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Islamic Lifestyle
The evolving sophistication and elegance of modest clothing

Diversity of interpretation and trends as influencers offer alternatives adding another dimension to modest clothing fashion.

 

Selangor, Malaysia; Dhaka; Tunis; Dubai and Lagos: There was a time when modest Muslim fashion was about being unseen – practising piety without giving as much as a nod to style or fashion – but today, Muslim women globally are increasingly combining their desire to proclaim modesty and religious identity without discarding elegance and sophistication in their clothing choices.

 

Malaysian fashion model and social media influencer Ike Diana argued there is no real conflict between mixing modest clothing choices and attractiveness and she willingly mixes modern pieces with traditional wear.

“Modesty is about finding the right balance of guarding your skin and wearing clothes that cover, yet are comfortable and fashionable. It is all about proportion because you can pair straight-cut jeans with a looser top or a fitted top with a flowy skirt,” she said, explaining that in southeast Asia, modest fashion was about dressing comfortably, not showing too much and clothes that fit the climate.

She said successful brands paid attention to Malaysia’s tropical climate with consumers increasingly conscious of the fabrics they choose, targeting breathability and comfort.

“We can’t wear anything leather or wool or at least wear them for long periods because it doesn’t suit the weather,” she explained.

Noting current modesty trends as being minimal yet trendy, Ike said there has been increasing interest in streetwear or basic pieces with an elevated look. This season vibrant colours, such as hot pink, have made a comeback. With more media influencers playing their roles through social media, consumer inspiration was being drawn from a variety of sources.

For Malaysian mother of one Amirah Najla Saidin, 29, choosing her modest wear demands comfort first. She observed that Malaysians lean towards more experimental choices when picking modest wear.

“Some say modest wear is loose clothes and some interpret it as long as your skin is covered, even with sheer or tight clothes,” she noted.

There certainly is plenty of choice. In Malaysia, brands such as UMMA, Imaan and Petit Moi sell an array of fashionable modest wear.

 

Malaysia’s influencer and model Ike Diana says modesty was about finding the right balance (Ike Diana).

 

Bangladeshi style

In Bangladesh the rise of ecommerce and related social media sites, including influencer webpages, has generated more creativity and choice in modest fashion ranges. Previously total coverage through burqas was common for women, but especially since 2014/15 as ecommerce took hold, retailers have been selling more abayas, khimar (traditional skirts and tops) and jilbab (another skirt and tops combination).

With ecommerce and social media opening Bangladesh to international fashion influences, these styles have been promoted by consumers seeing how women dress in Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and other diverse Muslim countries, said Tasnuva Rahman, co-owner of Reflections of Haya, an online modest clothing retailer

These influences are driving change in Bangladesh’s modest clothing market.

“One reason is women can try different fashions and trends. The burqa fully covers one and has mostly loose fittings, but the abaya, khimar, jilbab or a simple shrug can be fitted and worn in style,” noted Rahman.

 

Bangladeshi Muslim women wearing khimar (Reflections of Haya).

 

She added that teens and young girls preferred bat-wing abaya or shrugs over long tops, while middle-aged women prefer khimar and jilbab. Khimars are now also produced on a large scale by Bangladesh’s strong clothing industry:

“One can easily get a khimar for $5 when custom-tailor-made items cost $45 to $50. So, women buy khimar from any market,” said Rahman.

Fabric choices have also diversified. One e-retailer noted where previously women for burqas, women preferred BMW fabric, a variant of georgette from China, for their burqas, they now choose lightweight cherry georgette, silk, polyester cotton and pure synthetic fabric.

Old women like free-shaped, batwing cut, light-weighted fabric to carry with any dress, especially during summer and for winter, when temperatures fall to 11-14°C, they wear a coat or shrug over long tops.

Rural women still prefer heavy-work long burqas, while urban women prefer abaya shrugs to wear over any dress, noted Rahman.

 

 

Colour blocking is one of Gulf influencer Nada Nader’s favourite styles that she often promotes on her social media (Nada Nader).

 

The Gulf gets colourful

In the wealthier Gulf region, modest fashion is becoming increasingly inclusive and diverse with streetwear, activewear and fast fashion now trending among Muslim women.

“Modest fashion is no longer about wearing long-flowing gowns and loose-fitting black abayas. We now see colourful outfits and abayas, as well as modest streetwear, innovative hijabs and turbans with patterns,” Sarah Bradshaw, a modest fashion designer and founder of United Arab Emirates-based (UAE) Sarah Bradshaw Couture, told Salaam Gateway.

She said as the region’s often-fierce summer heat kicks in, women are opting for eye-catching colours such as light green, orange, mustard, beige and light pink – and for fabrics like silk and linen that are appreciated for their softness, elegance and comfort.

Born in Paris and based in Dubai, the 31-year-old social media influencer who has more than 22,000 followers on Instagram, said while high-end brands are becoming aware of the market’s potential and launching modest-wear collections, so are fast-fashion brands.

 

Colours such as orange, mustard, and beige are trending this summer in the Gulf (Sarah Bradshaw).

 

Mainstream retailers eye up modest fashion

For instance, PrettyLittleThing, a UK-based fast-fashion retailer, has gained popularity since launching a Middle East-dedicated ecommerce platform in 2020. The brand, known for its affordable prices, offers a collection of modest outfits.

Bradshaw said many modest-fashion influencers are also promoting low-cost outfits from Shein, the Chinese online fast fashion retailer, and Modanisa, a Turkish modest fashion ecommerce platform.

“Although I think the modest-fashion industry is becoming more sustainable thanks to educated and conscious consumers,” she said.

One example is The Giving Movement, a Dubai-based sustainable athleisure label that offers modest activewear, streetwear and loungewear. With its emphasis on ethical manufacturing and recyclable fabrics and its promise to donate $4 to charities for every item sold, the brand has gained numerous fans since its 2020 launch and recently raised $15 million from investors.

Bradshaw has also observed modest fashion becoming more inclusive, embracing different age groups, styles and body shapes.

“We have to keep in mind that the success of the market lies in understanding everyone defines modest fashion in their own way,” she said.

However, one challenge for all modest fashion brands in the region is the summer heat and humidity that does not encourage people to dress up.


Tunisia’s Sabrine Sbei, an influencer and retailer, wearing a modest fashion design (Sabrine Sbei).

 

Keeping it cool

“During the UAE’s summer, some people find it difficult to stay stylish and fresh outside. They might think it’s a waste of money and time to wear nice clothes as they won’t be able to enjoy them outdoors. This can negatively impact the modest fashion market,” said Bradshaw.

Modest fashion also reflects the diversity of consumers in a society. Tunisia, with its strong secular and religious traditions, has a mosaic of tastes when it comes to fashion and style. This has fed into modest fashion that is often more stylish in North Africa than in some more conservative Muslim cultures.

Sabrine Sbei, an Instagrammer, stylist and model and owner of ecommerce line Spity Shop told Salaam Gateway modest fashion trends incorporate both loose and tight outfits. For more modest consumers, a tight dress will be worn with an upper robe, such as an abaya, but for more secular women, these dresses could be worn alone.

As for colours, trending hues for modest and regular clothing are the same.

“Fashion focuses on bright colours, such as pistachio, bright orange, bright pink and similar funky colours,” said Sbei.

 

Modest fashion influencers are promoting soft, cool fabrics like silk and linen this summer (Sarah Bradshaw).

 

Arabic calligraphy

Tunisian fashion manufacturers can make variants of the same style to suit consumers’ modesty.

“The same clothing style is made for both women with and without hijab; the only difference is the length of the outfit, and what it covers,” she added.

When it comes to fabric, she said trendy fabrics like crumpled crepe fabric that achieve the perfect shape for loose trousers are common. The increase in local digital textile printing and its ability to deliver elaborate designs was also having an impact.

“Arabic writing is trendy on modest clothing this year, along with flowery vests and robes that are elegant and beautiful,” said Sbei.

Ultimately, in Tunisia, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, modest fashion is about wearing long clothes, made to cover the whole body, except for the hands and face.

