need experts and committees and review, but the most important element of marketing–demonstrating cultural wisdom–shouldn’t even be discussed.

One thing that I personally feel has become common is what Seth Godin mentions about the feel of certain websites. To put it another way, if the website or marketing for an Islamic program immediately conjures up images of infomercials or websites promising to make you millions while you work from home stuffing envelopes – then I strongly feel that we have a serious problem. It’s saddening (and uncreative) to see Islamic sites utilizing the same formulaic methods as, for lack of a better term, scam websites and get-rich-quick schemes. These sites are often set up in the same way, with over the top attention grabbing headlines, promises of some pie-in-the-sky lifestyle, a countdown rush before time expires, a hook to get you to either sign up and buy the product, and an email form at the end for you to sign up to get “more information” –  at which point you start getting spammed by an auto-responder email bot.

You have heard the saying, if it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck… If someone visits an Islamic website and it looks like a scam, feels like a scam… Do not let your marketing tactics be the reason that someone writes off a beneficial project. If you utilize a cheap marketing technique, it will make the product (which in this case might be knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah) also look cheap. The counter-argument to this will always be something about the effectiveness of such techniques, but in this case I do not believe the means are justified. Even if it might convince a few more people to ‘sign up’ you do so at the cost of ruining the reputation of the organization. Just like the videos in the commercials above, they might be successful from a sales point of view, but is that really the reputation you want to establish?

Do not let perceived effectiveness of a marketing tool cheapen the nobility of what you are actually calling people to. Whether we like it or not, when we employ tactics that have negative connotations, those same connotations and conjured emotions will transfer to the project that we are trying to promote.

Parting Thoughts

We have experienced a lot of growth in North America over the past 10-15 years. We have seen the rise of numerous Islamic schools, Islamic institutes (both online and onsite), high quality classes, conferences, youth activities, new organizations, charitable efforts, and other good causes that are too numerous to mention. But while these things are growing, there is an understated negative perception being associated with some due not to the organizations or their leaders – but rather because of us, the volunteers, who lose sight of some of the bigger picture out of our own zeal.

I do not contend that every criticism I have raised is absolutely correct, but I hope that our love for dawah and our love for these projects does not blind us from turning a critical eye at these projects and re-evalauting them and improving them before a bigger need for it arises.

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Dawud Israel

    October 5, 2009 at 12:38 AM

    Am I the only one who thinks we are turning marketing into an Islamic science?

    This reminded me of this article: http://www.mujahideenryder.net/2009/10/01/muslim-link-newspaper-refuses-to-advertise-events-with-shaykh-hamza-yusufs-name-on-it/

    • Arshada

      October 5, 2009 at 5:49 AM

      Any knowledge that’ll help promote ilm is an important knowledge to be discussed

    • Siraaj Muhammad

      October 5, 2009 at 10:35 AM

      I think marketing is better understood as “daw’ah strategies / tactics”, and in light of that, you can talk about what daw’ah strategies / tactics are valid, and which are not.

      Siraaj

      • Ikram Kurdi

        October 5, 2009 at 1:01 PM

        I was wrote on QuranClub, “Islam needs good marketing.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with talking about da’wah strategies. In fact, it should become a science in itself and we should conduct studies on what works and what doesn’t.

    • HalalBuzz

      October 5, 2009 at 2:02 PM

      assalam alaikum

      Is this article a promo for a marketing course? :P j/k

      These days it’s hard to draw the line between selling for non-profit and selling for profit? I heard the khateeb promoting xyz institute classes during Eid Khutbah, for him it’s Dawah, but is that also considered as selling?

