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Islamic Lifestyle
UK attracts Middle Eastern travellers with football and heritage 

The United Kingdom ranked second place in the Top 10 non-OIC destinations in the Global Muslim Travel Index 2021 rankings.

 

Statistics from the British Tourist Authority show that visits to the UK from the Middle East region rose by nearly 10% to 1.27 million in 2019, while total expenditure also rose by 10% to £2.71 billion ($3.6 billion).

Travellers from Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan made 360,110 visits to the UK in 2019, spending about £453 million ($615 million) over the period, which is 13% higher than 2018.

The UK’s fifth rank in the 2021 Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index highlights the destination’s main attractions. The country scored highest for sport, historic buildings and monuments, contemporary culture and vibrant city life. 

The index measures the national reputation of 60 countries worldwide, based on scores in six categories: tourism, culture, people, immigration-investment, exports and governance.

In 2019, the £1.4 billion ($1.9 billion) spent by visitors who attended a football match during their trip represents 5% of all inbound tourism spending that year. Qatar is the top inbound market for football spending, accounting for £118 million ($160 million). With a spend of £55 million ($75 million), the UAE takes sixth place.

However, with the 2022 FIFA World Cup scheduled in Qatar from 21 November to 18 December, the UK may miss out on some of the football-related spendings from the Middle East this year.

In general, the Global Muslim Travel Index 2021 expects the Muslim travel market to recover up to 80% of 2019 levels (160 million arrivals) by 2023, predicting that tourism will be more personalised with smaller numbers and re-designed visitor experiences.

AbdulMaalik Tailor, a licensed tour guide, has already been applying this concept for 10 years. He founded Halal Tourism Britain in 2012, which specialises in halal food experiences and Muslim history tours.

“The Muslim community actually values history a lot,” Tailor told Salaam Gateway. “Even in the UK, there has been a movement for more people wishing to learn about Muslim heritage in Britain.” Tailor said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the share of his local clients increased from 50% to 80%.

The oldest physical evidence of Islam and the earliest example of Arabic writing in Britain is a gold coin minted in the 8th century by Anglo Saxon King Offa of Mercia with the Islamic declaration of faith (Shahadah) inscribed on it.

Besides all the tourist attractions the UK has to offer, Tailor sees a greater Muslim friendliness as a competitive advantage compared to other European destinations, stressing the ease of performing prayers as an example.

“There are 2,131 Muslim prayer places in the UK. We even have praying rooms in football stadiums now,” he said.

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Middle East investors wake up to Georgia to recover from pandemic losses

From student housing and hotels to residential and commercial projects, investors from across the Middle East are pumping millions of dollars into real estate across Georgia.

 

Georgia’s ease of doing business, along with its low costs, high returns, flexible visa rules and scenic landscapes, has caught the eyes of investors looking to recover from pandemic losses.

“In Georgia, you can open a bank account, register a company and rent a house all in one day,” Islam Shalaby, creative director at Tbilisi-based real estate developer Swef Land, told Salaam Gateway.

“Freehold is possible for foreigners except for agricultural land, so you can fully own real estate without having residency, you can run a business, and you will pay taxes just like locals,” he said.

Citizens of 98 countries, including all six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, can live, work and study in Georgia without the need for a visa or residence permit.

“Residents of most of those countries can also stay in the country for 90 days. They’ve recently started to become more stringent to control the number of immigrants as Georgia is preparing to apply for European Union (EU) membership in 2024,” said Shalaby.

High returns

Today, three of the largest real estate development companies in Georgia are owned by Egyptians: York Towers, Swef Land, and OTI Real Estate.

All three companies began as intermediaries before venturing into development. Together, they have pulled in millions of dollars in investments from the Middle East and beyond.

“They studied and tested the market and gradually, backed by strong investors, they started investing millions and acquiring land,” said Shalaby.

He said that real estate investors in Georgia get 8% to 12% annual return on investment (ROI).

“Even at the peak of the pandemic, it was the safest and most promising sector, and investments increased,” said Shalaby.

