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Halal Tourism or Muslim-Friendly Tourism?

There is now a growing interest in Halal tourism from the perspectives of both industry and academic research. Many stress the fact that any strategy to develop or market Halal tourism products and services must be guided by Islamic teachings and principles in all their aspects. Due to the multidisciplinary scope of the subject matter, there exist confusions regarding ‘Halal tourism’, ‘Muslim-friendly’ and ‘Islamic tourism’ terms.  One challenge faced by academicians and practitioners is to identify the right terminologies as well as the proper clarifications of the concepts. As a result, ‘Halal tourism’ and `Islamic tourism’ ‘Muslim-friendly’ concepts are often used interchangeably by academicians and practitioners as if the concepts are similar.  Most of these definitions are loosely defined and have not taken into consideration the Islamic law (Shariah), the target customers (i.e. Muslims or non-Muslims), the location of activity (i.e. Muslim vs non-Muslim country), the product and service offered (i.e. food, facilities), and the purpose of travel. 

Halal term means ‘permissible’ according to Islamic teaching (Sharia law). However, the term ‘Islamic’ is precisely applied only to that which relates directly to the faith and its doctrines (such as Islamic law/Shariah, Islamic values, principles and beliefs, Islamic worship). It is therefore closer to the Arabic term ‘Mu'minoon. This is because Islam indicates the faith as an ideal based on the core Islamic sources which are the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. It therefore follows that Muslim men, women, country may not necessarily be Islamic and that ‘Islamic men’ and ‘Muslim men’ have different meanings. Based on the above argument, using the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘Halal’ as if they have similar meaning is inappropriate. It would be better to use ‘Halal’ as brand name rather ‘Islamic’ for any related product and service in tourism industry.

When Muslim travel to another destination for leisure less than one year; this travel is considered as tourism. The question that is often asked is whether the activity is to be referred to as Halal tourism or Islamic tourism?  The activity can be referred to as Halal tourism if all the activities, facilities, actions and objectives are permissible according to Islamic teachings. The same thing applies in the case of non-Muslim tourists. So a non-Muslim tourist can claim that he/she consumes Halal food and attends Halal entertainment outlets as long as the activities related to his claim are genuinely permissible in Islam. However to classify the traveling activities as being ‘Islamic tourism’ requires another very crucial element – that is whether the activity is accompanied by the Niyyah or intention on the part of the traveller.  

If the intention of travelling is to seek the pleasure of God or in order to strengthen his faith, then it will be both Halal and Islamic. The term ‘Islamic tourism’ is more appropriate. However, the place may not necessarily be located in a Muslim country or in religious locations. For example, if a man travels to London to visit the London museum in order to study the history of  British colonisation of the Muslim world for the sake of God, the travel can be classified for Muslims as ‘Ibadah’ (a religious act)  deserving rewards from God and therefore can be appropriately referred to as ‘Islamic tourism’. To reinforce our point of the importance of the element of ‘Niyyah’ or intention, we would like to highlight the fact that the term ‘Islamic food’ does not exist. The reason is food is not a living object and will never have any aspect of ‘intention’.  For food therefore, the term to be used is NOT Islamic food but rather ‘Halal or not-Halal food’. 

The term ‘Muslim-friendly’ in tourism industry denotes an attempt to make the tourism experience enjoyable to observant Muslims.  As such it is almost akin to the concept of ‘Halal Tourism’ but in a wider context to include allowing Muslims to perform religious duties. In other words, Muslim-friendly destinations not only offer plenty of ‘Halal’ services (such as Halal food and beverages, sex-segregated swimming pools, etc.) but also comfortable places for Muslims to perform their daily prayers. Finally, the case of non-Muslims travelling to destinations in Muslim countries to visit Islamic historical religious and cultural sites could be an argument.  Is it Islamic tourism?  My opinion that it should NOT be referred to as Islamic tourism but rather ‘Islam-related tourism’.