      Baraka Allahu feekum

      • midatlantic

        October 5, 2009 at 10:28 PM

        That is a good question

  2. Arif Kabir

    October 5, 2009 at 1:50 AM

    JazaakumAllahu Khayran for finishing the trilogy and giving us a clear idea of what should and should not be done. I think another issue that we need to talk about is the different ways of marketing to the Muslim audience because from certain organizations,we receive an email or two per day and many become frustrated and just mark the incoming email from them as spam. Is there any way to gauge what is the proper amount of marketing in one medium as well as the others? Insha’Allah, just as you have written this awesome article, I hope to read more on this topic because it truly is needed for the growing Muslim marketers’ population. Perhaps you can give us a legit “orientation packet” :)

    • ibnabeeomar

      October 5, 2009 at 10:58 AM

      i think emails are too frequent, but what i do is filter them in my gmail: any emails sent from a particular list or address, i make a filter to skip inbox, mark them as read, and put them in an “email list” label. then once every day or 2 days i go and just process out 20-30 emails that i have set on this filter and clean em out in less than 30 seconds :)

  3. Pingback: Posts about Steve Jobs as of October 5, 2009 » The Daily Parr

  4. Arshada

    October 5, 2009 at 5:48 AM

    Very well written article ! MM, thank you for covering this topic in depth. A reflection; The points that are made about “What Islamic Marketing Should NOT Be” actually also against the principles of marketing, advertising and sales.

  5. Farhan

    October 5, 2009 at 8:45 AM

    I receive SO many emails for Al-Maghribs and Ilmfest…I just put a filter on my email for it. Now I wait for word of mouth :-)

    • Hasan G.

      October 5, 2009 at 8:53 AM

      Salam,

      While I agree with you completely, I don’t think you should throw out a name. Just my humble advice :)

      JazakAllah khair

      • SaqibSaab

        October 5, 2009 at 10:32 AM

        Sometimes the truth that hurt’s gotta be told!

  6. Ibn Masood

    October 5, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    Feel free to disagree with me on this one, but I think the best place right now to figure out how multiple Islamic Institutes can market together, build on each other’s different strengths, plan for the future, and still prevent an over-commercialization of their services is in Toronto, Ontario.

    This city is like a sandbox for major institutes. We have 3 big ones here… yes they look the same on the outside (Islamic Knowledge weekend seminars), but their visions and delivery of knowledge are all vastly different. There are others here too, with more specific niches. But these big 3 are the major ones: Al-Maghrib, Al-Kauthar, IlmPath. I think Toronto is the best place to figure these things out, because these 3 institutes (And I say this knowing the vision of their leaders and where they want to take their institutes) whether they like it or not will have to learn how to work together here yet still be competitive enough to survive at the same time.

    I personally see each one having its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and I see them as part of a complete picture. This I think is the next frontier of Islamic Knowledge in NA, because all 3 have plans for growth. And even more than books etc… is that you know a student is serious when they strategically choose which class to go to amongst multiple institutes to further their learning even if those institutes have no affiliation with each other, and don’t just restrict themselves to one. The marketing strategies will have to change if they want to collectively succeed.

    Maybe after IlmPath has been given enough time to operate and I can see the outcomes for later classes, I can write an article for MM about it :).. I’m sure people would be interested.

  7. Yusuf

    October 5, 2009 at 11:36 AM

    Critique is always healthy but I think the problems here
    are the same as the exuberance that comes in any
    dawah effort. There is always a maturing process at the
    individual level and the new daee feels his way through
    what is appropriate and what is over the line.

    Someone who cares and is trying hard will probably get
    close to the line or cross it. That is where the community
    is needed to correct him.

    But to discuss it at a macro level as if marketing is to blame
    is naive. What are consequences of not doing it?

    • ibnabeeomar

      October 5, 2009 at 11:41 AM

      i dont think marketing is bad – i think it fulfills a good purpose as i mentioned in the first half of the article. the issue is when you use tactics that create negative branding.