Sbei said: “I love modest religious outfits myself, but it depends on everyone’s tastes and beliefs. There are Muslim women who would prefer a turban; others who cover their chest with an extra layer of their hijab and others just throw the hijab extra layer on their shoulders. It remains a personal choice based on how they apply their religious beliefs.”

 

Tunisian influencer and retailer Sabrine Sbei wearing her own ‘Spity’ modest design (Sabrine Sbei).

 

The Nigerian khimar

If more evidence was needed to reflect modest dressing is becoming a matter of style, consider Nigeria where the khimar, the long hijab-style robe that can be worn from head-to-toe, is becoming a symbol of trending modesty fashion.

“For Muslims it’s a good sign of faith, but it’s becoming more fashionable and people are really interested in wearing it, making it and selling it,” Amuda Faridah, a Lagos-based retailer of modesty fashion wears, told Salaam Gateway.

Faridah, a Muslim with an online store on Instagram, said social media has been instrumental in making the khimar popular across Nigeria.

“It’s becoming more stylish because it’s coming out in different colours with modesty fashion influencers portraying different styles on social media.”

For less formal modesty wear, two-piece outfits are also popular.

 

Nigerian Muslim modest fashion has real flair (Amuda Faridah).

 

“It’s either a shirt and a palazzo (trousers) or a shirt and skirt, but it’s a two piece. Most times it can be same the fabric with the same or different colours … it can be plain or patterned,” Faridah noted.

She added that Nigerian Muslim women sometimes paired these two piece outfits with a kimono for a three-piece look. These combination outfits are popular with Nigerian designers who often sell them online as ready-to-wear packages.

However, Faridah said dresses and abayas bought in Nigeria were often imported from the UAE, Malaysia and Turkey. The one currently trending was embroidery abayas with theses dresses fitting into what modesty fashion means for Faridah and countless other Muslim Nigerian women.

“They cover 80% of your body. Your arms are covered, your sleeves are covered and the pants are long. That’s what I understand as modesty. For instance, abayas are fashionable. They carry embroidery, are colourful and make modesty look fashionable,” she said.

When it comes to how these clothes fit, Faridah said consumers should have a choice. However, modesty wear should not tight fitting.

Not all modesty consumers would agree, rather stressing the need for skin coverage – and it is this diversity of views that is feeding energy and choice into the global Muslim fashion world.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
The architectural evolution of mosques

The whole earth is a mosque, but the physical mosque itself has played an important spiritual and educational role throughout Islamic history.

 

Beirut: With every step you walk you purify yourself of earthly sins. With every breath you take you purify your soul. You are walking towards the “house of Allah”, the mosque. In the mosque your body and sole are unified to be between the hands of God.

Mosques give the feeling of being safe and secure. Worshiping God in the mosque opens the multi-dimensions of the world so in it you worship God and the wonders of the world.

Ahmad Hajj, a Lebanese interior designer, sees mosques as “the best schools for education. They teach Muslims brotherhood and equality, so they gather in one place and stand in one row and pray behind the imam. Mosques teach people to live in solidarity”.

Reading the history of Islamic civilisation will tell you that most of the great Islamic scientists had their places in mosques to teach people not only the science of religion (theology), but also the natural sciences and all other branches of science. Today mosques have added another dimension to their functions, the dimension of being touristic sites.

History of mosques

The Prophet Mohammad said “the earth is a mosque for you, so pray wherever you happen to be when prayer time comes”. This great saying makes the whole earth one large mosque (or masjid), but building a special place to practice the worshiping of God, to socialise with others and produce science makes the mosque a microcosm of the world.

With the spread of Islam all over the world mosques spread too. It is not possible to cover the history of mosques and their present role in one or even three articles. To cover it we are in need of countless volumes of books because every mosque has its own history and present day reality. Even the modern iconic mosques in the world have their own contemporary history. So the selection of mosques in this article is taken randomly just to give an insight about the greatness of the mosques and their role in all fields of life.

For example, the most three important symbolic mosques for Muslims are Al Medina mosque, and the Grand Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and Al Aqsa mosque in Al Quds (Jerusalem), Occupied Palestine. Every one of them has its own spiritual symbolic meaning. It is said every Muslim that visits Al Medina mosque will win the Prophet’s intercession on the Day of Judgment, a visit to the Grand Mosque of Mecca is a visit to the earthly representation of God’s throne in heaven, and Al-Aqsa mosque represents the site of the Prophet’s famous Night Journey.

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi

The Prophet built the first mosque in the courtyard of his house in Medina in 622 BCE. It was the first materialistic sign of establishing Islam and Muslims as a community.

Adding to this is that when the Prophet made his hijra from Mecca to Medina in 622 BCE, he stayed at Quba from Monday to Thursday. He prayed at the site of the mosque of Quba which thus takes the honor of being the first site at which the Prophet prayed after his hijra from Mecca.

At that time Al Medina mosque served as a place of public worship, a seat of government, a place for education and a refuge for any destitute emigre.

Design

Islam has made a unique contribution to architecture and the architectural arts: calligraphy, geometry and garden designs. In its early days, like any other civilisation before it, it borrowed features from buildings associated with local religious and cultures before establishing its own specific architectural identity.

The Prophet’s mosque at Medina was originally a simple orthogonal walled space with an open courtyard having two or three doors and a shaded prayer enclosure (mousalla) with one end facing Mecca. The mousalla was supported by columns, which were spaced at regular intervals to hold up the roof structure. Now it is one of the biggest mosques in the world.

At the beginning, through the Ummayad period, the architecture of the mosque was based on the Prophet’s mosque, in Medina, but with time reforms took place. Throughout history certain elements of mosques were developed such as the minarat, the mihrab, the courtyard, al mousalla, all now became common to the aesthetic vocabulary of the mosque.

Only one aspect has remained constant which is the sign to show al qibla direction (towards Mecca) symbolised by a prayer mihrab.

The most famous mosques of the Ummayad period unfortunately do not exist anymore, with one built in Basra, Iraq in 670 BCE, and one at Kufa. They were rebuilt by Ziad Ibn Abihi. It is said that at that time the mosque of Kufa which was was the greatest mosque in the world. In 673 BCE the Ummayad governor of Egypt, Maslama, enlarged the mosque of Amr at Fustat and added to its design minarets. That was the first appearance of minarets in mosques.

The Great Mosque of Damascus, according to al-Fakih, cost seven years of khiraj (tax) to build, taking place under Caliph Al Walid, who also enlarged the mosque of Al Medina in 707 – 709 BCE.


The minaret of the Ummayad mosque in Damascus, Syria (Paul Cochrane).


During the Abassid period under Al Masour the circular city of Baghdad, with its palace and Great Mosque at the center, was built and was symbolic of the idea of world domination. Next to Al Mansour’s Qasr Al Dahab, crowned by a green dome, stood the Great Mosque. Unfortunately, nothing has survived of this architectural jewel. The mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo and the great Mosque of Qairawan represent the two most prestigious monuments of the 9th century.

Taking into consideration the development of sciences at every period, as long as we talk about buildings, it is related directly to geometry. Because “any architectural design is inherently an exercise in geometry,” according to Martin Frishman, author of ‘The Mosque: History, Architectural Development & Regional Diversity’. That is why we can notice some radical changes in the design of mosques from the Umayyad to the Abassid period, and from the Ottoman period to the present.

From an architectural perspective mosques have fixed structural elements whatever the size or place or time of building the mosque. These fixed structural elements are:

  1. A demarcated space – partly roofed and partly open to the sky – to provide accommodation: Haram is the covered area; sahn is the opened one, and the pray hall is usually rectangular or square in plan.

  2. The qibla wall and the mihrab: The prayer hall must have one wall facing Mecca. At the mid-point of this wall, known as the qibla wall, is placed the mihrab which is the central and most decorated spot of any mosque.

  3. The minbar (pulpit) is always positioned to the right of the mihrab and consists of a staircase of varying height, with or without handrails leading to a small platform which is often crowned by a cupola-type of roof, usually in some attractive shape.

