Photo: A pilgrim prays while others circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand Mosque ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 16, 2018.REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
KUALA LUMPUR - Haj and umrah is a market ripe for businesses to tap into and Malaysian entrepreneurs are continuing to innovate to provide halal-certified products for pilgrims.
A pioneer and early mover in the market is El-Hajj Halal Skincare that set up shop in 2003 in response to the difficulty haj and umrah pilgrims would experience looking for cosmetics and personal care products that are permissible for ablution and ihram.
“We are the first [cosmetics business], I think, in the world to target haj and umrah, and now we have a lot of competitors. Ours was the first truly innovative product when we launched,” El-Hajj founder Hamudi Khalid told Salaam Gateway.
In 2004, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) halal-certified El-Hajj’s products, which at the time were a lip balm, heel balm and facial cleanser.
“The market was very small when we launched—Saudi Arabia granted visas for much fewer pilgrims. But now it is much bigger and it’s growing,” said Hamudi.
According to official Saudi figures, over 1.4 million foreigners attended haj in 2004, a number that increased to nearly 1.8 million last year. By February 9, almost 3.7 million visas had been issued for this umrah season. More pilgrims are expected; under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, the government aims to attract more than 30 million umrah pilgrims by 2030.
“There’s room for more companies to come in and provide services and products for pilgrims. Opportunities abound,” said Hamudi.
Hamudi’s latest opportunity arrived with the takeoff of Malaysia Airlines’ Amal, (MAS) the dedicated brand for its haj and umrah flights.
El-Hajj will supply amenity kits for pilgrims travelling on Amal.
The kits for business class passengers will contain a prayer mat, face mask and digital zikir counter as well as a lip balm, moisturiser and ablution water provided by El-Hajj.
Economy class passengers will receive a kit containing a prayer mat, face mask, digital zikir counter and ablution water.
“This partnership with El-Hajj is very important because first they have halal certification, and they have been in the market for quite a few years already, so they are trusted by the ummah,” Amal chief executive Hazman Hilmi Sallahudin told Salaam Gateway.
The kit takes El-Hajj away from only providing skincare products, though its range still caters mostly for pilgrims and has been designed to protect their skin from the hot, dry climate of western Saudi Arabia.
“Before we launched, I had been thinking about why must Muslims answering the call of their God once in their lifetime and travelling so far away use products that were not suitable for them. I was a bit upset and I thought someone must do something about it,” said Hamudi.
El-Hajj can be found in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Kazakhstan and Britain. The company registered around 30 percent revenue growth last year over 2017, according to Hamudi.
Even as El-Hajj continues into other product pilgrim-centric areas, skincare will continue to be its focus, especially with the Islamic economy boosting the fortunes of halal firms in its segment, says Hamudi.
“It is estimated that the skincare market has been increasing at 4 percent globally, but halal skincare has been growing at three times that pace, so there is a huge market there for all of us.”
“The market is also growing for haj and umrah and now it’s so easy for Muslims to travel. They have more money to spend so they are looking for lots of products that will help them to travel to halal destinations.”
Another Malaysian business targetting pilgrims comes from a farmhouse in northern Malaysia where bird’s nests are harvested and then transformed into a nutritional energy drink that can be consumed out of a sachet.
Edible bird’s nests are made from the saliva of the swiftlet and contain proteins, amino acids and minerals that are essential for maintaining health.
The founders of Kuala Lumpur-based Izzy Nezs, which manufactures the Lumia brand, believe this nutritional profile can help give pilgrims a natural boost, and clear their mind when it is time to pray. Lumia has been certified halal by JAKIM.
The lion’s share of the bird’s nest market is consumed by ethnic Chinese, who have hailed its supposed health benefits for generations.
Fadzil Abd Latif, Izzy Nezs’s marketing advisor, believes the Muslim pilgrim market holds strong promise for the brand, especially in sachet format.
“Our competitors sell 50 or 70 ml bottles, which can be inconvenient to walk around with, but ours is the only bird’s nest drink that is available in a sachet,” Fadzil told Salaam Gateway.
“So it’s perfect to take on haj and umrah, better than a bottle. It’s an energy booster: after you take it, five or 10 minutes later, you will feel fresh.”
Muhibbah Sinergia Resources is another Malaysian firm with its eyes on the pilgrim market.
The company produces a convenient miswak dispenser that allows pilgrims to brush their teeth in the traditional Arabian manner.
A twig with antibacterial properties that has been used for thousands of years as a form of toothbrush, miswak is recommended for use by Muslims before religious rituals.
“We have put the miswak into small pellets and stacked them in a pen dispenser so it’s easy to use and carry,” Sadiqin Arjuna, operations manager at the Klang-based family business, told Salaam Gateway.
“Miswak is also advised for travellers to use when they set out on a journey and when they arrive. This device is perfect for pilgrims so they can feel what it would have been like to clean their teeth in this way centuries ago.”
Muhibbah Sinergia Resources is also designing a portable rigid prayer mat, similar to a lightweight school desk frame, which can be used by pilgrims who have difficulty kneeling.
“There are lots of ways people can be made more comfortable during haj and umrah. But we haven’t seen many of these things available yet, so we have to design them ourselves,” Sadiqin added.
(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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