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Helping Indian Muslim women fulfil their dreams

Harvard graduate guides young women to enter the workforce and achieve professional development.

 

Dr. Ruha Shadab is a Harvard graduate in public policy and winner of Harvard’s Women Leadership Award. In 2019 she founded the Led By Foundation with the vision to raise the representation of Indian Muslim women in the workforce.

The foundation was developed at Harvard with seed funding from the Social Innovation and Change Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School but functions in India; a country home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations with 200 million. Half of them are women, but they lack opportunities.

According to Shadab, Indian Muslim women are massively underrepresented in business. Consequently, she is creating opportunities by providing them with real-life skills, a supportive ecosystem and a professional network to showcase their talent globally.

She runs two programmes for Muslim women; the five-month intensive leadership programme Led By Corporate Leaders Fellowship and the year-long Led By Accelerator programme that focuses on professional development.

Salaam Gateway spoke to Shadab about how the foundation is providing guidance and mentorship to young Muslim women.

Salaam Gateway (SG): What is the Led By Foundation and why did you start it?

Ruha Shadab: The Led By Foundation is a leadership incubator for Indian Muslim women to raise their representation in the workforce. These women are practically invisible in the country’s workforce, yet there are 70 million educated Muslim women in India. They face the double disadvantage of being female and Muslim.

To flourish you need mentorship and the foundation is particularly providing that opportunity to Muslim women. Data shows they are grossly underrepresented and require targeted intervention. Ultimately it will not only help the community, but also the country. We are creating a community of Indian Muslim women with professional skill sets so they can fulfil their goals.

SG: What challenges have you faced initiating this project?

Shadab: Setting up the right team is key for a start-up, but it is challenging to find the right set of intelligent, motivated and talented people. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God), we now have an incredible team with coaches, mentors and facilitators from across the world.

 

Dr. Ruha Shadab is pushing boundaries (Courtesy: Led By Foundation).

 

SG: Where do you find Indian Muslim women and how can you improve their situation?

Shadab: Our fellows and participants come from every state and union territory in India. Muslim women have the ambition, aptitude and aspiration and the country needs to provide them with access, agency and avenues to realise their professional dreams and become economically empowered.

Level playing fields for women professionals are fundamental. It is important that we follow a policy providing equal opportunity for everyone. Even the Indian Constitution mandates the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth and demands equal opportunity in matters of public employment. Creating an environment free from discrimination and harassment is essential and there are a few companies helping women in their workforce to flourish.

SG: How has it helped Muslim women fulfil their dreams?

Shadab: We receive multiple messages each week from fellows and participants thanking us for helping them find jobs, receive interviews or get guidance from mentors in their field. This helps catalyse employment and higher education for Muslim women. Our impact report numbers are as follows:

• Average net promoter score – 92

• 44.4% call back rate from recruiters

• Increase in access to powerful networks and mentors by 52%

• Increase in access to financial support by 24%

SG: Do you think more such initiatives are needed for India’s conservative community?

Shadab: We need all hands on deck. India’s female labour force participation rate has been declining despite a rising percentage of educated women. Despite improved educational access, Muslim women are unable to meaningfully benefit. There is a significant amount of work to be done from within and outside our Muslim community to ensure the 100 million Muslim women in India achieve their career goals.

SG: Do you think the lack of initiatives like yours has hindered Muslim Indian women develop entrepreneurial skills?

Shadab: Organisations like mine are here because there is a need for targeted interventions. The need arises from systemic issues and I hope positive change will encourage others to come forward.

SG: What needs to change so more Muslim women may gain their space?

Shadab: Policymakers, Muslim community leaders, companies and universities must unite with a clear and explicit acceptance of the problem and magnitude of the underrepresentation. Each stakeholder has unique core competencies they can leverage to create an inclusive environment actively supporting Muslim women’s education and employment paths. Only a joint effort can bring about change in real terms.

SG: What message do you have for Muslim women?

Shadab: Dream big and think differently to what you have been taught. You may not have the opportunities and money to move forward, but you should look for mentors and supporters to fulfil your dreams.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
The tales of two cities: How Cape Town and New York unleash sustained tourism recovery

Speaking at a halal tourism industry event, the leaders of the cities’ destination marketing organisations revealed their motivation to understand Muslim travellers better and the strategies to promote the towns as Muslim-friendly destinations.

 

Cape Town and New York City are accelerating their tourism recovery efforts by tapping into the Muslim traveller revenue potential that the Dinar Standard’s State of the Global Islamic Economy Report estimates will reach $189 billion in 2025.

Enver Duminy, Cape Town Tourism CEO, said questions reflecting who Cape Town is and what the city wants to represent, were crucial in founding a new tourism blueprint.

“Our heritage, the fabric of our city, our culture, that intertwined who we are today, is because it’s a strong Muslim presence in everything we do,” Duminy said.

The Dutch East India Company established Cape Town as a refuelling station en route to the Spice Route countries in 1652. These ships brought labourers from the Moluccas (Maluka Islands) and political prisoners from Indonesia, introducing Islam to the region.

However, the religion only took root in the early 1800s when enslaved Indian Muslims arrived.

Hailing from the Indonesian spice island Tidore, the religious teacher Tuan Guru established the Masjid ul-Awwal, South Africa’s first mosque, in 1794 and wrote out the Qur’an from memory while imprisoned on Robben Island.

Although Muslims account for a quarter of Cape Town’s 4.6 million-strong population, the city typically has been sold and portrayed as a European destination in Africa.