  4. The dikka: a wooden platform or tribune of single-story height and positioned in line with the mihrab. The dekka can be reached by its own stairs.

  5. The kursi: this is usually a well decorated wooden piece on which the Qu’ran is placed and kusri usually placed next to the dikka.

  6. The maqsura: the place set apart to safeguard the life of imam.

  7. The pool: this element may be with or without a fountain and may be intended for ablutions, or may be purely decorative.

  8. The minaret: the original purpose of this tower-like element, apart from serving as a local landmark, was to ensure that the muezzin could be heard far and wide.

  9. The portal: the mosque is nearly surrounded by walls.

These are the main elements of the mosque but also there is a major part which exists in every mosque, the decoration that goes with the functions of the mosque and its spiritual role. Here comes in Arabic calligraphy as a main element for decorative purposes and religious ones too.

According to Ahmad Hajj, “Arabic calligraphy has its importance because it expresses the Arabic and Islamic identity. It is used in decorating mosques, museums, tombs, shrines, and archaeological sites. We also see that each style of calligraphy has its own character, features and identity, and this is what the designer chooses in the decoration or internal and external adornment of the mosque to reflect the identity of the architectural and aesthetic design.”

From the earliest times the written word was used as the major and sometimes the sole type of mosque ornamentation. In general, Qur’anic texts are selected for inscriptions in mosques but quotations from the hadith can also be found in some mosques.

The treatment of writing as decoration have varied from as simple as possible to extraordinarily complex. The simplicity can be seen in the great mosque at Sousse, Tunisia (850 BCE) which has a single unornamented band of Qu’ran in kufic script. The high level of calligraphy as ornament can be seen on the interior walls of the Ulu Cami in Bursa, Turkey (completed in 1400 BCE).

 

Read - Music through the tunnel of time

Islamic art museums: opportunities to tour the past, understand the present and build the future

Arabic Calligraphy: Art of a nation and its historical development

 

Functions of the mosque

With the spread of Islam two types of mosques appeared, in the early period, big city mosques and small ones. The mosques in the cities were usually one of two types. Large state buildings were used for Friday prayers and assemblies. Caliphs and their appointed governors often established their residences close to these mosques, while the small ones were built in neighbourhoods.

Mosques serve a variety of functions. In addition to praying, they hold great social, political and educational importance. Mosques are places for spiritual and public affairs. Some are built to satisfy both functions, the spiritual and the public, like Suleymaniye Kulliye of Istanbul, built in the 1500s, which consists of a congregational mosque, two schools, a hospital, a public bath, a public kitchen, fountains, housing, and shops, while others are built just for worshiping.

 

 

The mosque of Saladin at the Cairo Citadel, Egypt (Paul Cochrane).

 

Education

From the early days of the mosques, they have functioned as a centre of religious and non-religious education. At an early age, children learned to memorise passages from the Qur’an and Hadith. There was also higher educational learning, according to Hajj: “Senior scholars and leaders who carried the banner of Islam graduated from mosques. Also there were seminars and lessons in mosques in all Islamic countries. Scholars chose a place in the mosque and taught lessons, and the history of the mosques of Baghdad, Cairo, Basra, Cordoba, Damascus and Mosul”.

Mosques represent an educational place which attracted students from a wide range of economic backgrounds. Also their education provided an opportunity for upward mobility, and sometimes they provided a way for students to achieve high governmental positions.

In cities it was common to have a university-mosque complex. For example, Al Azhar in Cairo, established in 971 BCE, is widely acknowledged as the world’s oldest university, and still serves as an educational institution. Another example, in West Africa, is the Sankore University mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, which was built in 989 BCE on the orders of the city’s judge Qadi Aqib.

Today in America and Europe most mosques have part-time or full-time schools to provide an Islamic education.

Between 1850 and 1950, mosque education underwent radical changes. The Arab countries started to emerge and gain their independence, and started to build schools and universities in their modern meaning. As a result, mosque education started to vanish.

 

The Qatar Foundation mosque in Doha, Qatar (Shutterstock).

 

Touristic sites

With the advent of modern travel, moving from one place to another became relatively easy regardless of the distance. That pushed the tourism sector to improve and be a main part of the country’s economy. Also religious tourism became increasingly important.

With these developments mosques have opened a new dimension to their existence, as an economic contributor. For example, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul represents a major touristic site in Turkey. Hajj sees the Education City Mosque in Qatar as “an architectural masterpiece. The design idea is based on the concept of science and enlightenment, and through the architect’s idea the use of blocks in the form of two interconnected strips, at the end of them are two minarets that rise to the sky in the direction of the qiblah at a height of 90 metres, and the heart of the building was decorated with Arabic calligraphy.”

The other mosque which represent an attractive religious and touristic site, according to Hajj, is the “Great Mosque of Algiers, the largest mosque in Africa.”

“It was opened in 2020 at a cost of $1.5 billion, and it can accommodate about 120,000 people. The height of the minaret is 267 metres, the dome is 70 meters high and 50 metres in diameter with decorations inside from Islamic architecture. The style of the mosque is architecturally Andalusian Islamic with a mixture of modern architecture. It includes 12 separate buildings, and the interior of the mosque is decorated with the Andalusian character.”

With Saudi Arabia opening its doors to tourism, it is promoting some of the most spiritual mosques in the world, for Muslims, and the most historical.

The Prince Mohammed bin Salman Project for the Development of Historical Mosques was announced in 2018 and has been tasked with preserving and restoring 130 mosques situated throughout the kingdom. The first phase restored 30 mosques in 10 regions.

The oldest mosque dates to 1432 BCE. It was restored during the first phase at a cost of more than 50 million Saudi Riyal ($13.3 million). The second phase of the historic mosques development project includes 30 historical mosques distributed across the 13 regions of the kingdom.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Halal Industry
Africa’s battle to stay cool to reduce post-harvest losses and increase food security

In Africa, over 20% of the population faced hunger in 2021, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, post-harvest food losses are estimated at $4 billion annually, enough to feed at least 48 million people, according to the UN Environment Programme.

 

Addressing the 2.1 billion tonnes of global food loss and waste is a planetary problem but one that requires local solutions. In Africa, one of the key measures to reduce post-harvest food losses is the expansion of sustainable cold chains, suggests the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Cold chains are climate-controlled infrastructures helping to preserve edible products by maintaining a consistent ambient temperature.

“With Africa’s economy, driven by population growth, urbanisation and food security is expected to grow tenfold to $29 trillion by 2050; this presents a challenge and an opportunity” in accelerating the uptake of sustainable cold chain solutions in the agricultural sector, said Ziad Al Bawaliz to Salaam Gateway. Cold chains are climate-controlled infrastructures that help preserve edible products by maintaining a consistent ambient temperature.

Al Bawaliz is Danfoss’s regional president for Turkey, the Middle East and Africa. With over 40,000 employees worldwide, the Danish multinational company engineers energy-efficient technologies and delivers cold chain solutions through commercial and industrial refrigeration.

Danfoss is a founding industry partner at the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold-Chain (ACES), located at the University of Rwanda. Through its office on the ACES campus, Danfoss supports students and technicians in their training needs.

“Refrigeration has been around for more than 100 years, and it’s an evolving industry,” Al Bawaliz said. “We can leapfrog the challenges developed nations face with CFCs and HCFCs.”

Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants are ozone-depleting. The use of these chemicals has been banned and is currently being phased out, following the Montreal Protocol of 1987.

ACES is a UNEP-led initiative established in 2020 by the governments of Rwanda and the United Kingdom. Its mission is to develop and accelerate the uptake of sustainable cold chain solutions in Africa's agriculture and health sectors.

“Besides dealing with a large number of small farmers, a lack of policies, investments, awareness and technical capabilities are the main challenges,” said Al Bawaliz about the difficulties of expanding refrigeration networks to prevent post-harvest losses.