OTI, for instance, entered the student housing market in 2020. Led by CEO Hani Hebashi, who is also the president of the Georgian-Egyptian Business Council, the company’s $160 million project comprises five residential complexes across Batumi and Tbilisi, Georgia’s two largest cities

According to Hebashi, Georgia has around 12,000 foreign students but lacks student accommodation in line with international standards.

He said that student housing is among the top five most attractive sectors for investment worldwide, with an annual ROI of 4.5% to 7%, but in Georgia, OTI is offering up to 10%.

Read: Middle East tourist arrivals in Georgia soar 511% year-on-year

Resilient sector

Georgia’s real estate market was not severely affected by the pandemic. In 2020, for example, Swef Land injected $200 million into Georgia by bringing foreign capital into the country.

Meanwhile, OTI Real Estate has brought $500 million to Georgia since 2018 through more than 500 investors, mostly Arabs. The company recently partnered with Kuwait’s Ayar Real Estate to develop tourism resorts and residential projects.

York Towers also made its biggest investment in 2020, acquiring 2 million square metres of strategic land around the Bazaleti Lake, northwest of the capital.

“To invest in such a huge commercial plot, ready with infrastructure, and bring in Arab investors in the middle of the pandemic is a major achievement,” said Shalaby.

Georgia’s GDP is expected to grow by 8.5% in 2021 after an economic contraction of 6.2% in 2020, according to the Asian Development Bank.

“Very few countries recovered this fast and to higher levels than pre-pandemic. As soon as the country opened, there was a huge pent-up demand for travel; people were rushing to visit,” said Shalaby, who works with multiple companies in Georgia.

“Business owners were eager to make up for financial losses and were looking for good opportunities. So, 2021 was a great year for many people and a fortunate time for business,” he said.

Swef Land is holding its first conference, Invest Hub, on 28 December to promote its latest projects, including the new ‘Hollywood Resort’.

The massive development lies in a green valley between two mountains and is surrounded by 44 cultural and archaeological landmarks. It will have a cinematic theme and the country’s longest zipline.

With the market’s recent performance, institutional investors from the Middle East are waking up to Georgia’s potential. But the trend is not entirely new.

One of the first investments from the region came from the UAE-based Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority, which acquired Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace in 2007 for $68 million.

A decade later, the UAE’s now-dissolved Dhabi Group invested $130 million in Biltmore Tbilisi Hotel, which occupies a historical building in the ancient city.

Natural landscapes

While the UAE remains the largest government investor in Georgia among Arab countries, Saudi Arabia accounts for the lion’s share of individual investments, according to Shalaby.

“Saudis are investing in private real estate, including land, apartments, and villas – often multiple properties – in both cities and suburbs; the latter has a higher ROI,” he said.

A large part of Swef Land’s work is focused on the suburbs. The company believes these areas will eventually transform into major population centres due to urban expansion, and therefore, their value will increase.

“Swef Land managed to sell seven projects in one year because it focuses on suburbs. It doesn’t make sense to bring a GCC investor and tell him to invest in a building just like the one in Riyadh, for example. They want to see the beauty of Georgia’s nature,” said Shalaby.
 

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Indonesia sends first batch of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia since 2020 border closure

Pilgrimage was approved after Indonesian government took extensive screening measures.

 

Jakarta – The Indonesian government hopes Umrah pilgrimage activity will gradually return to normal following the departure of 419 pilgrims on 8 January. It is the first departure since Saudi Arabia closed its borders to Umrah pilgrims in February 2020, as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Saudi Arabian government approved the move after Indonesia introduced a new one-gate screening measure, meaning all pilgrims should be quarantined and depart from Soekarno-Hatta airport. It also centralised the process of health screening including PCR test and vaccination status.

"We have to make sure this departure will go well because if we succeed, it can be a benchmark for upcoming Umrah full reopening or even Hajj reopening this year,” Director General of Hajj and Umrah Organisation at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Hilman Latief told Salaam Gateway.

