Fancy spending a night in a converted shipping container on a working fruit farm? It’s far more cosy, comfortable and stylish than it sounds. Muslim travellers make up a massive percentage in the global tourism sector, and tour operators are starting to take notice. According to the 2015 Global Muslim Travel Index by Singapore-based halal travel specialist CrescentRating and MasterCard, this sector was worth $145-billion in 2014, with 108-million Muslim travellers. It is expected to grow to $200-billion in 2020, with Muslim travellers set to increase to 150-million that year.
Countries with large Muslim populations such as Malaysia,the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are no longer the only options for halal travel; countries such as Australia and Thailand are eyeing their share of the Muslim tourist market by focusing on faith-based needs such as halaal food, separate spas for women, and prayer rooms in malls and airports.
And South Africa, too, is fast establishing itself as a holiday destination for Muslims worldwide. It has begun to gain traction across the world as a destination that caters not only to the Muslim population of South Africa — which comprise less than 2% of the total population — but also as a place that is accommodating to Muslims from all over the world, who seek to enjoy their holidays without having to make sacrifices in order to cater to their religious needs.
Halaal tourism is also slowly gaining traction in South Africa, with a proliferation of Muslim-owned and -operated B&Bs and guesthouses. “It’s the fastest-growing sector of tourism in the world,” says Nazreen Salie, chief executive of Cape Malay Tours. But she believes it remains an untapped market in South Africa. “After 9/11, South Africa lost the opportunity to be an alternative to the United States and Europe. How many of our five-star and four-star hotels, for example, have a halaal-certified kitchen?” says Salie.
Salie believes that South Africa is playing catch-up with the rest of the world, in terms of tourism and of being tourists themselves. “The halal logo is the mark of assurance, and [having] tourism products and services in line with Islamic beliefs means that it is becoming more marketable.” The types of accommodation available to Muslim travellers varies, and can be tailored to what kind of holiday they prefer. There are a number of game lodges in South Africa which are both either fully Muslim-owned, or Muslim-friendly (meaning that while not exclusively halal, prior arrangements can be made to accommodate halal needs). International halal travel site HalalTrip.com offers a full Spectacular South Africa tour, with stops in Johannesburg (including Soweto), all the way up to the Kruger Park, before a full tour and beach holiday in Cape Town — the first place where Islam came to South Africa. Local site, Stay Halaal showcases a number of halal accommodation options across South Africa.
The term “halal” refers to a product that adheres to Islamic law and is permissible for consumption. There is no shortage of halal food in South Africa, no matter where you may be. For convenience sake, most of the big international franchises in South Africa, such as McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC, are not only widely available, but also certified halal by halal authority bodies. “We take great pride in the quality of our food, the customer experience and our local communities. At McDonalds, traceability is a key requirement within our supply chain. Due to our stringent quality control practices, we are able to trace our food within our supply chain. As already mentioned, McDonald’s South Africa ensures that all our meat is 100% Halaal certified and sourced only from Halaal certified suppliers,” says McDonalds South Africa on their website. Besides the chains though, there are plenty of halal eateries across the country. Halal food is easily accessible, and Muslim tourists have many options — everything from traditional curries to schwarmas and steak.
“Unlike Europe and North America, the discussions in South Africa relating to religious freedom do not centre on the extent to which religion can be excluded from the public domain, but rather the extent to which it can be accommodated,” writes Dr Waheeda Amien.
South Africa has freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution that is lauded, the world over, for its progressive nature. This includes the right to gather to observe religious belief, freedom of expression regarding religion, the right of citizens to make choices according to their convictions, the right of citizens to change their faith, the right of persons to be educated in their faith, the right of citizens to educate their children in accordance with their philosophical and religious convictions, the right to refuse to perform certain duties or assist in activities that violate their religious beliefs, and the rights of religions to institutional freedom.
In practice there is also general tolerance within South African society, and far less Islamophobia than is apparent in places such as North America and Europe. Muslim women face far less harassment, and people are generally agreeable and supportive of the need for Muslims to fulfil religious obligations and observe holy days. While there are isolated incidences of intolerance and harassment, given the country’s history of inequality and its lasting effects, for the most part there is general honouring of the constitutional decree respecting freedom of religion.
Auwal Mosque in the Bo-Kaap was built by the first Muslims in the country, who came from Indonesia, in 1798. Since then, as Islam has grown in South Africa, so has accessibility to mosques across the country. You can find mosques or jamaat khanas (prayer rooms) in every nook and cranny — even in the middle of the Karoo — there are literally hundreds.