“If we haven’t been speaking to (the Muslim) audience, that’s on us,” Duminy said, alluding to missed opportunities.

He states 30% of the world’s Muslim population resides in North Africa and, as an initial step to tapping into the halal tourism potential, his team and stakeholders have created a glossary to facilitate industry education about halal requirements and raise awareness of what being Muslim-friendly entails.

“As a destination, we cannot be strictly halal. There are certain parts of the city that can provide it, but we need to be careful of the sensitivities,” Duminy said.

One such sensitivity prevails around food where the industry operates on European and Western standards and Duminy named bacon and champagne breakfasts as examples. However, through a chef’s exchange programme, Singaporean experts have taught local chefs how to prepare halal food that Duminy says is “world-class and tasty beyond belief”.

As the next step, Cape Town Tourism will launch a Muslim travellers’ guide that Duminy believes is both innovative and required as part of the journey.

New York City's moves

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean, New York City has already taken that step with the NYC & Company launching the inaugural Halal Travel Guide by a US tourism organisation in March.

NYC & Company is the city’s official destination marketing organisation and convention and visitors bureau.

“We’re looking at how to market the destination differently,” Fred Dixon, President and CEO at NYC & Company, said about the commitment to promoting an inclusive New York City experience and expanding the audiences as part of the city’s tourism recovery strategy.

Available at nycgo.com/HalalTravelGuide, the resource includes prayer places, Muslim-friendly hotels and dining recommendations for every cuisine type and shares tips and advice from Muslim travel experts.

New York’s Muslim community lives around the 275 mosques spread across the city’s five boroughs – more than any other American metro area. The Brooklyn borough is home to one of the world’s most diverse Muslim communities, representing descendants from every continent and one of the nation’s oldest surviving mosques.

Dixon said making an equitable recovery was another goal; essentially prioritising small businesses, local communities and neighbourhoods over the metropolis’ prominent attractions as a tactic.

The Impact Report of Muslim Contributions to New York City, published by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in 2016, shows how Muslims fuel the city’s economy and create thousands of jobs. According to the report, Muslims owned 95,816 small businesses and employed 251,864 workers.

“We realised we can go much deeper into diversity and drill down into our communities,” Dixon said, acknowledging the size of the Muslim population.

According to him, Muslims account for 10% of the city’s estimated 8.5 million inhabitants.

“The Muslim community has been an integral part of the city’s fabric for nearly 400 years and we are committed to showcasing the authentic halal offerings,” Dixon said.

Like Cape Town, the history of Islam in New York City dates to the 17th century when Muslims arrived in the area as part of the Dutch settlement New Amsterdam. While Dixon sees substantial optimism in the market and expects as much as 80% of visitation coming back this year, he acknowledges airline capacity and entry procedures may impact on recovery, and the rising inflation.

However, NYC & Company will continue investing in its new strategy by expanding the Halal Travel Guide’s content, making it digital and engaging with community influencers to talk about their experiences.

Moreover, Dixon and his team are looking at translations to make the content available to as many people as possible with Arabic probably the first language.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Major boost for Umrah travel as market joins hands with tourism

The upcoming Umrah travel season is expected to see an influx of pilgrims as package prices drop and travellers combine their trips with local tourism activities.

 

Dubai: As Saudi Arabia has instituted issuing Umrah visas online within hours, international Umrah pilgrims are making the most of their trips to the kingdom and extending their stay to explore the country.

The visas allow pilgrims to stay in the kingdom for 30 days and made visiting the country substantially easier. The Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca can be undertaken at any time of the year, while the Hajj can only be performed during specific dates according to Islamic lunar calendar.

“Travellers using this visa can easily combine local tourism packages and sightseeing tours to their umrah package,” Saad Salman, co-founder of Canada-based Funadiq, a Maqam-approved umrah online travel agency (OTA) and co-founder of Umrah Companions, told Salaam Gateway.

He added the company offered desert safaris, beach resort stays and city tours as extensions to visitors’ Umrah. As Umrah become increasingly unaffordable, travellers want to maximise their experience by adding vacation-like options to their packages.

UmrahTrip, an India-based Maqam-approved OTA, has also seen a surge in demand for packages that combine umrah with sightseeing activities in Saudi Arabia. Ali Sajil, head of product and technology at UmrahTrip, said pilgrims were looking to follow Prophet Muhammad’s trail; experience authentic stories and visit Riyadh, Al Ula and Taif.

Fuelled by tourism

Responding to this demand, UmrahTrip plans to offer umrah extension packages from next season that include local Saudi Arabia tours as well as stopovers in Middle Eastern cities like Dubai. UmrahTrip has served more than 34,000 pilgrims since launching in 2020 and, as part of Akbar Travel, one of India's largest travel companies, the platform recently launched the first WhatsApp service enabling pilgrims to book their entire trip and get an Umrah visa through the app.

Meanwhile, Funadiq, which has served around 80,000 pilgrims since launching in 2017, is using virtual reality for umrah to ensure pilgrims feel the Mecca environment prior to travelling. These digital services are in stark contrast to the traditional booking process where pilgrims could only book through local umrah agents and had to wait one to two weeks for approval.

Today, pilgrims can choose from 35 OTAs certified by Maqam, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s global distribution system. They can personalise their packages and obtain an umrah e-visa in less than four hours without submitting their passport.

