Halal on the Go: Vacationing While Muslim
For Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, head of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, it was the Arabic labels featuring the word “halal”, that helped him find the meals he needed when traveling to China and Thailand.
“I always eat halal wherever I am and labeling does help,” said the chair of the Board of Trustees of the world’s largest international interfaith organization, who travels frequently for his work. “The halal label always guided me in choosing what to eat, whether it was on restaurant signs or packaged food. Not knowing the Chinese language, the (Arabic) labels were the only thing I could read.”
For Tayyibah Taylor, editor of America’s premiere Muslim women’s magazine, Azizah, it was the comfort of Muslim-friendly lodging that made a difference. “I have stayed in ‘halal’ hotels in Muslim-majority countries,” she said in an interview with Halal Consumer. “It is always great to see a Qibla indicator, a prayer rug, and a Quran in a hotel room. In one hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, they had a female-only floor for businesswomen who were traveling alone. I appreciated that.”
Serena Islamabad Hotel, along with others like the Millennium Plaza Hotel in Dubai, are considered “halal” due to the availability of amenities like halal food, prayer rugs, prayer times, and the direction toward Mecca clearly marked in the rooms. Other facilities include separate prayer and recreation areas for men and women, as well as an alcohol-free environment.
Mujahid and Taylor’s experiences offer a glimpse of the budding, multi-billion dollar halal-friendly tourism industry.
“In the 1990s, Muslims represented about four to five percent of overall global travel expenditure. By 2010, our research says Muslims represented 10 percent. That 10 percent translates to about $100 billion US dollars,” noted Fazal Bahardeen of the Singapore-based CrescentRating.com, an organization that rates how halal-friendly various aspects of the travel industry are.
Where to eat and prayer related concerns, as exemplified by Taylor and Mujahid’s experiences, are the two most pressing priorities for Muslim travelers.
It’s been called “halal tourism”, as well as “Shariah-compliant tourism”. Crescentrating.com has chosen to use the term “halal-friendly tourism” to describe its work, and the industry in general.
“If you say, ‘I’m Shariah-compliant’, you have to look at the whole operation. It’s not about window dressing,” Bahardeen said. The reaction of the hospitality industry has also played a major role in why Crescentrating.com decided to forego terms like “halal tourism” or “Shariah-compliant travel”.
“We are only creating barriers for those services to grow because of the negativity and backlash to those terms,” said Bahardeen. For the hospitality industry, “it’s easier for them to digest” travel services being defined as “halal-friendly”.
Part of what is fueling the growth of the halal-friendly tourism industry is a change in the attitude of Muslim consumers, who have grown more vocal in expressing their needs while en route to their destinations of choice.
“The industry didn’t realize there was necessity. Ten years ago, when I used to travel, I wouldn’t dare ask a hotel for halal food,” said Bahardeen, who retired from his travel-heavy job as a telecommunications executive to start Crescentrating.com in 2008. “My kids, it’s a different story.”
“Especially in countries where Muslims are minorities, Muslims are much more practicing than their parents were,” he said. That, in turn, has led to a greater expression of halal lifestyle choices, including those related to travel.
This need is reflected in the kind of trips Farrah Abid of Barrington, Illinois and her family take. They routinely seek out halal alternatives for food, as well as Muslim-themed attractions, during trips.
“We usually research guide books and search the internet for halal restaurants, local mosques, and look for other Islamic events that may be occurring on the dates we plan to be in a particular country,” she said. “We also try to talk to people whom we know when planning our itinerary – it really helps to connect with their contacts who can help guide you towards a ‘halal lifestyle’ during your travels.”
It is this need that has also led to the creation of companies like the U.K.-based Serendipity Travel, which “was designed to provide Muslims with inspiration to explore the worlds’ variety of cultures, landscapes and experiences whilst upholding their faith and core ethics of Islam,” explained founder and director Nabeel Sharriff.
“We take out the hard work and hours of researching their next holiday destination to find the nearest mosque to pray Jummah (Friday prayers), or to locate halal eateries within 10 minutes of their hotel,” he added. “We tend to experience the destinations we sell which is really important, and with our detailed and zealous approach to finding the right holiday, we pass our knowledge on so that our clients can enjoy their trip.” Turkey, Abu Dhabi, Morocco, and Malaysia, aren’t the only places you can experience halal-friendly tourism through Serendipity Travel. The Caribbean, Australia, Samoa and Fiji, Korea, and Chile are other venues with a halal experience promised to travelers.
So what would a halal-friendly trip abroad possibly look like? On the website of Crescent Tours, which is also based in the U.K., Muslim tourists are promised only halal foods and restaurants that serve only non-alcoholic hot and soft drinks. Prayer spaces are easily accessible and available, and guests hear the call to prayer amid the enjoyment.
Tourists can enjoy separate pool, spa and leisure facilities for men and women at the resorts and hotels they stay in. In particular, female travelers are promised “private women only beach areas and also mixed beach areas for families with Islamic swimming dress code”.
This is of particular importance to a number of the Muslim women who have expressed satisfaction with their experience of Crescent Tours, as shown in testimonials on its website. “It is really fun for women, as we have our own private beach and the chance to enjoy ourselves, which we couldn’t otherwise do,” wrote Mrs H. Shah, from Brussels, Belgium.
“The women’s complex was excellent. Another feature that many women consider the highlight is an open-air women-only swimming pool at the very top of the hotel. Even the lift accessing the pool is for women alone,” said Miss Nicholson, from Canada.
For visits to Muslim countries, Islamic Heritage tours are also part of the package. Crescent Tours’ guided Ottoman heritage tour to Istanbul, for example, takes travelers to magnificent palaces and grand mosques.
If you’ve always wanted to go on a cruise, the Atlanta, Georgia-based Salaam Cruise offers you that experience, the Halal-friendly way.
“Cruising is one of those things every Muslim wants to do, but is ashamed to admit it,” the group’s Facebook page announces. “So, we went to the cruise line and told them that we wanted a cruise with no alcohol, no gambling and halal food. They told us, you need to charter a whole ship. We said fine. And that was the birth of the Salaam Cruise.” Their inaugural venture to the Bahamas took place in January this year.
The growth of the global Muslim population will most likely fuel the expansion of this industry over the next two decades. Muslims should “make sure (these efforts) are sustainable and socially responsible,” says Mujahid. This means being aware of whether or not Halal-friendly hotels, airlines, etc. are concerned “about the poor and the needy, about this society and its well-being. Are they giving living wages to their employees, and how are they treating workers?”
According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, the world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35 percent in the next 20 years, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030. If current trends continue, Muslims will make up 26.4 percent of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030, up from 23.4 percent of the estimated 2010 world population.
“And that means it’s a market size of beyond $200 billion. Global expenditure in 2020 overall is expected to be $1.5 trillion,” said Bahardeen. “If you are a business and are targeting a global audience, there is no way in the world you can ignore such a phenomenon.”
About the Writer: Samana Siddiqui has been published internationally. She is Managing Editor of SoundVision.com and blogs at http://chicagomuslimparent.blogspot.com