  8. Ahmad AlFarsi

    October 5, 2009 at 12:33 PM

    To put it another way, if the website or marketing for an Islamic program immediately conjures up images of infomercials or websites promising to make you millions while you work from home stuffing envelopes – then I strongly feel that we have a serious problem. It’s saddening (and uncreative) to see Islamic sites utilizing the same formulaic methods as, for lack of a better term, scam websites and get-rich-quick schemes. These sites are often set up in the same way, with over the top attention grabbing headlines, promises of some pie-in-the-sky lifestyle, a countdown rush before time expires, a hook to get you to either sign up and buy the product, and an email form at the end for you to sign up to get “more information” – at which point you start getting spammed by an auto-responder email bot.

    It is unfortunate that a couple of huge and very well-known Islamic organizations come to mind when I read the above description. Everyone who has seen their web-pages and emails knows exactly what I am talking about…

  9. IlmQuester

    October 5, 2009 at 12:34 PM

    I think the most and perhaps only barrier for most people, especially high school and college students, is the high tuition costs for some classes and seminars. People would love to come to Islamic programs like AlMaghrib, Bayyinah, etc….but with such high prices they are turned away.

    Some are turned off and pose the question, “Is Islamic knowledge only for the rich?”

    —————
    Of course the seminars cannot be free or otherwise there wouldn’t be enough money to cover the expenses. However, many of us believe that more can be done by such organizations to help out those “less financially fortunate” come to seminars.

    —————-
    The Islamic classes and seminars themselves have to live up and teach the entire courses as they advertise. You cannot just cut a seminar short an hour or more or less just because there are other events going on some people might want to attend or start later just because very few people came on time. If the class says its 10-7 then it better be 10-7 sharp….not 10:30 to 6:35pm.

    ——
    Wallahu ta’la Alam
    Wa aqoolu qoli haza wastaghfirullaha lee walakum

    • Siraaj Muhammad

      October 5, 2009 at 12:42 PM

      Many do help out the less fortunate with scholarship programs, installment payment plans, and so on. My qabeelah specifically went out to poorer neighborhoods (I’m talking real poor, not suburban poor [‘my iPhone data plan is killing my budget’-poor]) and marketed, and offering scholarships upfront. People still turned the classes down

      So in some cases, money is an issue – for those, we have options. In other cases, money is an excuse to simply say no, and the people don’t want to study, which is fine, but I think the issue here is one of identity – we want to project ourselves as good Muslims, and even believe within ourselves to be so, but to say no to a program of learning is like contradicting that image we want within ourselves or to others.

      Just be upfront and say no I don’t want to, I’m not interested in this program right now. It’s ok to say, “I don’t feel like it, I just want to relax that weekend.” You have no excuse to be away, and you need some time for self, that’s perfectly fine – just don’t make cost your scapegoat because costs are easily overcome.

      Siraaj

      • SaqibSaab

        October 6, 2009 at 12:56 PM

        Siraaj, which neighborhoods are you referring to?

        • Siraaj Muhammad

          October 6, 2009 at 1:52 PM

          Referencing Murphy and Faiez’s foray into MCC back when we marketed for TSP.

          Siraaj

    • ibnabeeomar

      October 5, 2009 at 12:51 PM

      br. nouman responded to this in the previous post – http://su.pr/1ifavn

      also, in my experience, its as siraaj said – when there’s a will there’s a way. ive never personally seen anyone *turned away* due to finances, if someone cannot afford it, something’s always figured out.

    • Ahmad AlFarsi

      October 5, 2009 at 12:54 PM

      It does make sense to charge to cover for expenses of classroom, books, teacher’s salary, etc., but to be honest, I never bought the argument that “We have to charge money otherwise you won’t attach value to the class.” But that is the most commonly used argument. I feel (wa Allahu a’lam) that if organizations just stuck to the real reason that money needs to be charged (i.e. to cover expenses), it would be much better marketing, when asked about that issue.