According to Al Bawaliz, most small farmers cannot afford a cold chain infrastructure. What makes matters worse is that according to the World Investment Report 2022, foreign direct investments (FDI) in various sectors relevant to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in food, agriculture, health and education, continued to fall in 2021. However, flows to Africa increased from $39 billion in 2020 to $83 billion in 2021.

“We need to have the right financial models to ensure the development of cold chain; the return on investment is viable,” he said, suggesting service-based models to avoid the upfront investment.

“The banks need to be part of the picture,” Al Bawaliz added.

 

Ziad Al Bawaliz (Regional President at Danfoss Turkey, Middle East & Africa), Andrea Voigt (Head of Public Affairs at Danfoss Climate Solutions), and students from Danfoss’ internship project Eyes and Ears in Africa: Yves Nezerwa, Parfait Niyonshuti and Natasha Mutangana (Courtesy: Danfoss).

 

The World Resource Institute also names insufficient energy access to power cold storage and poor road and railway networks as an issue to be tackled, in addition to Africa’s low adoption rates for innovations in managing post-harvest losses.

To shift these low adoption rates, the Nigerian entrepreneur and founder of the Smallholders Foundation, which informs on sustainable farming through a radio station, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, travelled across the country to speak to farmers to co-design such innovations and help scale up businesses.

The result is a ColdHub, a “plug and play” modular, solar-powered walk-in cold room for 24/7 off-grid storage and preservation of perishable foods.

“When you travel along Nigerian roads, it’s a typical picture of citrus and other high-quality fresh produce dumped on the roadside due to lack of storage,” Ikegwuonu said at an event organised by The Oxford Martin School, a research and policy unit based in the Social Sciences Division of the University of Oxford.

“I discovered that more than 45% of food is lost due to lack of cold storage at key points along the food supply chain,” Ikegwuonu added.

According to him, with just 10,000 metre cubed, Nigeria has one of the lowest cold storage capacities in Africa, mainly catering to the needs of the health sector and fish imports from Europe and Asia. Refrigeration, which he describes as critical infrastructure, doesn't exist in Nigeria's food aggregation centres.

 

 

“The power grids can’t deliver energy reliably, and the average farmers and wholesalers can’t afford most of the refrigeration equipment needed to provide large-scale cooling,” he said, confirming the challenges mentioned by the World Resources Institute and Danfoss’s Al Bawaliz.

Ikegwuonu founded ColdHubs in 2015, and besides designing and building 100% solar-powered cold rooms, the company also operates and maintains them.

Over 5,000 farmers, retailers and wholesalers are using Coldhub’s services, nearly doubling their income from about $60 per month to $100 to $120 by selling the food that usually was thrown away.

“The goal is to extend the shelf life of food from two days to more than 21 days by bringing refrigeration closer to farmers at farm gates, where they need it the most,” Ikegwuonu said about the 54 cold rooms the company is running at the moment.

For 2022, Ikegwuonu projects to grow to 100 such rooms.

“Moreover, we've saved more than 1 million kilogrammes of CO2 by using renewable energy exclusively in all our systems, with no need for diesel generators at all,” he said.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Finance
UK’s Al Rayan closes last retail banking branch

The UK’s largest and oldest fully-fledged Islamic bank recently closed its last retail banking branch and now maintains a single branch only for high and ultra-high net worth customers.

 

London: Al Rayan closed its Edgware Road branch in the capital on 3 August. The branch’s shuttering follows a gradual closure of other retail bank branches over the past few years. The bank closed its London Whitechapel and Birmingham Small Heath branches in 2021. This came after it closed its Manchester and Leicester branches in September 2020.

An Al Rayan Bank spokesperson told Salaam Gateway that existing customers can continue to bank with Al Rayan Bank through their Digital Banking App and Telephone Banking service. Personal and business customers can also continue to deposit cash and cheques at nearby Lloyds Bank branch counters.

“Like many banks in the UK, Al Rayan Bank is finding that more and more customers are choosing to access their banking services digitally, rather than through a branch,” said the spokesperson. “As demand for branch services and customer footfall reduces, some commercial decisions have to be made.”

Al Rayan now only maintains its Knightsbridge branch which is only open to “premier” banking customers. Premier banking is for those who require home finance of £500,000 ($589,000) or more, are GCC clients or ultra-high net worth individuals. 

Mohammed Amin, an Islamic finance consultant and former tax partner at PwC in the UK, said that the closure of Al Rayan’s Edgware Road branch, while keeping a Knightsbridge branch for premier customers, is not surprising.

“I have long considered branches to be a way for retail banks to waste money,” he said. “That is why the major UK conventional banks have been reducing their branch footprint for many years. When Islamic Bank of Britain (as it then was) embarked on its branch strategy, I always felt that was a bad strategy and that they would be better off being internet only.”

Zahir Nayani, partner at Bristol-based law firm Foot Anstey, added that Al Rayan's shift to reduce its branch footprint has been driven principally by the increasing digitisation of retail banking and decrease in high street footfall.  

“Arguably, bolstering their online offering is a useful long-term play given increasing competition from values-based fintech offerings such as Algbra and Nester,” he said. 

New incoming charges

In addition to branch closures, Al Rayan is also set to introduce fees for its current accounts from January 2023, according to customers who spoke to Salaam Gateway.

One Al Rayan customer expressed dismay over the incoming fees in addition to branch closures.

“The current account fee is a ruse to encourage retail customers to walk away,” he said. “Branch closures have been framed under the pretext that digital banking is the future but they still require manual processes to do important tasks. It is just another reason for retail customers to get frustrated and switch to a conventional high street bank.”

In response, the Al Rayan spokesperson said they regularly review their products and strive to offer customers a range of services that meet their needs.

“In our recent review we found that most of our current account customers do not use Al Rayan Bank as their primary current account. When a current account is not used regularly, it can become inactive which could pose a greater security risk for customers,” said the spokesperson. 

“For our customers that wish to use their current account and subsequently maintain a set balance in their current account, the charges will not apply, thus allowing us to offer our services to our target market who actually use the product,” the spokesperson added.

Commitment to UK sector

There are five Islamic banks in the UK, although each are serving different areas of the market like retail, corporate, private and real estate financing.

Established in 2004, then as Islamic Bank of Britain, Al Rayan provides Sharia-compliant savings, finance and current account services to over 90,000 personal, business and premier customers.

In 2014, Al Rayan became the UK subsidiary of Masraf Al Rayan (MAR), a Qatar-based Islamic bank. Last year, MAR merged with Al Khaliji Commercial Bank, which created one of the largest Sharia-compliant banks in the region with over QAR182 billion ($50 billion) in total assets. As part of the merger, Al Rayan Bank said it would leverage the opportunities from the MAR merger and focus on commercial property and premier banking, according to the bank’s 2021 annual report.

However, branch closures and a pivot towards high-net worth customers has led to some stakeholders suggesting that Al Rayan is slowly withdrawing from the retail market. 

Ibrahim Khan, co-founder and CEO of IFG, a UK-based Islamic finance platform, believes that Al Rayan’s gradual exit from branch banking is part of a steady withdrawal of the bank from serving UK Sharia-sensitive retail customers and focusing more on commercial and corporate lending activity as well as serving more high-net worth clients from overseas. 

“For Muslims in the UK this is an unfortunate development as it reduces the sources for Islamic home finance - Al Rayan was the biggest player for many years,” he said. “There is still hope with multiple well-funded new entrants to the market in recent years such as Strideup, Wayhome and others, however it'll be a while before we get the number of Islamic mortgages issued every year back to the heyday of when Al Rayan was at its peak.”

The Al Rayan spokesperson reiterated the bank’s commitment to the retail banking market.

“Earlier this year, Al Rayan Bank announced that it would continue its transition to become a financial institution which is focused on premier banking and property, mainly residential investments, to deliver a viable, resilient, Sharia-compliant business,” said the Al Rayan spokesperson. “As part of our commitment, we continue to offer the very competitive loyalty rates for all of our retail, assets and liabilities customers.”

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Indian Kashmir sees record influx of tourists

Northern state surpasses tourist arrival records despite unrest and spurt in militancy in the valley.

