Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The halal economy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Trays of halal meat for detainee meals are stored in a refrigeration unit at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay March 7, 2013.(Reuters/Bob Strong)

The Islamic economy used to be thought of as exclusively associated with financial institutions implementing systems and laws that adhere to Islamic Shari’a law. The concept, however, gradually developed to include other sectors, such as insurance, the food industry and investments. This concept of a “responsible and conservative” economy has emerged recently around the world, an economic system that complies with strict rules and regulations and avoids investing in sectors promoting “impure” entertainment, all forms of human trafficking, abuse of children or animals, violence, drugs and arms.

It seems, however, that the Islamic economy is the most developed of all; and although it amounts to just one sixth of this “responsible and conservative” economy around the world, it is rapidly growing.

Today, several “unique and different” products and services have entered the Islamic market. While some of these products are strange, others are downright bizarre. For example, there is a European brand of nail polish which is being marketed as an “Islamic” product because it allows water to permeate and reach the nails, and thus help women perform proper ablution. There are also so-called “sex” shops selling products to improve relations between couples. The owner of one of these shops, who has a retail store and also sells his products online, insists his merchandise does not promote pornography and that even conservative Muslim families need such products.

There are also travel companies making tours of conservative regions, booking hotels that do not provide alcohol, night clubs, discos or gambling venues. These hotels provide separate swimming pools for each gender, and restaurants that provide “halal” food. Other companies offer similar services, but under stricter rules and conditions. Such companies offer music-free trips and vacations, known as “virtuous” vacations.

Of course, there is also the “halal” food and beverage industry which, of course, includes meats and poultry, but also vegetables, fruit and drink. This industry has become widespread across the world, transforming several non-halal products into halal ones. In the beverage industry, for example, production of “halal” malt drink is growing annually by 14%, an astronomical growth rate. There are also alcohol-free grape juice drinks being sold as a legitimate alternative to wine. Moreover, a “whiskey” factory in Scotland is now exporting a non-alcoholic drink made from onions to the Islamic market.

Bahrain, Malaysia, Turkey and Dubai are the most influential players in this growing market.

Bahrain was the first and most important hub of Islamic banks and financial institutions, becoming the most important country to issue regulations in this field. Turkey has partially followed in Bahrain’s footsteps.

Malaysia has established a complementary market to support the Islamic financial market and to issue bonds, becoming the first country to support—through its central bank—the Islamic economy. Malaysia has also authorized legislative bodies for quality control policies and standards to ensure “halal,” that is to say Islamically permissible, financial products. This is something that has made Malaysia an authority on halal industry and services.

Finally, Dubai has emerged strongly to become “the capital of international Islamic finance,” organizing the most significant conferences, exhibitions, and awareness campaigns to promote the idea of this growing Islamic economy.

Thanks to these efforts, the concept of the Islamic economy has moved from being dubious to becoming a reality, occupying a significant position in the international economy thanks to interests and returns in the billions of dollars. Governments across the world are aware of this success and are seeking to become a part of it. Although some of these governments grasped the opportunity, many have failed. As more halal products becoming available today at McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Marks & Spenser, Nestlé, and elsewhere, it is clear that this has become an important reality.