“Umrah visits will enhance international tourism because pilgrims are more likely to extend their journeys and spend more time seeing Saudi Arabia’s attractions,” said Mohammed BinMahfouz, CEO and cofounder of Umrahme, a UAE-based Maqam-approved OTA.

Since launching in 2019, Umrahme has served around 4.5 million pilgrims globally. The company plans to launch tailored packages to suit travellers’ individual needs, preferences and budgets and is currently building a new platform dedicated to Hajj.

Another factor fuelling the Umrah market is the introduction of the Saudi tourist e-visa Muslim travellers are using for both umrah travel and sightseeing around the kingdom. According to UmrahTrip’s Sajil, there has been a 20% increase in tourist visa markets for Umrah travel since January 2022.

The multiple-entry tourist e-visa is valid for one year and allows visitors to stay in the country for up to 90 days. However, only 49 nationalities can apply for this visa online.

“Tourist visas are more difficult to acquire than pilgrim visas and their issuance is limited to a number of nationalities, barring major Umrah markets such as Pakistan, Indonesia and India,” said BinMahfouz.

 

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Longer stays, new source markets

Saudi Arabia recently eliminated most precautionary measures for the Two Holy Mosques, permitting international pilgrims to perform umrah after two years of Covid-19 restrictions. Since then, Umrah OTAs have experienced a surge in demand for transportation, lodging and visa booking services with indications pointing to a robust resurgence in Umrah travel in 2022.

Umrahme’s business is already at 80% of pre-pandemic levels with 100% pre-pandemic levels predicted by the start of the following season, according to BinMahfouz. He said pent-up demand and the government’s booking process facilitation would stimulate a hike in pilgrims.

More than 1.5 million people visited Saudi Arabia for Umrah during Ramadan 2022 with pilgrims from Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Egypt topping the list. Sajil said post-pandemic numbers reflected the resurgence of religious tourism.

“This speaks volumes on the role of technology in facilitating one of the world's largest religious gatherings. Combined with the pent-up savings due to COVID-19 travel bans and these factors are translating into lavish spending patterns where we expect more people to travel with the entire family,” he said.

UmrahTrip recently noticed demand from new source markets in Central Asia including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Iraq. Stay lengths were also reverting to pre-pandemic values with durations ranging from four to nine nights in Mecca and three to six nights in Medina.

He said incoming business was currently dominated by group bookings, leading to increased demand for buses as the main form of transportation.

Next month UmrahTrip will take new group bookings for the Haramain high speed railway between Mecca and Medina, becoming one of the first OTAs to offer this option after securing government approvals.

Price drop expected

Historically, the new Umrah season opens immediately after Hajj. However, in the past year, Umrah package prices have soared due to an influx of pilgrims; a limited supply of hotel rooms and global airfare hikes.

“Due to the opening of key markets in the last few months, we’ve witnessed a spike in demand of about 65% compared to the previous year, along with a drop in hotel rooms supply due to the closure of a considerable number of properties in Mecca,” said BinMahfouz, adding this was one of the contributors to a significant increase in the overall package price.

Another was global inflation. However, according to Salman, as an example the Pakistani rupee has significantly devalued against the US dollar, pitching Umrah packages outside the affordability levels for pilgrims from major markets such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Algeria and Uzbekistan.

The market has been subsequently adjusting and, as hotels reopen next season, prices were expected to drop. Sajil said last season prices were higher because only 15% of the Mecca hotels were open, pushing up the demand.

“In the next season, I expect prices to drop 10-15% because hotels will re-open (as more) rooms become available and room rates fall,” he said.

Salman was also optimistic about the next umrah season as Mecca had repeatedly shown its resilience.

“As travel restrictions are lifted, airports and hotels filled with people (wanting) to pray at the beloved house of Allah. I’m extremely confident next season will see a huge influx of travellers,” he said.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Indonesian Hajj travel agents scramble to adapt to new system

New Saudi online policy changing the way travellers acquire permissions.

 

Jakarta: Indonesian Hajj travel agents must adapt to Saudi Arabia’s new policy that enforces online booking for visiting Mecca, Syam Resfiadi, chairperson of the Indonesia Hajj and Umrah Travel Association (SAPUHI), said.

Resfiadi, who also owns Patuna Travel, told Salaam Gateway Saudi Arabia’s electronic system was forging ahead and all processes relating to Hajj applications will be done by non-face-to-face contact or phone.

This means the Indonesian government and travel agents must swiftly change their approach.

“Saudi has gone completely digital from contract payment for the hotel to catering, the bus and paying for tents in Mina and Arafah. Everything is done via an e-Hajj system and thereafter we print or save our e-visa through MoFA or Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website,” he said.

This year Patuna sent 270 pilgrims on Hajj, including 20 officers and crew, who were initially scheduled for 2020 as part of a 550-pilgrim contingent. However, the global COVID-19 pandemic has halted Hajj for the last two years.

The figure was lower than 2019 pre-pandemic level of 417 pilgrims including 19 officers and crew.

According to Resfiadi, the Saudi government intentionally reduced the quota to test the reliability of the new online system and gradually implement it into a full online service system. He anticipates the kingdom will boost Hajj visitors to around 15 million in the future.

The fee rate has significantly increased due to higher rents in Mina and Arafah. In 2019 the fee was around $400, but is currently between $2,133 and $4,800 depending on the package services. Tent space has increased from 0.9m2 to 1.2m2.