 

India's only Muslim majority state Jammu and Kashmir this year surpassed the 10-year tourist arrival record, signaling that the tourism industry was finally on the way to recover.

There is no space in hotels, houseboats and lodges. People are seen queuing for rides on houseboats on the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar.

“All 60,000 rooms of the hotels in Kashmir are booked. The favourite tourist destinations are Srinagar, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Sonmarg. Most of the hotels in the valley are fully booked. There will be a rush of tourists till October,” said Farooq Quthoo, president of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), told Salaam Gateway.

Many other stakeholders believe the inflow of tourists will continue and events like snow carnivals, Christmas and New Year will draw more visitors to the valley.

“The J&K administration is paying special attention to the tourism sector, and the region is witnessing significant growth in terms of increasing number of tourists and creation of tourism-related infrastructure”, said Anwar Hasan, who runs a restaurant in Kashmir.

Dr. Ahsan Chisti, Deputy Director of Tourism Kashmir, told Salaam Gateway that they took some measures which helped the tourism industry to bounce back in the state.

“First of all we did capacity building and tried to find what should be the post COVID-19 response. Along with this, those working in this field were vaccinated against COVID so that the people could be sure that where they were going was safe.”

"Along with this, we conducted aggressive marketing campaigns all over the country after COVID restrictions were relaxed and we studied some patterns about the tourist preferences. Then we came to know that tourists like adventure tourism. Tourism authorities in the state also identified some 75 additional destinations which were over and above the present destinations," said Chisti.

These were some of the measures which helped the tourists to flock to this state, he added.

Data from the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Tourism Department and the Union Ministry of Tourism revealed that the number of tourists between January and 15 May this year soared to 700,000, a fivefold increase compared to 125,000 people visiting the valley during the corresponding period in 2021.

According to the Union Ministry of Tourism, around 142,000 tourists visited Kashmir during February 2022 alone, bringing the hotel industry back to life after it remained shut in the wake of abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The tourism industry of Kashmir suffered a lot due to the pandemic.

The withdrawal of Article 370 that granted special status to the J&K led to unrest in the valley and curfew-like restrictions remained in place for months. But Kashmir's tourism industry has recovered and the picturesque valley has been teeming with tourists.

According to the state tourism department, the tourist footfall for 2020 was a meager 41,000, but the number of visitors increased to 660,000 in 2021. There has been a record increase in the number of tourists this year.

Notably, on 4 April this year, the Srinagar International Airport recorded its busiest day in its history, with 15,014 people traveling in and out of Kashmir via 90 flights.

Tourist Village Network Scheme

To promote adventure tourism in the valley, J&K Governor Manoj Sinha launched the Jammu and Kashmir Tourist Village Network Scheme under Mission Youth. The initiative aims to convert 75 villages of the valley, known for their historical and cultural significance and picturesque charm, into tourist villages. The tourism department has taken new initiatives to draw more and more tourists.

Highlighting the objectives behind the initiative, Sinha in a statement had said that the government of J&K appreciates the distinctiveness of each village and wants to showcase their natural beauty, indigenous knowledge system, cultural diversity and heritage, local values and traditions. He said the administration would also provide financial incentives and ensure a digital platform to the villages.

The government and the administration say that the credit for the record number of tourist arrivals goes to the collective efforts of all the stakeholders related to tourism. The government is trying to restore the old glory of the valley's famous Dal Lake.

Sinha has recently said that the beauty of the 60,000 square metre area in the western region of the lake will initially be restored. Thousands of shikaras (a type of wooden houseboats) on Dal Lake are ready to take tourists on a dreamy ride. The government is ensuring that the cleaning of the lake takes place on a fast-track basis. The Dal Lake is central to the landscape of Srinagar and many places of touristic interest are situated close to it.

Foreign tourists have also started arriving in the valley. According to the J&K tourism department, the state government is also focusing on bringing unexplored religious places of Jammu on the religious tourist map to lure more visitors.

Srinagar-Sharjah flight

For the first time, India's Ministry of Civil Aviation approved five flights per week between Srinagar and Sharjah, UAE.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated the Go First Airline's flight between Srinagar and Sharjah last October, connecting Jammu and Kashmir with the UAE.

Many tourists who visited Kashmir last month said that they were charmed by the beauty of the valley and overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people.

Rashmi Saxena, who belongs to the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, was in Kashmir last month along with her husband and two teenage daughters.

“I had heard a lot about the terrorism in the valley but I and my family did not feel insecure upon reaching here. The people of the valley are very honest, helpful and straightforward. My husband and daughters were delighted upon reaching here and they are enjoying it a lot,” she told Salaam Gateway.

Tourists from different parts of the country expressed similar views. A record 375,000 tourists visited Kashmir in May this year despite a spurt in terrorist activities and the target killing of seven civilians by terrorists in May.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Halal Industry
UAE dates exports jump fivefold in last decade as government continues to support farmers

The UAE exported $235 million worth of dates in 2020, with the fruit accounting for around 60% of the country’s agricultural produce.

 

Sharjah: Date production is booming in the UAE as government initiatives start to trickle down into profits for farmers.

The Al Dhaid Date Festival that took place in the UAE’s emirate of Sharjah in late July is the latest example of the support the government is giving to the food sector. The annual event brought together thousands of farmers, manufacturers, and distributors of agricultural equipment to facilitate deals and exchange of expertise.

“The government does not take fees from us whether for participation in public markets or in festivals,” Ibrahim Shakkah, a Sharjah-based date farmer who participated in the festival, told Salaam Gateway. “Some exhibitions charge us, but they are nominal fees, and this greatly supports us and allows us to showcase our products and compete in the market,” he said.

Shakkah supplies the local market but is working towards becoming a regional supplier. “This is my third time participating in the festival and it has helped me gain many customers; I now sell around 600 kilogrammes of dates per month,” he said.

 

Ibrahim Shakkah, a Sharjah-based date farmer (Heba Hashem).

 

More than 30,000 people visited the sixth edition of Al Dhaid Date Festival, which coincided with the UAE’s date harvesting season that peaks in August and September. The event included competitions for date farmers and awarded cash prizes totalling $272,000 to 145 winners. Some of the most sought after dates among the nearly 160 varieties grown in the country were on display and sold.

Abu Ahmed, a Sharjah-based date palm farmer who was participating for the first time, presented varieties such as the khalas, sukkari, khenaizi, fard, marzipan, sobo al-aroos, al-ambra, nagal, and gash rabie. “Everything was sold out because of its high quality. I sold more than five [metric] tonnes of dates last year and it was mostly through local marketing,” he said.

Commercialising the industry

As much as two-thirds of the UAE’s agricultural land is dedicated to cultivating date palms, and the fruit makes up around 60% of the country’s agricultural produce, according to the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. In 2019, the UAE produced 341,246 metric tonnes of dates from an estimated 40 million date palm trees across the country, data from the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre showed. However, most of the date farms in the UAE are small family-run entities that were started about four decades ago as part of a social welfare programme designed to settle the Bedouin. Because of this, many of the date groves in the country are hobby farms and many farmers still grow dates in their backyards.

The government has already taken huge steps to commercialise date cultivation and help farmers increase their productivity and profitability. While Sharjah organises the Al Dhaid Date Festival and the three-month-long dates festival in Souq Al Jubail market, Abu Dhabi has been organising the Liwa Dates Festival for 18 years. The event recently concluded its latest edition, where prizes worth almost $2.2 million were given out to hundreds of winning farmers.

Abu Dhabi also organises the annual Khalifa International Award for Date Palm and Agricultural Innovation as well as the International Date Palm Conference and Abu Dhabi Date Palm Exhibition. This month, yet another annual event – the Liwa Ajman Dates and Honey Festival – will take place on the western coast of the country.

 

Al Dhaid Date Festival coincided with the UAE’s date harvesting season (Heba Hashem).

 

Exports on the rise

However, the most transformational move for date farmers was the establishment of Al Foah in 2005 by the Abu Dhabi government. Now the world's largest dates processing company, it buys products from local independent farmers and markets them domestically and abroad. The company – recently merged into the government-backed food giant Agthia – processes 110,000 metric tonnes of dates every year and exports 90% of this amount.