Tens of thousands of Umrah pilgrim trips have been cancelled across Indonesia since February 2020. In the pre COVID-19 era, Indonesia usually sent around 1 million Umrah pilgrims each year.  

Syam Resfiadi, chairperson of the Indonesia Hajj and Umrah Travel Association (SAPUHI) and the owner of Patuna Travel Agency told Salaam Gateway that he will start offering Umrah packages to customers at the end of this month following the Umrah reopening.

Resfiadi said the one-gate measure is the right move from the government to prevent unscrupulous travel agents from performing fake PCR tests or forging other required documents.

Patuna Travel, which has 5,000 customers, says it hasn’t organised any pilgrimage trips since the Saudi government closed Umrah activity in February 2020 because many of the customers objected to the 13 days quarantine requirement. Some 75% of Patuna’s customers are state employees and government officials, meaning they require extended annual leave to perform Umrah. 

“With the quarantine requirement it takes around 20 days, it’s too long for them,” Resfiadi said.

Following the Umrah reopening, national airline Garuda Indonesia will fly twice per week from Soekarno-Hatta airport to Medina, on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Hajj and Umrah passengers contribute 10% of the airline's total annual revenue.

 

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Middle East tourist arrivals in Georgia soar 511% year-on-year

Georgia’s popularity is soaring as an affordable holiday and second-home destination, buoyed by easy visa requirements for Arab tourists.

 

Georgia has become one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers and from the Middle East thanks to its scenic landscapes, affordable hotels, and proximity to the region, as well as the increasing availability of halal food and Arabic speaking guides.

In November 2021, Middle East tourist arrivals in Georgia soared 511 percent year-on-year to 103,500, reaching numbers close to pre-pandemic levels, statistics from the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA) show.

The former Soviet state welcomed more than 150,000 travellers from the Middle East in 2019.

“Georgia is a budget tourism destination. You can stay in a hostel, hotel, or a fully furnished apartment for $30 per day, which is very cheap. The food is good quality and cheap, transportation is cheap, and the services are excellent,” said Islam Shalaby, founder and CEO at Yalla Georgia Travel & Tourism, to Salaam Gateway.

Tourists from the region, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, are now coming back on repeat visits, and they are spending entire months on the Black Sea, in villages around the green Caucasus mountains, or in the capital Tbilisi, home to the bustling Arab Quarter.

"GCC countries are one of our main strategic target markets. Once (having) travelled to Georgia, travellers from these countries tend to have longer stays, repeat visits as well as higher expenditures,” Medea Janiashvili, acting head of GNTA, said in a statement.

GNTA recently partnered with Wego, an online travel marketplace in the Middle East and North Africa, to promote the recovery of the tourism sector in Georgia.

According to Wego, around 100,000 searches on Georgia were made on the platform in November 2021. Solo travelers accounted for 63% of the searches, couples 22%, and families 15%.

Muslim-friendly tourism

A mountainous country located between Europe and Central Asia, Georgia is predominantly Christian, but it has a sizable Muslim community of more than 400,000, representing around 10% of the population.

A few mosques serve this community and they are mostly in large cities. Halal food, on the other hand, is widely available in Iranian and Turkish restaurants as well as at local eateries.

“In Tbilisi, halal food is everywhere. Even restaurants that are run by Georgians serve halal food, and the locals are friendly with Arabs and very peaceful. We have one mosque, in central Tbilisi, and it holds a Friday prayer every week,” said Taha.

The Jumah Mosque is one of Tbilisi’s most famous landmarks and probably the only one in the world where Sunni and Shiite Muslims pray side by side, according to Shalaby.

Batumi, the second largest city, has a few halal restaurants mostly offering Turkish cuisine, and one mosque. The city is the capital of Adjara, a region which lies on the Black Sea coast, north of Turkey, and where nearly 40% of the population practice Islam.

“Most of Georgia’s food is halal. When you visit any supermarket, you will find halal food and some even carry the halal label in the Georgian language,” said Taha.