“There is not too much difference from pre-pandemic (days), except there are now more new transit hotels around Mecca and improved the services in Mina and Arafah. We accommodate up to VIP tents in Mina and Arafah, costing up to $4,800 and the facility is on a par with a five-star hotel,” Resfiadi added.

 

Read - Major boost for umrah travel as market joins hands with tourism

 

Patuna has already received 4,000 Hajj bookings with Resfiadi indicating the company must remain updated on the current Hajj policies and systems as well as the kingdom’s projections for Hajj visitors to reach 15 million.

“We must be ready for their future plans and are waiting for them to reveal their updated vision and mission regarding Hajj activities. When the quota increases from the current 1 million pilgrims to 15 million, how will the tent be constructed? Will it be just a storeyed tent or storeyed building?” Resfiadi concluded.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Modest clothing witnessing a revolution in India

Women of multiple faiths are embracing modest dress wear.

 

Mumbai: The Indian modest fashion industry is booming with independent apparel brands opening new outlets and selling online as an increasing number of women experiment with wearing less revealing clothing.

The rise in this sector means Muslim women can express their personal styles and preferences based on their physical appearances while not disregarding their religious rulings. They may choose a hijab to cover their heads as guided in Islam, but modest fashion is not only for Muslim women – women of other religions are selecting modest clothing often because it is more comfortable and does not accentuate the body shape.

“We have more than 70% non-Muslim clients in India. More and more people are now trying modest fashion; these are people not averse to modest clothing,” said Nighat Ahmad, founder of the international luxury fashion brand House of THL.

Ahmad launched her brand in the northern Indian city of Kanpur at a time when modest clothing brands had only recently raised a profile in the country. The store was later rechristened House of THL based on her three daughters’ initials, but the orthodox Muslim society did not welcome the modest fashion brand as it felt hijab and fashion could not be combined.

However, Nighat fought the fallacies and misconstructions to bust stereotypes relating to Muslim fashion options. She changed people’s fashion perceptions to provide women with choices to dress according to preference without compromising modesty.

Essentially, it was Nighat’s determined efforts, alongside those of like-minded entrepreneurs, that have transformed the hijab from a symbol of suppression of Muslim women into the growing fashion segment deemed modest fashion.

“I experimented with my clothes and gave the option with colours and style that are not against religion, but at the same time, are modest to wear,” Nighat told Salaam Gateway.

According to her, modest clothing is something that covers the body to limit skin exposure. Nighat has been selling her products in India as well as to a large United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based clientele. She is one of five Indian designers to be on-board the Middle Eastern luxury giant website Ounass.ae and Store 1422.

The DinarStandard State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2022 reflected modest fashion had been performing well before the COVID-19 global pandemic, but akin to the rest of the fashion industry, saw a decline during its height. However, last year the industry saw recovery as it accepted the changes required. The report estimates Muslims spend on fashion increased 5.7% in 2021 to $295 billion; should touch $313 billion this year and achieve a 6.1% four-year compound annual growth rate to $375 billion by 2025.

 

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Mumtaz Khan, a fashion designer based in Bhopal in central India and experimenting with the traditional handicraft Bagh print, told Salaam Gateway people wanted to wear modest dresses and the rising demand translated into an equal increase in manufacturing.

“In the present market, manufacturers and sellers want satisfied clients … (thus) they keep the market of modest clothes in mind as well,” said Khan.

Khan makes women’s gowns, sherwanis and kaftans that are both fashionable and modest. He says demand was coming from two elements – people who do not want to expose their deep neck or body as it will tan or change the skin colour and those who do not want to show off their body for religious reasons.

“The modest fashion in India is important for Muslim women as they can look stylish and attractive and keep up with trends without forsaking their cultural roots,” added Khan.

Mushkiya, a Delhi-based brand caters to the modest clothing market, has the tagline “modern, modest and elegant”. Founder Zeeshan Arfeen told Salaam Gateway the company was working on providing high-quality designer products that were “modern as well as modest”.

The company has stores in Delhi, Mumbai, Aligarh and Srinagar with expansion plans on the cards.

 

Bagh hand-printing (Shutterstock).

 

Globally, social media is playing a role in promoting and popularising modest fashion, prompting various fashion giants to include modest dress options for not only Muslim customers. Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana launched a line of hijabs and burkas in 2016.

Within the social media space, a large number of modest fashion bloggers and promoters, typically Muslim women seeking to express their fashion preferences without compromising on their modesty, are flourishing. Mumbai-based modest fashion influencer Anah Shaikh has 1 million Instagram followers, having been successfully creating her place over the past two years.

Personalities like Maryam Asadullah and Sobia Masood have inspired various modest wearers as they create trends by posting tips and tutorials on styling modest clothing to secure their large social media followings.

Muslim Subuhi Wajid loves to wear modest clothing and said modest fashion should not be considered bland or boring, but was becoming an essential part of daily lives.

With 180 million Muslims, India has the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan and thus a huge potential for modest clothing or fashion.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

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

History is more than a set of chronological events, but connections to the present.

 

Beirut: Sometimes the pathways between historical events and their current relevance is obscured by a lack of knowledge linking the two, but when those connections are understood scientifically and without illusions, humanity has the chance to build a brighter future.

Museums are one mechanism by which to achieve that goal, meaning traversing their rooms does not simply represent an entertaining tour to view attractively presented historical objects in their appropriate period. Visiting a museum means experiencing the past in present time and walking those secret paths.

Following a museum tour, people have some keys for building a brighter future because the present, that becomes the past a second later, is more obvious.