Last month, Al Foah launched an online marketplace called eZad that will enable farmers to sell off excess produce at home and abroad, helping them deal with their unsold produce and ensuring they get paid quickly. More than 1,200 buyers have signed up on the electronic platform, while over 450 local farmers have registered their interest.

As a result of these efforts, the value of the UAE’s dates exports has multiplied almost fivefold over the last decade, reaching $235 million in 2020 from $48.1 million in 2010, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), which collates international trade data. The UAE now accounts for 12.3% of global dates exports, making the country the third-largest exporter of dates after Tunisia (15.5%) and Saudi Arabia (13.2%). India – the largest importer of dates in the world – was the top importer from the UAE, receiving 33.2% of the country’s dates in 2020, followed by Bangladesh (16.5%) and Morocco (13.7%), OEC data showed.

Agricultural constraints

While date farming in the UAE is a long-standing tradition that locals are proud of, the industry is gaining more importance given the role it plays in the pursuit of food security. As such, there is a growing focus on educating farmers on sustainable techniques that can improve the quality of their crops. At the same time, the UAE government continues to support local farmers, providing subsidies such as agricultural materials at half the price. But several constraints remain.

“One of the biggest challenges faced by farmers in the UAE are the high costs that they incur due to water resources being available in different amounts across the country,” Saeed Dalmouk Alkatbi, a member of the organizing committee at Al Dhaid Date Festival, told Salaam Gateway. “This is besides the problem of agricultural pests and the high cost of pesticides. These issues lead to a discrepancy in the quality and prices of dates from one region to the other within the UAE,” he said.

The government announced this year that it would address this problem by investing AED2.5 billion (almost $681,000) to extend additional water networks to agricultural farms for easy distribution of treated water.

 

Abu Ahmed, a Sharjah-based date farmer (Heba Hashem).

 

“We inherited palm cultivation from our fathers and grandfathers, and we learned many things from them about how to take care of the date palm,” said Abu Ahmed. “At first, we were using primitive methods for drying and storing dates, then we started adopting modern methods. We now use organic fertilisers to fertilise the palm and we try to combat pests from an early stage."

Alkatbi noted that the Al Dhaid Date Festival introduced farmers to several growing techniques that can increase crop yields, most importantly multiplication of seeds, vegetative propagation, and the use of tissue culture technique. The event also showed date farmers how to monitor the date palm periodically to avoid pests such as the red palm weevil. The highly destructive insect is so prevalent that the UAE is investing $1 million to develop genetic methods to control it.

“It’s no secret that there are big challenges in this field, as there are diseases which can strike the palms and negatively affect their production. We manage these problems through pesticides or primary prevention of infection,” said Shakkah. “At the end of the day, the date palm tree is like a child; when you care for it and nurture it, it will give you good yields."

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Halal Industry
UAE’s Pure Harvest considers a number of debt structures to expand to Asia

Pure Harvest Smart Farms’ breakthrough farming system has attracted a diverse mix of investors.

 

Dubai: Abu Dhabi-based Pure Harvest Smart Farms plans to raise funding through a new sukuk (Islamic bond) or conventional bond to support its food-security driven expansion plans, Tariq Sanad, the company’s chief financial officer, told Salaam Gateway.

The agritech firm’s breakthrough farming system that can produce year-round crops in the desert has attracted a diverse mix of investors since its inception in 2016.

“Our strategy is to grow 365 days a year because that is sustainable and serves the food security mandate. During the pandemic and the recent Ukraine-Russia conflict, we have seen that the food system is quite unstable and fragile,” said Sanad.

“These two events highlighted the importance of food security especially in the regions where we operate, which have harsh climates and a dependency on food imports,” he said.

Pure Harvest’s controlled environment agriculture (CEA) system features semi-automated greenhouses that optimise every aspect of the climate, including temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide.

With this technology, the UAE-based company can grow fruits and vegetables using one-seventh of the water used by traditional greenhouse-based farms.

The system represents a much-needed solution for the growing food security challenges worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as it can boost local production in places with restrictive environments.

“We’ve utilised everything we’ve learnt from R&D to ensure we can control the environment inside, which represents a Mediterranean climate that’s conducive to producing fruit and vegetables throughout the year,” said Sanad.

“We cannot continue relying on 80% of our food [in the UAE] coming from outside. We’re solving a problem that we’re seeing right now, way ahead of other regions.”

Starting off with tomatoes six years ago, today, Pure Harvest can now grow three subsets of crops. These include vine crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant), and capsicum peppers; all types of leafy greens; and berries.

“With the current pipeline in construction, we’re able to produce about 1,130 tonnes a month with all the facilities we will have in Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia,” said Sanad.

“Our strategy is to provide locally for locals; it’s not about producing to export. However, we’re exporting our expertise in terms of our expansion globally.”

The company secured $180 million from global investors in June this year.

“We started with a small semi-commercial facility, in Nahel, Abu Dhabi, and we did all our R&D on it, then we expanded with our investments and raised a sukuk that was able to fund our growth in the UAE and into Saudi Arabia, where we built another six-hectare facility,” said Sanad.

“We’re replicating this now. We’re looking to go into Kuwait, and we’ve acquired another facility in the UAE which we look forward to retrofitting with our technology. We’re also expanding to southeast Asia.”

The latest funding brought the total amount raised by Pure Harvest to-date to $387.1 million. It follows the $50 million raised through sukuk financing last year, led by Dubai’s SHUAA Capital.

He noted that the success of the sukuk was linked to the company’s food security objectives and environmental, social and governance (ESG) elements as well as its location in the Middle East, which is home to a large Islamic financing base.

However, even conventional investors supported this funding. One of the key investors in the sukuk was American investment firm Franklin Templeton, which said at the time that the investment reflected its ESG and Sharia-compliant mandates.

"We are now looking to raise another source of non-dilutive capital, and a Sukuk would be one source we consider,” said Sanad.

"These are big investments as we have ambitious growth plans that we need to fund. We build glass and steel which from a cost-capital perspective are better to fund with non-dilutive debt, of which a sukuk could be a consideration."

As for southeast Asia, the company is eyeing expansion in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“Even though southeast Asia is very green, it has a subtropical humid climate, so you won’t see the fruits and vegetables you would see everywhere else, and they have a high dependency on imports,” said Sanad.

“Key parts of our inputs [for the greenhouse food production systems] are electricity and carbon dioxide; therefore, being close to power plants has a massive advantage in the cost structure. We’re looking to collaborate with commercial partners to enable that and help us find the right infrastructure.”

Globally, the controlled environment agriculture market is projected to grow from around $74 billion in 2020 to more than $172 billion in 2025, according to US-based KD Market Insights.

In addition to hydroponic greenhouse farming, Pure Harvest is expanding into vertical farming, another form of CEA, through a collaboration with South Korea’s PlanTFarm, whose country is highly urbanised. “We learnt everything from the hardest point. We selected a country [the UAE] which has one of the harshest climates, not only high in temperature but also in humidity, which is a key factor you need to take into consideration as you build these facilities” said Sanad.

“If you’re going to create a solution, it should work in the worst possible scenario. That was the reason we started in the UAE, besides having a lot of support from the government. A big part of it was, if we could solve it here, we could solve it anywhere,” he concluded.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Finance
Newswrap: Islamic finance

Iraq Islamic Bank partners with MSA Novo to launch a fund to invest in tech-focused startups; Iraq’s Al Sanam Islamic Bank signs with ICSFS; Nominations open for 2023 Islamic Development Bank prize for Impactful Achievement in Islamic economics; Bank Negara Malaysia to announced 6th Royal Award for Islamic Finance in October; Book released on Islamic Development Bank Institute's evolution and first president; UAE-based B2B marketplace Produze raises $2.6 million to digitalise agricultural value chain; Egyptian e-commerce platform Sharwa raises $2 million in pre-seed financing.