Halal food is also available in cities with large Muslim communities, such as Rustavi and Marneuli, close to Azerbaijan, and Pankisi, south of the border with Chechnya.

“In regions along the borders with Muslim countries, you will find big Muslim cities,” said Shalaby, who is also creative director at Swef Land, an Egyptian-owned Tbilisi-based real estate developer.

Outside these cities, in Georgia’s villages, halal food is difficult to find but only because tourism is still new to the country, he said.

A home away from home

Georgia’s religious diversity and tolerance, as evident from the peaceful coexistence of Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, together with its liberal visa regime, is encouraging visitors from the Middle East to come back and scout for a home away from home and set up businesses.

“When I first arrived here in 2017 as a student, there were very few Arabs. But now there are many Arabs who are studying and running businesses, including expats from Gulf countries,” Mohammad Taha, co-founder of International Business Group (IBG), a Tbilisi-based educational consultancy serving Arab students, told Salaam Gateway. “The number of students we’ve been registering has been doubling every year.”

Universities in Georgia have easier admission requirements compared to their European counterparts, which are harder to get into and where Muslim students may encounter Islamophobia, according to Taha.

“People started to notice Georgia because the prices are low, entry is easy, and the country is peaceful. Women feel safe going out anytime of the day or night,” he said.

While there have been a few Islamophobic incidents in recent years, such as the 2017 rally in Tbilisi, and the 2021 attack on Muslims over a new prayer space in western Georgia, they are few and far between, and the government usually intervenes.

For instance, in a rare case in 2019 when a hotel rejected a Muslim guest, the owner was given a jail sentence, according to Shalaby.

“When your country is wide open to everyone, you get all types of people,” he said, referring to illegal immigrants.

“Georgians felt overwhelmed at first. Arabic was suddenly everywhere on the streets and on shop signs next to Georgian. It could be a personal issue among a few, but it certainly doesn’t exist on a societal or political level,” said Shalaby.

 

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
Electronic device facilitates Quran reading for the blind and visually impaired

Blind and visually impaired Muslims experience challenges when reading Quran copies in braille. They need to have up to six paper volumes to read the sacred 600-page book.

An electronic Quran is being introduced at Makkah’s Grand Mosque to help blind and visually impaired Muslims. The device is around six inches long and four inches wide. It allows users to move easily between pages using high-quality braille cells, Arab News reported. 

“The visually impaired can read the Qur’an easily and navigate through the pages the same way as the entire Quran is registered on the board,” Misha’al Al-Harasani, who led the team that created the device, told Arab News.

Ghazi Al-Thubyani, from the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, said special shelves were being prepared for the 100 electronic braille devices, according to Arab News.

“Each cell can accommodate six dotted points, as well as 10 digital keys that allow the users to enter the page number for swift navigation, as well as rotation buttons. They can also scroll the lines on each side of the texts in braille,” Al-Thubyani told Arab News. “This service will be provided very soon. We are nearly finished with preparing shelves for these devices to be at the reach of the sightless worshippers who visit the holy mosque.”

He said that the project’s first phase took nearly 10 months. The Grand Mosque will still offer paper copies of the Qur’an in Braille in addition to the new devices. “Each mus’haf (Qur’an copy) consists of six volumes. We also have booklets in braille tailored for blind children to help them learn about monotheism and the basics of Islam,” he told Arab News.

Blind and visually impaired Muslims experience challenges when reading Qur’an copies in braille. They need to have up to six paper volumes to read the sacred 600-page book.

In Egypt there is a printing press specialized in braille. It prints all educational curricula in braille for Egyptian schools for blind students. The braille-printed Quran is distinguished by the fact that it cannot be printed on small size papers like the standard Qur’an, as the braille method requires a larger area as well as thick and heavy paper of a certain type. The weight of one sheet ranges between 150 or 160 grams, so that the dots can be clearly printed on it to make the letters easy to read by fingertips. 