      • ibnabeeomar

        October 5, 2009 at 12:58 PM

        i think that argument holds legitimacy based on personal experience. my gripe, as mentioned, is when we focus only on price. for example someone says “im busy” and you respond by saying, “well if you do xyz you can save $10 on registration”

        in this situation (which is common) you now shift focus from the class and its benefits to being about money – and this is what then grants credence to the other sides argument that the cost is too high etc, because now they DO FEEL the organization is just all about money because thats how some volunteers promote the class. its not their intention obviously, but the ramification of focusing on price as a means of getting people in through the door makes them feel like the class is a money making venture as opposed to an academic one.

    • Ibn Masood

      October 5, 2009 at 1:01 PM

      I think this is an excellent point. I have met a lot of low-income students of knowledge who would love to go but can’t afford it. And the best case study to see if the alternative works (professionally developed education program but at a low cost) is IlmPath academy in Toronto. They only charge $50 per weekend seminar (single weekend).

      I’m not marketing for them, as I said before each has its own advantages/disadvantages, I’m just mentioning one relevant to the post here.

      • Siraaj Muhammad

        October 5, 2009 at 1:34 PM

        It’s ok if you want to market it, no need to feel like you have to justify it ;) dropping a hint here and there is ok by me :D

        Siraaj

        • Ibn Masood

          October 5, 2009 at 1:44 PM

          Ahahhaahha akhi… I’ll be honest I try to help out all 3 organizations… I don’t stick to one or the other :).

          Man… I seriously want to come to Ilmsummit next year and meet all you guys (and get the knowledge of course)..

      • Ikhlas

        October 5, 2009 at 10:19 PM

        All the Almaghrib Qabail offer financial assistance and contact for them can easily be found on forums so yeah where there is a will, there is a way.

        I know sooo many students who were able to find sponsors for themselves for multiple seminars. its about taking a initiative and being pro-active about it.

  10. AbuUmar

    October 5, 2009 at 1:11 PM

    ibnabe, you have outdone yourself yet again. MashaAllah

  11. Yusuf

    October 5, 2009 at 1:12 PM

    Marketing is a selfless act at it’s core. True marketing requires
    you to put yourself in the shoes of your prospect at such at intimate level.

    The more you love for your brother what you love for yourself,
    the better marketer you’ll be.

    Just because direct marketing efforts remind you of others who may
    have stretched the truth doesnt mean anything.

    The problem is not marketing. It is integrity. Keep up the aggressive
    marketing for any good cause, escalate it. But always be ethical
    and honest. And give people the chance to opt out. Which is what
    I see from the Islamic organizations who market well.

    Look how much free value gets put out by Bayyinah, AlMaghrib,
    IlmFest, and even DiscoverU. This high quality, FREE info, would not be
    available without a decent price behind it.

    Support Profits. Support High Value. Support Marketing. Don’t
    support low value, correct and reform low integrity, low ethics.

    Now go out there and start selling so you can join the real world.
    If you’re not pimping you’re not trying. :)

    • NahyanInc

      October 5, 2009 at 2:34 PM

      excellent point – hilarious ending :D

  12. MR

    October 5, 2009 at 2:42 PM

    Halal Tube – Open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year! Free knowledge!

    :-D

    • AbdelRahman

      October 5, 2009 at 4:11 PM

      Hey MR, I’m happy for you and I’m gonna let you finish – but Wasat Studios has the best videos of all time!

      • Amatullah

        October 5, 2009 at 6:30 PM

        LOL

      • MR

        October 5, 2009 at 9:51 PM

        LOL!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Ahmad AlFarsi

    October 5, 2009 at 3:04 PM

    To put it another way, if the website or marketing for an Islamic program immediately conjures up images of infomercials or websites promising to make you millions while you work from home stuffing envelopes – then I strongly feel that we have a serious problem.

    The way some Islamic websites that are selling something end with (the now infamous) “P.S. …., P.P.S ……, P.P.P.S. ……..” is really reminiscent of the above. For one, it looks cheap, and many infomercial-type websites often use the same tactic at the end of their sales pitches.

