Today marks the start of Ramadan 2023. There are an estimated 3.85 million practicing Muslims in America, and this number is growing rapidly. Pew Research Center data projects that the number will reach 8 million by 2050, at which point Islam could emerge as the second-largest religion in the U.S. In Muslim culture, the month of Ramadan is a heightened spiritual time of year, during which people fast during the day and come together in a spiritual community to enjoy celebratory meals at night.
Many Muslims only consume products that are halal, which means they are free of certain ingredients, such as alcohol and pork, and that the meat is sourced and processed in a specific way. Globally, the halal market is expected to reach $3 trillion in 2023. The halal label can apply not just to food, but also to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. By offering halal products, brands can not only appeal to the Muslim population but also demonstrate inclusivity and respect for diversity.
“Muslims represent a significant market segment that American brands are not always reaching,” says Shayn Prapaisilp, chief operating officer of Global Foods Group, an international grocery store in Missouri that stocks thousands of halal products and imports from around the world. “In terms of food, the diversity is amazing. Halal food isn’t just Middle Eastern cuisine. Muslim food culture stretches from the Middle East to North Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe.”
“Access to culturally-important foods such as halal products shows a sense of belonging and support to a growing Muslim demographic,” says Ammar Ahmed of ICNA Relief, a nonprofit launching Ramadan food box distributions at 50 food pantries in 24 states, reaching over 24,000 families across the U.S. “Ramadan is the perfect time to cast a spotlight on culturally and spiritually fulfilling foods.”
Here are four brands whose founders are proud to represent their cultural heritage and demonstrate their support for Muslims by offering products in the halal space, from food to cosmetics: MagicDates snack bites, Baba’s hummus and pita puffs, Boxed Halal meats, and Mora Cosmetics.
MagicDates produces chocolate-covered dates and nutrient-rich, date-based snack bites that are halal in addition to being all-natural, vegan, and free from added sugars, paleo, and gluten-free. Founder Diana Jarrar is the granddaughter of Palestinian refugees from Lebanon and Syria. She herself was a refugee until age 12 when her family immigrated to Toronto. She views MagicDates as an expression of her Muslim immigrant heritage.
“In 2017, I felt called to create a company that centered my story and upbringing in a Syrian-Palestinian Muslim home,” said Jarrar in an exclusive Forbes interview. “When I first immigrated to Canada with my family, it was so important to my dad for us to find halal food. I recognized the strangeness we Muslim immigrants feel while trying to adapt in a foreign environment that is often unaccommodating to our dietary restrictions. That’s why it was important to me that MagicDates are made without animal products so they’re halal-friendly, allowing Muslims — like me and my family — to feel seen.”
Throughout her life, Jarrar has found her Syrian and Palestinian identities enigmatic to many Americans. Initially, she shied away from sharing her background and journey as an immigrant and refugee. It was the Black Lives Matter movement that inspired Jarrar to speak her truth. Ultimately, she did a rebrand to tell the MagicDates story from a Syrian and Palestinian woman’s perspective. “Little is known about Palestinians outside the Arab world. My message is that we exist, we’re practicing our traditions, and we are thriving,” she says.
Deep down, Jarrar believes there is a way for conscientiousness and capitalism to co-exist. MagicDates partners with Karam Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit that supports those people most impacted by the Syrian Civil War — and now the horrible earthquake that recently destroyed parts of Syria and Turkey — especially youth. The NGO has operations on the ground in Jordan, the U.S., and Turkey, where one of the world’s largest Syrian refugee camps is located. Karam Foundation helps develop young refugees into future world leaders.
Jarrar encourages aspiring change-makers to use their businesses and their platforms as forms of social activism. “The socialist, justice-loving part of me hesitates to dive too deep into the waters of capitalism,” she says. “At the same time, you can allow your brand to speak about things you care about.”
- Mora Cosmetics
What is halal makeup, you might ask? The term halal is typically applied to food. But halal means “permissible” according to Islamic principles. What people don’t realize is that we ingest our beauty products all the time, especially lipsticks. So truly halal makeup should not contain alcohol.