The stages of publishing the Quran in braille begin with translating its writing on a tin board. The Holy Quran is narrated to a blind person who converts what he hears into raised letters in braille. The written copies are then entered into the printing machine, after which the bindings are collected and the volumes are sewn and varnished.

In Mecca in 2018, the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Quran completed the braille Quran of the Prophet’s city for the blind and produced 6,000 copies. The Saudi project to create a braille Quran started in 2014.

In May 2019, a Saudi team announced that it was able to create the first electronic Quran for the blind, a tablet device that stores the entire Holy Quran and converts fixed braille letters into vowels, formed according to a letter and a page. The team included a number of blind people. The device converts braille letters from fixed to animated forms electronically.

The second part of this article is a translation of a piece by Amal Smai first published in Masrawy.com.

Islamic Lifestyle
Indonesian online halal marketplace sees surge in vendors

Indonesian’s halal-only e-commerce site Lazada Amanah is gaining attention from halal product vendors, with numbers up by 50% since its launch in April.

 

Jakarta – Lazada Amanah provides a platform for a wide range of Muslim equipment manufacturers, including clothing, accessories, health, beauty products, food and beverages.The e-commerce site says it carries out strict curation to ensure that every product is of quality and trustworthy.

The platform also provides Indonesia's MUI halal certification checking feature that is integrated with the MUI website for products available on the channel.

“We can’t share the data of the number of our sellers and buyers at the moment, but we will always be a place for Indonesian Muslims to shop and sell,” Athina Tokan, senior category manager women’s shoes and clothing, Lazada Indonesia, told Salaam Gateway.

Currently, "rectangular hijabs and robes are the most sold products within the channel,” she said.

Selviana Yuswanto, owner of the Mybamus brand that is sold on the Lazada Amanah channel, told Salaam Gateway that the platform helped her business to grow since he joined Lazada in 2018, the parent site of Lazada Amanah. 

“I created my brand in 2011 with the first collection tie-dye, then accessories or modest wear such as long tunics and pashminas. I sold my collections through social media before joining Lazada in 2018. She said the site provides analytical tools related to sales of each product and has helped her in creating the right business strategy for her brand.

Yuswanto now has 150 employees and receives hundreds of orders every day. During the festival season, sales rise exponentially. During the last 11.11 sale, a popular date for sales in Indonesia, Mybamus recorded a surge in orders of more than 300% compared to normal trading.

She recently focused on providing casual clothes with comfortable materials so that they can be worn every day. In accordance with market demand, Mybamus also provides a choice of formal and luxury fashion when approaching holidays such as Lebaran.

“The existence of e-commerce platforms with special channels for Muslim needs such as Lazada Amanah increases our opportunities to expand the market with a network that reaches all Indonesians.,” Yuswanto added.

Lazada Amanah channel joins a number of other halal-only e-commerce sites in Indonesia. Tokopedia launched Tokopedia Salam in November 2019, Indonesia Halal Life center released Etokohalal in March 2020 and Blibli launched a dedicated category for halal products, Blibi Hasanah in April 2020. 

 

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved

 

Islamic Lifestyle
‘Designing for Ramadan 2022’ helps global brands communicate with Muslims

Gould Studio’s workshops teach mainstream and global brands about the dos and don’ts of Ramadan marketing strategies.

 

Dubai: A new workshop programme will guide global brands in their communication strategies with Muslims during Ramadan.

Led by award-winning brand designer and digital artist Peter Gould and his creative team at Gould Studio, the Designing for Ramadan 2022 workshops will educate marketing teams and design & innovation staff on how to avoid the most common mistakes when engaging Muslim audiences.

The intensive sessions will also show brands how to develop culturally appropriate creative strategies, and how to support their Muslim employees during Ramadan.

A major American multinational technology company is one of the first companies to sign up for the newly launched workshops.

“The workshops are aimed at mainstream and global brands that aren’t necessarily familiar with Ramadan, or Muslim audiences in general, and want to learn about communication,” Peter Gould, founder and CEO of Gould Studio, told Salaam Gateway.

