Opinion: Billions of dollars in Muslim modesty

RUSHDIRushdi Siddiqui (Participation Finance/Banking) / Khaleej Times

A recent headline in Al Arabiya stated “No Burkinis! Morocco hotels ban ‘halal’ suit”. The article states: “…Some private pools in Morocco’s tourism hot spots have banned women from wearing burkinis… described as halal swim-suits, which cover the body and have a head covering attached… Several resorts in the touristic city of Marrakesh have reportedly banned the burkini in their private pools, with many citing ‘hygiene reasons’… One posted in Morocco World News came in three languages and says ‘Burkini not allowed’ and ‘Bathing suits mandatory’… Abdelaziz Aftati, an MP of the ruling Moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, told the Press that it is unacceptable to restrict people’s freedom and their beliefs, saying the move signified the “rudeness of the new colonisation’.”The burkini intersects two (of the six) silos of the $1.6 trillion Muslim lifestyle market: the $137 billion Muslim travel/tourism market and the $224 billion Muslim clothing/fashion market according to the Thomson Reuters/Dinarstandard State of Global Islamic Economy report (2013).


The questions now, are, what are these resorts/hotels missing that their counterparts in many other countries are embracing? They both exist to make profits, hence, is the perception there is not a critical mass of halal-friendly (Muslim) travellers? Is the perception that a halal-friendly environment is not important to many Muslim family vacationers? Is the perception “halal-friendly” a passing fad or will result in some sort of stigma for the hotel/resort, hence, hurting medium/long term business?

Follow-up question: What is the common denominator of the following hotels/resorts: The Galle Face Hotel Colombo, Sri Lanka; Bera Alanya, Turkey; The Hill Villas, Bali; The Ambassador Hotel Bangkok, Thailand; Bandos Island, The Maldives; and Selous Riverside Safari Camp, Tanzania?

Answer: They outwardly cater to Muslims as halal-friendly hotels/resorts. Furthermore, there are globally-recognised websites that direct Muslim travellers to “halal- or family-friendly” destinations, like www.crescentrating.com, www.halaltrip.com or www.serendipity.travel.


The Global Islamic Economy report states that “global Muslim spending on travel [outbound] to be $137 billion in 2012 [excluding Hajj and Ummrah]… [and] expected to grow to $181 billion market by 2018… [or totalling] 12.5 per cent of global expenditure.’

Now, putting the number in context, the $137 billion Muslim dollar travel/tourism spend is greater than travel expenditures in the world’s largest economy of the US ($122 billion) or the world’s largest population of China ($89 billion). Yet, these destination resorts in, say, Morocco, ironically a Muslim-majority country, do not seem to understand the gravity of Muslim consumerism.

The important takeaway lesson is the positive impact tourism dollars has on the local economy, an Arab Spring lesson. For example, Dubai would probably be the best case study at, say, Harvard Business School on diversifying an economy from a depleting natural source, oil, by focusing on growth-oriented tourism. In fact, under the wise leadership of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the emirate is positioning itself as capital of the Islamic economy and halal tourism is an important element.


burkiniIslam inspires modesty in clothing whilst encouraging fashion, and Muslim designers and those catering to the Muslim market want to tap an “estimated… $224 billion on clothing and footwear in 2012… [which] represents 10.6 per cent of global expenditure and is estimated to reach $322 billion by 2018… collectively this clothing consumer market is only second after the largest market in the world — the United States [$494 billion in spending, 2012]”.

Thus, the burkini is just one part of the Muslim woman’s ensemble.

My 14-year daughter, Sana, an aspiring fashion designer/blogger, has got an interesting approach to defining it: “Fashion isn’t putting clothes together, it’s matching the clothes to the environment.”

Thus, today, Muslims have many options available for them on where to take their families for travel/tourism and holidays. If the environment is the beach and/or swimming pool, then the burkini may be the clothing for the environment.

Those that understand will profit and will get free word-of-mouth publicity and repeat business. Those who reject, under guise of dubious hygiene, will actually have a stigma attached of “not welcoming”, in a small and and interconnected social-media world.


Muslim consumerism is nearly a $2 trillion industry and expected to double by 2020, due to demand and demographics. To tap and capture it requires understanding the principles of modesty based upon “do no harm, family values, and ethics”.

The writer is a board member of Dinarstandard, an advisory board to Crescentrating and Falalh Capital. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.