 

Iraq Islamic Bank partners with MSA Novo to launch a fund to invest in tech-focused startups

As the global drive toward digitisation accelerates in the wake of Covid-19, implementing online solutions is even more critical to meet adapted consumer behaviour and market conditions. Moreover, particularly in emerging technology markets, the integration of paradigm-shifting technologies allows consumers, corporates, and governments to leap rungs on the evolutionary ladder.

Novel technologies allow for virtual infrastructure where the physical lags, allowing the provision of critical services not possible in the offline realm. Nowhere is this demand more critical than Iraq, a market with massive untapped potential, hindered by a historical lack of cohesive offline infrastructure. Iraq boasts a young, technology-savvy, well-educated consumer base with relatively high purchasing power. Yet these individuals struggle against the challenges imposed by outdated or broken infrastructure and fragmented supply chains.

Into this void steps Iraq Islamic Bank (IIB) and MSA Novo (MSA), with YAG Capital as senior advisor for this partnership, according to a press release. Now is time to lay the digital rails and platforms on which all future commerce, financial services, government administration, and healthcare delivery will reside.

Under these conditions, it is paramount to not just invest in startups but directly engage in building companies which merge the technical capabilities and global best practices aggregated by MSA with the local market knowledge and execution capabilities of IIB. This vehicle is historically the first endeavour of this nature established for Iraq and the largest pool of capital ever aggregated for investment into the technology ecosystem in the country. This initiative aims to not only create value for its investors and the shareholders of IIB but will also kickstart the innovation flywheel in the market. By funding, building, and mentoring the next generation of Iraqi business leaders, this endeavour seeks to lay the foundations for the country's long-term economic and social success.

The fund is already among the active investors in Iraq, having co-led the most extensive funding round in Iraqi tech startup history with the super app, Baly. Targeted investment sectors will be core logistics and payments infrastructure layers, consumer technology platforms and enterprise enablers.

Iraq’s Al Sanam Islamic Bank signs with ICSFS

Newly-established Al Sanam Islamic bank has selected ICS BANKS Islamic Banking software solution from ICS Financial Systems (ICSFS), the global software and services provider for banks and financial institutions, according to a press release. The signing ceremony took place at ICSFS’ centre of excellence, Amman, Jordan. Al Sanam Islamic Bank will provide comprehensive, Sharia-compliant financing products and services to the Iraqi market, with a robust focus on digital banking. The bank will be implementing ICS BANKS Islamic Core, Financing Facilities & Risk Groups, Remittances, Murabaha, Mudaraba, Musharaka, Ijara, Istisnaa, Profit Distribution, Al Qard Al Hassan, Time Deposit, Trade Finance, ICS BANKS Digital, and ERP solutions.

Nominations open for 2023 Islamic Development Bank prize for Impactful Achievement in Islamic economics

The Islamic Development Bank Institute (IsDBI) is inviting nominations for its prize for Impactful Achievement in Islamic Economics for the year 1444H (2023). Focusing on the Development Solutions Achievement category, this cycle of the Prize aims to recognize, reward, and encourage creative projects that successfully solve economic and financial challenges in the IsDB member countries, according to a press release.

Individuals and institutions can apply or nominate other individuals and institutions based on a project that has a positive and significant impact on people’s lives and has a substantial impact on economic development based on Islamic principles. The prize comes with a $100,000 award for the first-place winner, $70,000 for second place, and $30,000 for third place. The nominated projects should be initiated within the previous seven years and be replicable elsewhere.

The application or nomination is a two-step process that can be initiated by visiting the IsDB Prize Portal website. The first step is the registration of the nominator/applicant, which is open until 11 December 2022. The second step is for the nominator/applicant to upload the nomination form details and any relevant files before 20 December 2022.

The prize winner and runners-up will be honored at a ceremony during the 2023 IsDB Group Annual Meetings on a date to be announced in due course.

Bank Negara Malaysia to announced 6th Royal Award for Islamic Finance in October

Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) are pleased to announce that the Royal Award for Islamic Finance 2022 will be conferred at a ceremony on 4 October 2022 in Kuala Lumpur, according to a press release.

The Royal Award recognises visionary individuals whose outstanding achievements and innovative ideas contribute significantly to the growth of Islamic finance, the global economy, and  social progress of communities around the world. A global call for nominations was made in December 2021, following which 49 submissions were received for 37 nominees from 14 countries. These nominees include renowned Islamic finance practitioners, Shariah scholars, and academicians.

This year’s winner will be the sixth recipient of the prestigious Royal Award, which was  inaugurated in 2010 as a biennial award1 in support of Malaysia as the global standard of a comprehensive and sophisticated Islamic finance marketplace.

The Royal Award winner is selected by an independent seven-member international jury headed by former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam. The jury comprises eminent Shariah scholars, academicians, and finance practitioners. The assessment process is based on a set of defined selection criteria, encompassing contributions towards driving policy development, developing and growing the Islamic finance market, advocating for Islamic finance, pioneering innovation, expanding the frontiers of knowledge, and exercising exceptional leadership and influence.

In addition to the Royal Award, two new award categories have been introduced this year - the Emerging Leader Prize and Impact Challenge Prize which will be presented in a separate ceremony.

The Emerging Leader Prize recognises young international talent who have made outstanding contributions in advancing innovative ideas in the field of Islamic finance. For this award, the Secretariat has received a total of 18 submissions for 14 nominees from 8 countries. The prize winner is determined by an international panel of Selection Committee, comprising esteemed academicians and industry practitioners.

Meanwhile, the Impact Challenge Prize recognises digital and innovative solutions based on Islamic finance principles or Islamic finance enablers, that seek to improve the economic and social resilience of financially impacted communities globally. This prize is a collaboration with the World Bank Group Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Finance Hub in Malaysia and the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation. The prize winner(s) are evaluated based on four criteria - innovation, impact, commercial viability and scalability.

The organisers have received 50 applications from 14 countries for the Impact Challenge Prize. Those who met the criteria were shortlisted to join an Accelerator Programme. At the end of the Programme, they presented their innovative solutions to a panel of judges, comprising senior representatives from BNM and SC, Islamic Development Bank, World Bank Group and the venture capital industry. The Emerging Leader and Impact Challenge Prizes will be presented at the Global Islamic Finance Forum (GIFF) on 5 October 2022 in Kuala Lumpur.

Book released on Islamic Development Bank Institute's evolution and first president

The Islamic Development Bank Institute (IsDBI) has released a book which reviews the history and exceptional achievements of the IsDB from a nascent idea till the retirement of its first President, Dr. Ahmad Mohammad Ali, in 2016, according to a press release.

The new book is the English language translation of the original book first published in Arabic language in 2020. It deals with the various stages and key milestones the IsDB went through in the context of global and regional changes. It also highlights the first IsDB President’s initiatives, approaches, and ideas that he drew on in his interaction with the realities of countries and communities whose aspirations for growth, progress, and prosperity are depicted in the essence of the Bank’s mission.

The book includes success stories that illustrate valuable lessons as well as testimonies of personalities who dealt with the Bank, believed in its mission, knew Dr. Ahmad Ali well and highly appreciated him. The book was written at the behest of the former IsDB President, Dr. Bandar M.H. Hajjar, in compliance with a decision of the Board of Executive Directors.

Written in a simple yet very structured style, the book will be useful for diverse groups of readers, including researchers, development specialists, those interested in Islamic banking, and analysts of institutional and administrative practices and experiences. The authors are two retired senior IsDB staff members, El Mansour Ben Feten and Dr. Marwan Seifeddine, who worked previously as advisors to the first president and as department directors. They deployed the tireless effort and the diligence required in authoring a work of this nature by ensuring meticulousness and accuracy under the supervision of Dr. Ali and with the support and assistance of a team of IsDB Group officials.

UAE-based B2B marketplace Produze raises $2.6 million to digitalise agricultural value chain

UAE-based Produze, a platform for bringing agricultural producers and international retailers together, raised $2.6 million in seed financing led by Accel (first investors in Facebook, Spotify, Flipkart) with participation from All In Capital, and founder/CEOs of Ninjacart, Sammunati, Fashinza, Drip Capital, CityMall, Stellapps, DhanHQ and other investors, according to a press release.