The word museums is not new and originally meant a place constructed to Nine Muses or the arts over which they managed. The most famous one was in the 4th century BC Alexandria that included a library, scholarly research centre and collection of antiquities – a concept eerily similar to modern ones.

Art museums are a special sub-branch, more recent in origin than collections of artefact ones and defined as “permanent, non-profit institution(s) essentially educational and aesthetic in purpose. They house professional staff who acquire or own art works and thereafter care, interpret and exhibit them to the public on some regular schedule” (Encyclopaedia of Aesthetics, 1998, p. 302).

Representing a main part of human civilisation, Islamic civilisation has its own place in the museum world and occupies a vast place in art museums. It covers a significant area from Spain to China and includes the chronological range from the 600s to the present. Following the life line of the famous 14th century traveller Ibn Battuta shows this greatness of Islamic civilisation and the arts it has produced.

Born in Morocco and employed as a judge in India, the civilisation Abu Abhullah Muhammad ibn Battutah experienced still exists and displays an inordinate amount of artistic objects.

“Once you have an amazing collection and enough objects to be shown, the idea of the museum can be implemented, because you cannot invite people to see nothing,” said Anne-Marie Maila Afeiche, Director General of the General Council of Museums, Ministry of Culture, Lebanon.

Irish Islamic studies scholar Bernard O’Kane echoes her sentiments, saying Islamic art has more than enough amazing objects for display and “holds a unique place within the drip line of the history of art”.

 

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The global renown of Islamic art

Given its greatness Islamic art has dedicated space in every great world museum as well as dedicated museums including the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar and the Lusail Museum currently under construction. Also in Doha, it is due to become home to the most extensive collection of Oriental paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, rare texts and applied art.

There are also Islamic art museums in Cairo, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur, Copenhagen and across Turkey with their growing visitor numbers reflecting their success. Since opening three years ago, the Istanbul-based Grand Mosque of Çamlıca housing the Museum of Islamic Civilisations has hosted 25 million people.

Other successful examples include the Islamic Arts Biennale (Jeddah), Al-Faisal Museum for Arab-Islamic Art (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), new Islamic Art gallery being arranged at the Salar Jung Museum (Hyderabad, India) and the Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum (Cape Town, South Africa).

The last, in collaboration with the South African Foundation for Islamic Art (Safia), launched a new exhibition of Islamic art titled Islamic Art – An African Interpretation, effectively doubling the size of the museum’s Islamic art galleries to 560m2.

However, having museums of Islamic art is not limited to studying the historical art of Islam’s collections. There is a need to assert the culture of the Muslim societies that invented these amazing objects – the reason why whatever is shown in the museum states: “Look at me. I am your past, you are my present and the coming generation is our future.”

 

The world’s top 100 museums attracted 71 million visitors last year. Humayun's tomb in Old Delhi (Paul Cochrane).

 

Historical trajectory of museums

Typically today’s museums are not carbon copies of yesterday’s ones. The first museums were places only open to the elite. In the 1750s they became public spaces and by the 19th century, museums were spreading across Europe and being classified as major arts, natural history, science museums.

These developments saw museums assume new roles as social reforms and education facilities for the public, while political leaders viewed them as enlightening places to crystallise morals, change behaviour and build the concept of a nation

Afeiche concurs, saying the Lebanese national museum was built between 1930 and 1937 and opened in 1942 at a time when people were looking for national identity. The building came to confirm that identity.

The 20th century introduction on non-western perspectives into museums triggered a huge expansion and they evolved into places for educational advance, but not without new challenges. In the 1930s museums were increasingly linked to school education, bringing its own challenges. A decade later labels, brochures and lectures were regular museum features and by the 1970s museums launched new educational methods including film and audio-based exhibitions. Research concluded in the 1990s showed museums not only provided rich education for families, but also direct support for schools. This later gave the museum staff a role within national education levels and standards, because, according to Afeich, “museums in general tell the history of the country”.

Given this history must be accessible and affordable to everyone, museums could provide suitable methods to deal with visitors’ ages, cultural backgrounds and income levels. That role enabled them to build strong relationships in social, cultural, political and economic fabrics so they became sites of performance and interactivity of a particular national culture and history.

“The role of museums as mediators among individuals, societies, nations and communities makes them powerful agents of cultural diplomacy and intercultural dialogue,” says Peter Keller, Director-General of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

This power gave museums permission to be part of academic fields and develop their specialisation, namely museology or the study of museums including their history and role in society.

 

A 17th century jewelled falcon from India at the Islamic Art Museum Doha (Paul Cochrane).

 

Every object tells a story

Museology demonstrates some of the pathways linking the past and present as well as the link between different academic fields from art history to ethnology, zoology, architect and chemistry. These circumstances pushed the museums to form ICOM and establish International Museum Day held annually on or around 18 May.

“Every object tells the story of those people who lived before us; their rituals, habits, believes, norms, ideas, daily life patterns, social, political and economic structure... The object you see in the museum gives us information about the people who lived in this spot before us,” said Afeiche.

Museums represent a place where sciences can be intersected and consequently have a role to play in the country’s economy. The obvious intervention is job creation from professional to non-professional vacancies with museums requiring the skills of archaeologists, historians, sociologists, interior designers, architects and computer scientists.

They also encourage internal and external tourism. On internal level, museums can motivate citizens to move from one to another across the country, effectively boosting indirect economic activity like cafés, restaurants, public transportation and accommodation.