“Some brands want to learn the foundational dos and don’ts, and the good practices other organisations work towards, while others like to explore emerging trends, and how they can best engage their Muslim team members,” he said.

The workshops are being arranged privately for brands based on their needs and availability.

“We have an upcoming workshop with an American multinational, looking at how significant Ramadan is for the App Store and their Muslim employees,” said Gould.

Gould Studio is a Sydney, Australia based team that creates brands, products, and experiences for Muslim audiences. With offices in Dubai and Jakarta, and a team in Beirut, the studio has previously worked with LaunchGood and Greenpeace to help with their Ramadan strategies.

“We’ve taken several learnings from these experiences, and others, which we would now like to share more widely,” said Gould.

Ramadan is the longest-celebrated religious festival of the year and usually sparks high levels of consumer activity, according to Middle East industry platform consultancy-me.com.

With three distinct phases – in addition to the pre-Ramadan and post-Ramadan Eid phase – the holy month represents an enticing opportunity for brands to engage with Muslims. Spending goes up, people are online more, and they tend to be more social and charitable.

But with a diverse population of more than 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, it is impossible to understand everybody’s habits and approach them with one marketing campaign,

“Being present during Ramadan isn’t as simple as adding a crescent moon to your marketing campaign and sending out a generic ‘Ramadan Kareem’ on the first day of the month. It’s important to learn what people need, what people care about, and how you can be of service, suggests Gould Studio’s ‘Designing for Ramadan’ report.

Ramadan should not be approached as just a money-making opportunity, but rather a chance for brands to connect meaningfully with potential or existing customers, the report advises.

This is easier said than done as most brands will look at the bottom-line and take that as their primary metric of success.

“If at the very least we can encourage some of these companies to look at their own Muslim team members and consider how they might be more thoughtful and aware of their needs, then I think that’s a great start,” said Gould.

“We’re not naive enough to think that selling isn’t important to brands, but ultimately consumers will decide whether these brands are doing enough to connect with them and making a genuine effort to reach them as they would any other demographic,” he said.

If Muslim audiences feel the right intention is there, then it makes a difference, according to Gould.

This effort can be a fine balance, he added, as Muslims are very diverse, so brands will get a wide variety of responses to what they are doing.

“Take Nike as an example. When they launched their range of sports and swimwear for Muslim women, many Muslims welcomed the inclusion efforts of such a global, mainstream brand, while others saw it as a purely commercial decision that disregarded the Muslim-focused sportswear brands that already existed,” said Gould.

“Understanding this wide diversity of people, cultures and opinions is one of things we’d like to help brands with – helping them be better informed before they start making decisions,” he said.

 

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
UAE changes weekend schedule in break with regional custom

The United Arab Emirates announced it will transition to a four and a half-day official working week with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend. 

The move away from the Sunday to Thursday working week aligns the UAE with most major economies worldwide, although its neighboring countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, continue to observe a Friday-Saturday weekend, common in some Muslim countries as it revolves around Friday prayers.

“The extended weekend comes as part of the UAE government’s efforts to boost work-life balance and enhance social wellbeing, while increasing performance to advance the UAE’s economic competitiveness,” the UAE state news agency said in a statement. 

The move applies to federal government entities and also introduces new working hours, with Monday to Thursday workdays now starting at 7:30 am and ending at 3:30 pm, and Friday working hours from 7:30 am until 12:00 pm, according to the statement. 

News reports indicated that private businesses will likely follow the government's directive, as they had done in 2006 when the Saturday-Wednesday work week changed. Dubai's education authorities said private schools would also open in line with the government decision. 

“This is a major cultural, societal and economic shift that can be expected to provide a massive boost for the UAE economy,” said Nigel Green, the CEO and founder of Dubai-based deVere Group, a financial institution with $12 billion under advisement.

“The transition will cause an influx of new wealth and job-creating businesses relocating to the UAE,” Green added. 