Produze is a first of its kind platform that enables retailers to procure directly from source country agri producers delivered to their stores, enabling quality guarantee, competitive pricing, complete fulfillment and just-in-time delivery. The startup digitises procurement operations through a wide network of source producers, digitized exporting operations, importing operations and last mile logistics.

“Cross border supply chain for agri produce today is fragmented with several intermediaries and poorly managed processes, which creates inconsistency in quality, inefficient prices and wastage - leading to loss in value for the retailers and distributors.” said Ben Mathew, C0-founder & CEO, Produze. “At Produze, we’re enabling seamless commerce between the retailers and agri producers to return this wasted value back to them.”

Produze will serve multiple agri produce categories in multiple countries in Middle East, North America and Europe, serving a $143 billion market. The platform is now inviting applications for retailers and distributors on produze.com

“The Middle East has been a big strategic focus for Produze; UAE for instance is a dynamic and globalised market relying significantly on imports for food needs of an expanding population, where citizens and residents seek premium and uncompromised food quality at competitive prices. Produze is committed to bringing the benefits of technology and source producers access to enable retailers to get consistent quality, better prices and complete just-in-time fulfillment,” said Ben.

Produze was founded in 2022 by Ben Mathew, Gaurav Agrawal, Rakesh Sasidharan and Emil Soman. Ben and Gaurav were a part of the leadership team at Ninjacart, India’s largest agritech startup, enabling new distribution models, customer growth, profitability and investments. Rakesh and Ben had previously founded a B2C marketplace startup for home cooked food. Emil, who is the CTO, is a YCombinator alum and was the co-founder at Dockup.

Egyptian e-commerce platform Sharwa raises $2 million in pre-seed financing

Egyptian social commerce platform Sharwa has closed a pre-seed funding round for $2 million. The round was co-led by Nuwa Capital and Hambro Perks Oryx Fund and joined by several strategic angel investors, according to a press release. The pre-seed investment will be spent on the continued development of the technology platform and expanding the team.

Inflation has put a strain on households globally, where customers are looking for access to more affordable products. Sharwa aims to help customers do just that, starting with Egypt. Sharwa’s platform allows customers to get the best prices for their daily purchases on household essentials like groceries, appliances and homecare. Customers can club their baskets into a group order and place them through Sharwa using WhatsApp or directly on its app, unlocking wholesale prices from manufacturers for next-day delivery. In order to provide service in remote areas, Sharwa works with local community leaders, who have been Super Users of the service, to collect orders in their area.

Islamic Finance
Indonesia seeks greater role of Islamic finance amid global financial inclusion push

Indonesia, which holds the presidency of the G20 group of major economies this year, wants to use this position to increase the role of Islamic finance worldwide, to boost consumer access to affordable financial products and services.

 

Jakarta: Financial inclusion is one of the goals of the G20, made more important by the COVID-19 pandemic widening inequality for the most financially vulnerable and underserved groups, said Dian Triansyah Djani, Indonesia’s ‘co-sherpa’ (diplomatic coordinator) for the G20.

“There’s no specific Islamic finance agenda at the G20, but Islamic finance plays a significant role in the global economy,” Dian told Salaam Gateway.

“At the G20 we want to move forward the financial inclusion agenda, with a focus on wider access to funding for small and medium enterprises, and this is closely linked to Islamic finance,” he said.

As a result, Indonesia will host the 6th Annual Islamic Finance Conference as a G20 side event in Jakarta on 9 September. Two months later, Bank Indonesia (the country’s central bank), the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (another central bank), and the Saudi Arabia-based Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) are scheduled to hold a seminar on Islamic finance and digitisation on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, in another G20 side event.

A greater role for Islamic finance could be a catalyst for social and economic to achieve the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), Indonesia's finance ministry told Salaam Gateway in a written statement. One of the important ways it can be done is through standardisation of best practices, it said, noting: “As the holder of the G20 presidency this year, Indonesia has an opportunity to promote greater growth in Islamic economics and finance, including the halal industry.”

“The attainment of SDGs is closely related to Sharia-based finance, including sustainable finance and digital financial inclusion. The Indonesian government has implemented several programmes that are in line with SDGs commitments and Sharia economic development, such as the issuance of green retail sukuk and ultra-micro financing for underserved communities such as women and micro-enterprises,” it added.

Such globally coordinated policies as shepherded by the G20 are important, given the turnover of the global Islamic finance industry is projected to reach $3.7 trillion by 2024, said Muhammad Al Jasser, IsDB president.

“We believe that Islamic social funding can stimulate economic activity and promote social welfare, financial inclusion, and shared prosperity by utilizing the traditional instruments such as zakat, sadaqah, waqf and microfinance through modern tools such as blockchain, fintech, and artificial intelligence,” he told the Global Islamic Investment Forum (GIIF), in Jakarta, in March – an event staged within Indonesia’s G20 presidential programme.

Al Jasser said awqaf - assets that are donated, bequeathed, or purchased for being held in perpetual trust for charitable causes - could be an alternative social finance framework, and reaffirmed the bank’s commitment to work with Indonesia's G20 team to bring the effort to fruition.

In 2020, the Islamic banking sector grew 4.3% year on year, reaching more than $2.7 trillion in total assets, according to Qardus, a UK-based Sharia-compliant business financing platform.

Islamic banking accounts for over 6% of the global banking market and comprises 68.2% of the total market of the global Islamic financial services industry, Qardus noted.

Continued growth in these banking services could help expand the halal sector, which according to the State of Global Islamic Economy Report 2022, involved Muslims spending $2 trillion in 2021 across the food, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, fashion, travel and media/recreation sectors.

This is especially the case in Indonesia, the world’s largest domestic halal economy market and home to nearly 230 million Muslims, with domestic spending across halal economy products and services of $184 billion in 2020, according to the Indonesia Halal Markets Report 2021/2022.

According to a 2020 census, only 40.3%, about 80.3 million people, in Indonesia have a bank account, up 50% from 2014. “Islamic finance plays an important role in meeting the financing needs to achieve the sustainable development goals,” said Tomi Soetjipto, a spokesman for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in Jakarta.

“Therefore, in the past few years we have worked together with Islamic institutions to channel funds for SDG projects in Indonesia,” he told Salaam Gateway.

He noted that the Islamic finance sector in Indonesia has been growing between 10-12% annually across instruments such as sharia-compliant banking, asset management, sukuk and takaful.

Non-commercial instruments such as zakat, sadaqah and waqf “have also attracted the interest of the global community,” he added. The Indonesian government wants to ease payments of zakat and sadaqah through the banking system (both Sharia-compliant and conventional), plus mobile payment apps and online marketplaces. And its G20 presidency has also been an opportunity to push for the digitisation of small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs), which will aid the facilitation of these payments. Indonesia has set three priority issues for its G20 presidency on digitisation: connectivity and post-Covid recovery; digital skills and literacy; and cross-border data free flows with trust, said the country's communications and information technology minister Johnny G. Plate at a G20 digital economy working group meeting in March.

Indonesia is also advocating dialogue between countries on the governance of the global digital ecosystem. Dima Djani, CEO of Indonesia-based Alami, a Sharia-compliant peer-to-peer lending platform, said: “SMEs are the driver of the economy and have proven to be resilient in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and it should be the government’s priority to increase access to funding for them.”

Digitisation is a major driver of economic transformation, with financial technology and e-commerce transactions valued at an estimated $24.8 billion in Indonesia last year, said Dima.

Alami has disbursed Indonesia Rupiah IDR2.6 trillion ($179.8 million) in sharia financing to SMEs across the country’s 32 provinces since it began operations in 2019.

“With increased financial inclusion it is important that we also increase the financial literacy of the people, so that they will manage their money more wisely,” she said. It is a sign of optimism that such a grassroots benefit can be yielded from global policy making at the G20.

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Events & Courses

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Oman AgroFood 2022


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