Afieche cites as examples:

  • 10,000 people attended a museum night on International Museum Day 2018;

  • 20% of Qataris visited the Islamic Art Museum Doha in one year;

  • the Grand Mosque of Çamlıca has hosted 25 million people since opening three years ago;

  • Egyptian historical sites and museums recorded 2.845 million visitors on International Museum Day 2018, a 20.5% year-on-year increase;

  • the country’s historical sites and museums generated EGP169.02 million ($9.1 million) in revenue in 2018, a 70.5% hike year-on-year and

  • ICOM figures show the world’s top 100 institutions had a combined total of 71 million visitors last year against 54 million in 2020.

Welcome to the world of museums in general and Islamic art museums specifically because they have the power to be the safe-keepers of our memories.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Newswrap: Islamic lifestyle

PIF invests $1 billion in gaming company Embraer Group; Saudi Arabia introduces new Hajj regulations for Western pilgrims; Indonesia develops National Tourism Development Index; Saudi Arabia allocates $100 million for tourism training; Tourism bouncing back in Malaysia; Lady of Heaven film pulled from UK cinemas.

 

PIF invests $1 billion in gaming company Embraer Group

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund’s Savvy Gaming Company has acquired 100 million shares for $1 billion in Sweden’s Embraer Group, making it the group’s second largest shareholder, the Financial Times reported. The Savvy Gaming Company was launched by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), this year, acquiring Modern Times Group’s esports division for $1 billion in January, and the competitive multiplayer technology platform Faceit.

In May, PIF acquired a 5% stake worth $2.98 billion in Japan’s Nintendo, and earlier in the year undisclosed stakes in Nexon and Capcom, the maker of the Street Fighter franchise. In 2021, PIF invested $3 billion in Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive. In May, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s MiSK Foundation acquired a 97% stake in Japan’s SNK Corporation, which behind games Metal Slug and Fatal Fury.

The games market in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt is estimated to be worth $1.76 billion, according to a Niko Partners report, led by Saudi Arabia at $1 billion, the UAE at $520 million, and Egypt at $172 million. According to a survey by the Ministry of Sports, around half of Saudis considers themselves regular gamers, while 67% (23.5 million) said they were gaming enthusiasts.

Saudi Arabia introduces new Hajj regulations for Western pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s Hajj Ministry has issued new regulations requiring Muslim pilgrims from Europe, the Americas and Australia to book through the government website Motawif, reported Middle East Eye. Pilgrims will be subjected to an “automated lottery” draw, and if accepted, will have to book flights and hotels through the website. No dates have been released as to when this will start, but travel agencies have been urged to provide pilgrims with refunds. The kingdom’s long term policy has been to allocate a certain number of pilgrims per country.

Indonesia develops National Tourism Development Index

The Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy has created the National Tourism Development Index platform to measure the magnitude of the role of regional governments in building tourism ecosystems, It is based on the WEF (World Economic Forum) Global Travel and Tourism Development Index (TTDI) indicator. The Indonesian index is to be launched at the end of the year, reported TribunBatam.

The country has seen tourism rebound in 2022, attracting nearly 50 times as many foreign visitors in April as the same month last year, up 172.27% to 111,1110, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data. Indonesia attracted 13.03 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2019, dropping to 2.2 million in 2020, and just 141,211 in 2021, reported The Star.

Saudi Arabia allocates $100 million for tourism training

The tourism ministry has launched a $100 million programme to train 100,000 young Saudis a year in the tourism and hospitality sector, reported Markets Insider. Under the Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to attract 100 million tourists and create 1 million jobs. The 'Tourism Trailblazers' programme is to develop trainees at all career levels across the country, while training scholarships are to be provided at institutions in France, Spain, Switzerland, UK, Australia, and Italy.

"It is vital that we invest in our youth now. Creating a skilled workforce with the talent and ambition to support and drive the tourism sector regionally and globally is key to realising Vision 2030. This programme demonstrates our commitment to empowering young people by providing them with right skills, support and opportunities to shape the future of the tourism industry." said Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb.

Tourism bouncing back in Malaysia

Malaysia, which was ranked the top Muslim-friendly destination by CrescentRating, has seen a rebound in visitors, with 1 million arrivals since the beginning of April. Around 60% however are from neighbouring Singapore. The country hopes to attract 5 million tourists this year, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) said to Xinhua news agency. Malaysia attracted 26.1 million arrivals in 2019, generating $19.59 billion, dropping to 4.33 million arrivals in 2020 and 130,000 arrivals in 2021.

Lady of Heaven film pulled from UK cinemas

A film about the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) daughter has been pulled by one of the UK’s biggest cinema chains following protests over blasphemy, reported Middle East Eye. Released in early June, there have been several protests across British cities, prompting Cineworld to cancel screenings. The $15 million film, directed by Eli King and written by Kuwait-born Sheikh Yasser al-Habib, tells the story of Fatima and the contemporary era, with links to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq. Fatima’s face is not depicted, being a faceless figure in a black shroud, but the Prophet’s face was depicted.

Protestors accused the film of inaccurately and negatively depicting three of Islam’s most important figures, and stoking sectarian hatred. More than 120,000 people signed a petition calling for the film to be pulled from British cinemas.

The film has been banned in Egypt and Pakistan, while Iranian clerics have issued fatwas against viewing it, saying it could cause sectarian discord, according to the Tehran Times.