The news follows the rollout of new legislation in which the UAE will allow 100% ownership of businesses for foreign nationals from December 1, 2020. Previously, all companies were required to have a UAE citizen sponsor.

Green said that the UAE, particularly Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is already recognized as two of the most powerful business and financial hubs globally by international investors, attracted by a low tax environment. 

Both cities also feature in top places in Euromonitor’s Top 100 City Destinations Index, released this month.  

Dubai takes second place after Paris, the only city from an emerging country to feature in the top 10. Abu Dhabi ranks 25. Placed 20th, Istanbul is the third city of an OIC nation ranking among the top 25.

According to Euromonitor, government support provided to the private sector has been pivotal in protecting against economic shocks. Its well-managed Covid-19 response allowed for a much faster reopening of consumer services, such as retail and foodservice, and the organization of physical events. 

Taking second to fourth place, four cities from the Gulf region rank among the Top 10 in the health and safety category. Improving by 30 places, Doha takes third place after Sharjah. Dubai, fourth, and Abu Dhabi, fifth, improved their rankings by 19 respectively 20 places compared to last year.

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved

Islamic Lifestyle
US modest clothing brand Veil expands across the Middle East

US-based Veil Garments has recently partnered with Azadea Group to bring its modest activewear to six Decathlon stores in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar. 

“Azadea reached out to us directly after a few of their customers in Qatar requested them to carry our brand,” Veil founder Ahmad Ghanem told Salaam Gateway. 

After selling well in Qatar, Decathlon expanded Veil products into all MENA locations. “We've actually sold out in most of their stores after the first order,” Ghanem said. “So they've continued to carry our brand with the increased demand for Veil products.”

While online shopping was soaring the past two years, helping global apparel sales stay afloat, Ghanem says working with physical store retailers like Decathlon better supports the brand. In September, Azadea announced plans to add more Decathlon stores to the four in the UAE and other key locations across Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. 

The sportswear market is expected to grow within the next four years by over 30% to an estimated $427 billion, says a McKinsey report

Azadea holds the MENA franchise for the French sporting goods retail brand, which recorded a turnover of 11.4 billion euros ($12.8 billion) in 2020. The Lebanon-based lifestyle retail company with over 10,000 employees owns and operates over 40 international franchise concepts in fashion and accessories, food and beverage, home furnishings, sporting goods, multimedia, beauty and cosmetics. The firm operates in 13 countries across the Middle East and Africa, spanning a network of more than 550 stores. 

Designer Ahmad Ghanem started Veil Garments in 2015 after raising $69,000 in crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter to produce cooling and water-repelling hijabs. He then expanded into a wide range of modest activewear. 

This year, Veil hit over $1 million in sales, more than the previous four years combined. However, Ghanem still refuses to take on investors to grow the business.

“I rather bootstrap the brand from the ground up until we were ready to scale heavily,” Ghanem said. The entrepreneur explained that Veil has, if needed, multiple capital options at disposal, naming Shopify Capital and Clearbanc as examples.

Shopify Capital offers to fund between $200 to $2,000,000 via cash advances and loans to eligible businesses. Clearco, formerly Clearbanc, is a 2015 founded Canadian lending firm. It provides start-ups capital ranging from $10,000 up to $10 million in the form of non-dilutive revenue-share agreements. The lender uses artificial intelligence to analyse a business’s financial health. 

“It's a way we can get some funding without losing any equity,” Ghanem said.

Veil Garments’ largest markets outside the U.S. are Canada, Great Britain, Singapore, Australia and Oman. International sales only account for 4.5% of the company’s revenue. “But it is 100% organic as we only directly advertise to US customers,” Ghanem said.

According to Pew Research Center, about 3.45 million Muslims lived in the US in 2017, making up about 1.1% of the population. Ghanem says he is also working on making Veil available in the UK, Singapore, Egypt and Turkey by next year. 

© SalaamGateway.com 2021 All Rights Reserved


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