    Also, it gives a similar feeling when the Islamic website promises XYZ after buying their product or taking their class… because often the promises go waayy beyond “you will learn ABC” to claiming that your life will change, etc etc.

  14. R

    October 5, 2009 at 3:12 PM

    Mufti Wiki ibn Bedia
    hahaha, lol
    love it!
    (great article overall)

  15. Westendraider

    October 5, 2009 at 3:16 PM

    Institutes that sell Islamic knowledge nowadays are more like personality cults…

    When someone names an institute what’s the first thought that comes to your mind. It’s probably not knowledge but rather the name of the star instructor or an adjective like awesome, cool, or something along the same lines…

    So what happens is that the institute becomes something of a fad and the attendees become the fan club of the fad…

    • ibnabeeomar

      October 5, 2009 at 4:05 PM

      the sad thing is i feel that they have a LOT to offer in terms of the knowledge. thats one of my hopes with writing this article is that all volunteers (like myself) face this reality and make sure our institutes dont become fads or associated w/ cult like behaviors. a lot of that is shaped by how we talk to people about it.

      • Westendraider

        October 5, 2009 at 6:33 PM

        I guess the crux of the problem is that many of us tend to treat such institutions as academic institutions. The fact of the matter is that these so called institutions are not academic institutions at all and they shouldn’t be treated as one.

        Calling these institutions commercial enterprises might be a stretch but they come very close. The marketing aspect which consists of dazzling posters, mesmerizing ads (ripping off Lord of the Rings) and catchy soundbites shouldn’t surprise us at all. Just look at the mindset of the founders who are more business oriented than academics/intellectuals…

        You will never see MIT or UC Berkeley running around promoting themselves with dazzling posters. People who have a strong love of physics, mathematics, etc. have a natural fondness for such institutions because they have established their position as a strong center of academic excellence…

        I was a very devoted fan of the Almaghrib rock concerts. However, the crass commercialization just turned me off. The marketing campaign became so insidious that one of the star instructors started to sign off with the post-nominals LL.B. when in fact, it is a degree awarded only for studies in Common Law in countries with British heritage. A far cry from something that Madinah University would award…

        One of the most glaring aspects of commercialization is that the classes are modeled after Dale Carnegie’s self help courses: a methodology that is entirely alien to the sunnah which is to impart knowledge in an incremental approach rather than dumping the entire coursework in a weekend or two…

        The only person who should be considered a serious academic/intellectual is Br. Yasir Qadhi. I pray that Allah bless his efforts to establish a well-accredited seminary which will establish a strong tradition of academic inquiry… in that case I would pay a fortune just to attain his suhba…

        • h. ahmed

          October 6, 2009 at 8:21 PM

          Excellent comment, Westendraider!!!

          I could not agree more!!!

  16. Mahboob Hussain

    October 5, 2009 at 3:34 PM

    @ Westendraider: You are so right. Sure there is benefit in marketing an institutes/instructors but there is a limit…the focus should primarily be on the fruits of knowledge itself. The instructor/institute/student base are but a vehicle to attain this knowledge.

    To me, its balancing act between modesty and promotion (two contrasts i know). I think a way out could be to promote the ‘lifestyle’ choice of going to such courses, meeting new people etc etc rather than making star personalities the crux of any promotion.

  17. syncere

    October 5, 2009 at 5:05 PM

    assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu.

    Sunnah Notes is pretty good in Scarborough/Toronto as well. Their marketing is outstanding throughout the city. Halaqahs are free, shuyukh are local and are on point, free food etc. Sorta something different from the usual 165 or 77 two weekend shin-dings. Sorry I guess the truth hurts!

    If you haven’t been, you should try to go. Their next halaqah is oct 24th. I think at IIT w/ shaykh shazim and abdool hamid.