Islamic Lifestyle
Q&A with IRCICA: Preserving Islamic history, art and culture for the next generations

Salaam Gateway spoke with Dr. Sadik Unay, Acting Head of Research and Publications at Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), about how the Istanbul-based organisation contributes to preserving and promoting the beauty of Islam.

 

Established in 1980 as the first subsidiary of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the IRCICA’s scope covers diverse activities ranging from preserving Islamic architectural and cultural heritage to organising one of the world’s most important international calligraphy competitions.

Salaam Gateway (SG): What is IRCICA and how would you define your scope of work?

Dr. Sadik Unay: IRCICA is part of the network of institutions under the OIC. Turkey proposed its formation during the 9th Council of OIC Foreign Ministers and the initiative was granted approval by 57 Muslim countries. Our official mandate covers research and activities concentrating on Islamic history, civilisation, arts and culture and our institutional remit has determined five main areas: studies on the Holy Qu’ran; Islamic history and civilisation; Islamic calligraphy and arts; organising conferences and workshops on other Islamic arts including illumination and handicrafts; and Islamic architecture.

We have a research programme focusing on international scholarly studies of the Holy Qu’ran that involves some of its earliest copies and organising critical editions. The centre conducts research comparing copies found in different geographical areas including central, south and east Asia and the Arab world to demonstrate the originality of the main text was preserved throughout history.

Islamic history and civilisation is the broad area under which the centre organises regional conferences in south, east and central Asia; Middle East and North Africa; west, east, central and south Africa; the Balkans and Caucasia. We recently started research programmes focusing on Muslim communities and Islamic heritage in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The goal is to preserve the cultural heritage of Muslim communities while highlighting social interactions, arts and architectural legacies. Each conference has a specific theme and we publish the proceedings as reference books.

Calligraphy is one of the centre’s strongest points and we organise academic events, workshops and competitions on Islamic calligraphy – including an international Islamic calligraphy competition every three years deemed one of the world’s best.

We receive hundreds of entries in different calligraphy styles with an international jury of renowned calligraphy masters deciding on the award-winning works. Substantial awards are given and their catalogue published afterwards.

The conferences and workshops on other Islamic arts, as well as festivals and exhibitions, are typically organised in collaboration with universities, public institutions and ministries in various OIC countries. The work includes illumination and handicrafts ranging from carpentry to masonry and leatherwork.

The broad area of Islamic architecture covers preserving architectural monuments; training architects and city planners and publishing work on the history of Islamic architectural heritage. In this context we have concluded various projects in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and other UN agencies.

In Aleppo we completed a project for restoration plans for the main elements of Islamic architectural heritage damaged by the Syrian Civil War. Once peace is restored, they will have a blueprint for restoring these monuments with the help of architects, experts and scholars.

 

Dr. Sadik Unay, Acting Head of IRCICA (Courtesy: IRCICA)

 

SG: Do you only work with governments or also the private sector?

Unay: We usually work through ministries of culture, ministries of foreign affairs and ministries of education in addition to universities, research centres and museums supported by the governments in the OIC. As our budget is predominantly comes from the financial contributions of member states, we take their requests and priority projects into account.

Given IRCICA is the OIC’s cultural subsidiary and, as an inter-governmental institution, all activities and projects proceed through legitimate governmental channels. If the centre works with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or another scholarly institution focusing on preserving cultural or architectural heritage, the institution must be accredited by the relevant government at the OIC. This is our main principle in choosing our global academic and cultural partners.

SG: Where are you mostly active?

Unay: IRCICA activities cover a wide geographical scope. We mainly organise activities in OIC member states, but some of the projects, conferences and activities are directed towards countries with sizeable Muslim minorities including the Balkans and eastern Africa. As the centre follows a community and heritage-based approach, we realise different events and projects to preserve Islamic cultural heritage in non-OIC countries. The locations are determined in line with the intensity of Islamic cultural and architectural heritage.

 

Aleppo, Syria in 2008. The old city was significantly damaged during the conflict (Paul Cochrane).

 

SG: Please expand on activities relating to preserving and restoring Islamic cultural and architectural heritage.

Unay: The Aleppo, Syria project focused on the architectural heritage in war-torn and conflict zones. Yet the centre contributes to various preservation and restoration projects on the main elements of Islamic cultural and architectural heritage. Our scholars and technical experts provide the expertise to the relevant governments and, if suitable restoration budgets are available, projects are realised.

Our architectural department has extensive historical expertise and been active for decades. A major restoration project was in Bosnia and Herzegovina where an IRCICA-led consortium restored the famous Stari Most or Mostar Bridge after the Bosnian War. Although Bosnia is not formally an OIC member state, the old bridge was a symbolic monument for the Muslim world and the project was well received.

There are also projects planned for the Islamic architectural heritage in Azad Kashmir and the Karabakh region in Azerbaijan that was rescued from occupation. The teams will produce documentary evidence on the cultural and architectural heritage from these regions. There are also restoration projects planned for Africa including historical mosques in Chad.

Our centre supports a book hospital in Bamako, Mali, focusing on preserving and protecting the earliest Qur’anic manuscripts in the region.

The architectural department provides training programmes to city planners and architects. We organise summer and winter schools where groups visit the main sites of Islamic architectural heritage and active restoration sites in different countries with those details on the IRCICA website.

 

IRCICA's headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey (Courtesy: IRCICA).

 

SG: What challenges do you face with initiating these projects?