On the other hand, halal makeup can contain animal-derived, and therefore non-vegan, ingredients — such as beeswax, keratin, and lanolin, which comes from sheep’s wool. Since 2020, Mora Cosmetics has produced makeup that is halal and vegan, and also clean. Mora is on a mission to reshape the beauty industry by using Muslim beliefs as the new ethical standard for clean beauty. Every ingredient comes from the earth, the packaging is sustainable, and the brand is on a mission to help the Muslim community feel seen.
As makeup enthusiasts, cofounders Minara El-Rahman and Jasmine Dayal were disappointed to find that clean beauty products on the market were not high-performance, and that halal cosmetic options were lacking. They also believe in celebrating every person’s beauty journey, yet they found a dearth of clean, sustainable “brown girl-friendly makeup products.” Together, they decided to start Mora Cosmetics.
El-Rahman, born in New York City, is Muslim. Dayal, born and raised in California, has Sikh cultural roots. “As a visibly Muslim woman, I never saw brands that created products intended for me to use,” said El-Rahman in an exclusive Forbes interview. “Only very recently have makeup brands even included people who look like me in their campaigns at all! Post 9/11, my community faced the ugliness of Islamophobia. But we have so many beautiful elements, such as excellence, sisterhood, brotherhood, sustainability, and more. I wanted to create a brand that honors and elevates those roots.”
“Don’t be afraid of who you are,” says El-Rahman to aspiring entrepreneurs. “For so long, I wanted to fit in and that meant minimizing all the ways I am different. But as I get older, I realize that who we are is our superpower. If you look at any change maker, you will find a person who has discovered that being true to yourself and your heritage will lead you down a path of success.”
Baba’s sells hummus in over 14 flavors from original to sriracha and dill pickle in 400 stores across the Midwest, including Whole Foods. In addition, the brand has just launched a line of pita puffs, which currently are available in 300 stores and online, shipping nationwide.
Siblings Rana Kamal and Khalid Ansari were inspired to found the company in 2018. Their own baba, or father, Jamal, was a Palestinian immigrant who created hummus in the kitchen of his much-loved restaurant, The Mediterranean Cruise Café. He founded it in Minnesota in 1979 when Middle Eastern food was practically non-existent in the U.S.
“Growing up in a Palestinian American immigrant household in a predominantly white Midwest community, my brother and cofounder Khalid and I never saw ourselves and the food we grew up with on grocery store shelves,” said Kamal in an exclusive interview for Forbes. “We always felt our food was either mis- or under-represented in our community. That experience was contrasted by how connected we felt and surrounded we were by stellar food in our home life. That’s how Baba’s was born!”
As a Muslim Palestinian American minority woman, Kamal faces challenges from facing her own doubts as a businesswoman, to finding relevance in the mainstream market, to being accepted in the business arena. “You have to have the tenaciousness to push every day when you have all these voices and odds stacked against you,” she says.
That said, Kamal feels the tide is changing. “More than ever, we are starting to celebrate cultural foods and amplify the voices of minority business founders. I feel that my work as a woman, as a Muslim, and as a Palestinian American has just begun. To put our food on the map — to normalize halal products and to continue amplifying the voices of minority business founders – that is my mission.”
- Boxed Halal
Boxed Halal offers Americans high-end, healthy, humane, and fresh meat products that are 100% halal-certified by shipping them to your doorstep. Many Muslims live in areas of the country that simply do not have Muslim-owned butcher shops or halal meat options at grocery stores. The goal of Boxed Halal is to make eating halal easy for the Muslim community.
The company, which was founded in late 2019, experienced explosive growth when Covid lockdowns went into effect in March 2020. People began shopping for everything online, including meat. Boxed Halal quickly had to adapt to meet the rapidly-growing demand and expectations for customer service, as the company went from 10 to 20 orders a day to hundreds.
In response, the cofounders ordered more inventory, bought larger freezers, moved into a larger warehouse, and hired more people to help with shipping. Unfortunately, an attempt at using a fulfillment center did not work out, so Boxed Halal had to move everything back in-house, causing delays. Throughout this experience, they managed customer expectations by trying to be as transparent as possible and built a strong community.
“Honesty and transparency are key,” said Ibrahim Ali and Iqra Isphahani, the husband and wife cofounders and co-CEOs of Boxed Halal, in an exclusive interview for Forbes. “Communicating about the difficulties we faced during our fulfillment process actually was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. Customers were willing to trust us and order from us again. Our biggest advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to create a community and foster your relationship with them.”