  18. Iftikhar

    October 6, 2009 at 6:43 AM

    The demand for Muslim schools comes from parents who want their children a safe environment with an Islamic ethos.Parents see Muslim schools where children can develop their Islamic Identity where they won’t feel stigmatised for being Muslims and they can feel confident about their faith. Muslim schools are working to try to create a bridge between communities.

    There is a belief among ethnic minority parens that the British schooling does not adequatly address their cultural needs. Failing to meet this need could result in feeling resentment among a group who already feel excluded. Setting up Muslim school is a defensive response.

    State schools with monolingual teachers are not capable to teach English to bilingual Muslim children. Bilingual teachers are needed to teach English to such children along with their mother tongue. According to a number of studies, a child will not learn a second language if his first language is ignored.

    Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Muslims
    have the right to educate their children in an environment that suits their culture. This notion of “integration”, actually means “assimilation”, by which people generally really mean “be more like me”. That is not multiculturalism. In Sydney, Muslims were refused to build a Muslim school, because of a protest by the residents. Yet a year later, permission was given for the building of a Catholic school and no protests from the residents. This clrearly shows the blatant hypocrisy, double standards and racism. Christians oppose Muslim schools in western countries yet build their own religious schools.

    British schooling and the British society is the home of institutional racism. The result is that Muslim children are unable to develop self-confidence and self-esteem, therefore, majority of them leave schools with low grades. Racism is deeply rooted in British society. Every native child is born with a gene or virus of racism, therefore, no law could change the attitudes of racism towards those who are different. It is not only the common man, even member of the royal family is involved in racism. The father of a Pakistani officer cadet who was called a “Paki” by Prince Harry has profoundly condemned his actions. He had felt proud when he met the Queen and the Prince of Wales at his son’s passing out parade at Sandhurst in 2006 but now felt upset after learning about the Prince’s comments. Queen Victoria invited an Imam from India to teach her Urdu language. He was highly respected by the Queen but other members of the royal family had no respect for him. He was forced to go back to India. His portrait is still in one of the royal place.

    There are hundreds of state schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools with bilingual Muslim teachers. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

    Iftikhar Ahmad

    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  19. BrotherMuslim

    October 6, 2009 at 1:58 PM

    The institutes must work together and realize that success and failure and acceptance is in the Hands of Allah. There goal should be to please Allah and spread Islam.

    Why is it that one institute does not allow another to advertise outside of their classes??? This is the real problem. Why not let the other institutes hand out flyers and advertise during anothers seminar?

    Especially if they are legitimate and respectable and the student body is the same?

    Just my thoughts.

  20. Yasir Hilal

    October 10, 2009 at 10:23 AM

    Assalamualakum.

    I will like to start by clarifying that promoting islamic institutes and classes should not be called marketing but rather infroming, making aware or educating.

    My second point is that we are people that make institutes a success or a failure. We are the promoters, marketers and students. These institute can work exactly the way we want if we participate with good intention.

    A brief idea I will love to see implemented is that we decide what courses be offered at what time. Let all the institutes conduct frequent classes but rather let them follow a manhaj as one. Let the intention be to cover all topics of Shariah and have no overlaps so that the students can benefeit in an organized fashion.

    Lets structure ourselves and this is a special message to all Tornotians as that is the happening city for Islamic Institute. Lets be the examples to be followed.

    JazakaAllah Khair

  21. another muslimah

    October 15, 2009 at 11:23 AM

    It would be interesting to explore what actually “works” when marketing. in terms of attracting and retaining program participants.

    Some of the less appealing techniques referred to above might actually get more response and results (e.g. more registrations) and that is why they are pursued.

    The loud neon colored flyer is more likely picked up than the inoffensive bland one. The urgent, emotional appeal leads to more action than the cold, just-the-facts-ma’am approach.

    It is what people respond to that often drives the sales technique. It would be interesting to find out from organizations what works for them. Is that why they are doing what they do?

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