Unay: These are varied given our geographical scope. First are the diplomatic obstacles due to non-receptive attitudes from some non-OIC member states as we reach out to their Muslim communities. Hence, we occasionally invite scholars and artists from the Muslim-minority communities to join our activities.

There are also financial constraints on implementing substantive international projects. We attempt to overcome this hurdle by economising expenditure and following flexible working methods through small project groups. The IRCICA management works professionally to effectively use available funding and realise cultural projects.

SG: Do you have a list of the Islamic cultural and architectural heritage sites on which you have worked?

Unay: IRCICA manages the Prince Sultan Ibn Salman Islamic Architectural Heritage Database jointly supported by IRCICA and Al-Turath Foundation in Saudi Arabia under the Patronage of HRH Prince Sultan Ibn Salman Ibn Abdulaziz, Founding President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.

The database reflects the main elements of Islamic heritage and architectural sites globally with pictures and plans and the information is constantly updated. The IRCICA library also has more than 70,000 books, thousands of historical photographs from the Yıldız Archive of the Ottoman Palace and hundreds of historical maps. The Farabi Digital Library also has several digitised manuscripts.

The Yıldız Historical Photograph Archive includes thousands of historical photographs taken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in different parts of the Muslim world. These photographs are accessible via the library website in low resolution so visitors can see how Mecca, Medina, Al Quds (Jerusalem) and other Islamic cities looked previously.

The official IRCICA website as well as all social media accounts are managed in Arabic, English and French, the OIC’s official languages. We are systematically working to improve the centre’s public visibility in OIC countries and beyond through modern technology.

© SalaamGateway.com 2022. All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Newswrap: Islamic lifestyle

Malaysia tops the Global Muslim Travel Index 2022; Study shows Muslims portrayed negatively in US, UK, Australian and Canadian media; The International Exhibition and Museum of the Prophet’s Seerah to open in Rabat.

 

Malaysia tops the Global Muslim Travel Index 2022

Malaysia has once again secured the top ranking in the Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2022, followed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia in joint second position. In the fourth position, it is non-OIC countries Singapore, Taiwan, United Kingdom and Thailand.

The UAE took fifth position, Qatar sixth, Iran and Jordan seventh, and Bahrain ninth position alongside

Uzbekistan. Egypt, Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco took 12th position. Pakistan and Tunisia took 17th position, while Lebanon and Maldives were joint 19th.

The index estimated that international Muslim tourist arrivals were 160 million in 2019, dropping in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A rebound is expected in 2023, to 140 million tourists, and returning to 2019 levels in 2024, with 160 million tourists. The GMTI’s pre-pandemic projection of 230 million arrivals by 2026 is now slated to be reached in 2028, with expenditure to be $225 billion.

The index ranked 138 destinations on how prepared they are for the Muslim-friendly travel market and the key drivers of development.

Muslims under 40 and women are expected to drive tourist demand, accounting for 70% of the 2 billion Muslim population, while Gen Z and millennials account for 50%. Women account for around 45% of Muslim travellers.

Growth is to be particularly strong in the Asia Pacific region, with overall flight trends expected to lead to an estimated 430 million more passengers than in 2021.

Study shows Muslims portrayed negatively in US, UK, Australian and Canadian media

A study on the evolution of media portrayals of Muslims and Islam over the decades found “overwhelmingly negative coverage, not only in the United States but also in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.”

The researchers downloaded 256,963 articles mentioning Muslims or Islam from 17 national, regional and tabloid newspapers in the US over a 21-year period from 1996 to 2016. Articles relating to Catholics, Jews and Hindus were also collated.

“Our central finding is that the average article mentioning Muslims or Islam in the United States is more negative than 84% of articles in our random sample. This means that one would likely have to read six articles in US newspapers to find even one that was as negative as the average article touching on Muslims,” wrote the authors Erik Bleich and A. Maurits van der Veen in The Conversation. Their book “Covering Muslims: American Newspapers in Comparative Perspective” has just been published by Oxford University Press.

For Catholics, Jews and Hindus, the proportion of positive and negative articles was close to 50-50, the research shows. By contrast, 80% of all articles related to Muslims were negative.

The study also collected 528,444 articles mentioning Muslims or Islam in newspapers in the UK, Canada and Australia. “We found that the proportion of negative to positive articles in these countries was almost exactly the same as that in the United States.”

The study noted that scholarship has “shown that negative stories generate less favourable attitudes toward Muslims. Other studies that looked at the impact of negative information about Muslims also found an increase in support for policies that harm Muslims, such as secret surveillance of Muslim Americans or the use of drone attacks in Muslim countries.”

In January this year, a British study also confirmed such negative bias: Dinner Table Prejudice: Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain, while a study released by the Muslim Council of Britain in December 2021, showed that 60% of online media articles and 47% of TV clips associate Muslims or Islam with negative aspects or behaviour.

 

 

The International Exhibition and Museum of the Prophet’s Seerah to open in Rabat

With Moroccan city Rabat the Culture Capital in the Islamic World for 2022, an exhibition is to be organised on the Prophet Mohamed’s (PBUH) seerah (life). According to IQNA, the exhibition will “highlight the message of Islam which promotes justice, peace, mercy, tolerance, coexistence, and moderation, based on the Holy Qu’ran, the Noble Sunnah, and Islamic history. The Exhibition employs advanced technology to give visitors a real-life experience of the Seerah and historical events.”

The International Exhibition and Museum of the Prophet’s Seerah is to open on 25 July at ICESCO Headquarters in Rabat.


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