Halal holidays in the sun (BBC video)

From BBC News | By Shaimaa Khalil | August 13th 2010 Mizan Raja and Nazma Begum talk about their experience of a 'halal holiday...

From BBC News | By Shaimaa Khalil | August 13th 2010

Mizan Raja and Nazma Begum talk about their experience of a 'halal holiday'
If you see a veiled Muslim woman sitting on a beach watching her husband and children splashing in the waves, don't assume it's her religion that keeps her from joining in the fun.
Muslim women can often be seen swimming while veiled - though they may not want to on beaches where most women are wearing bikinis.
The problem also occurs in some resorts in Muslim countries with an international tourist trade.
Expensive hotels in some Arab countries actually ban veiled women from their pools so that Western guests feel at home.
One answer for Muslim families who want to play in the water together is Halal tourism.
The idea took off several years ago, as hotel companies witnessed the success of the Sharia-compliant banking and investment sector and saw their opportunity.
It encompasses the main aspects of Sharia-compliant living such as no alcohol, Halal food, separate mosques for prayer and modest dressing.
And with nearly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, the potential market is huge.
 I find it very alarming - cultural racism or religious racism, which is what this to me is, is saying there is no common humanity 
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Mizan Raja, his wife Nazma Begum and their four children travelled this summer from the UK to Alanya, on Turkey's southern, Mediterranean coast, for a beach holiday.
They had been to British resorts before - such as Brighton and Southend-on-Sea - but Nazma could only watch while the others played.
"I really thought I was missing out to be honest, like I was held back from doing something that was really fun and enjoyable.
"But here, everybody has been getting involved and having lots of fun," she said.
Women-only facilities
Large screens in the reception area of the family's four-star hotel advertised the hotel's facilities, without using female models.
Between enjoying the beach, the restaurants, the segregated spa facilities and pool areas, guests hear the call to prayer five times a day.
The term burkini (or burqini) was used by Lebanese Australian Australian designer Aheda Zanetti for a swimming suit she introduced for Muslim women in 2006-7
Today it is also used informally to describe home-made swimming costumes that cover the body except for the face hands and feet
Another feature that many women consider the highlight is an open-air women-only swimming pool on the sixth floor, at the very top of the hotel.
Even the elevator accessing the pool is for women alone.
Before Nazma and I got into the pool we were both checked for cameras and mobile phones.
Nazma's experience of women-only pools in England was quite different, she said.
"I've actually been to a women-only pool session and all of a sudden a man walked in and he was going to be the lifeguard, which contradicted what it was all about," she said.
A remarkable thing about the women-only pool area is how relaxed the women look.
Most of the women in the hotel were covered. They either wore a headscarf (hijab) or full-face veil (niqab).
In the ladies' pool however, none of the women were covered, and some were wearing regular swimming costumes.
"One person, the other day, I didn't recognise her!" Nazma said. "She was wearing the burkini but she looked so different because she (normally) wears the niqab.
"I could see her face and she was smiling. You could tell she felt safe and secure in this environment," Nazma added.
Growing market
On the beach I met Thuraya Al Haj Mustafa, a Palestinian-German who has been coming to Turkey with her family for the past five years.
They were one of the first families to try the Halal beach holidays.
"What I enjoy myself is being able to go to the beach with my whole family, not just my husband, to go to the sea. I can go as well. I can swim with my children," she said.
"I can have fun with them… you know in Arab countries like Palestine it's normal for ladies to sit by the beach but not to swim. Here I can do everything I like," Thuraya said.
With countries like Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia leading the way in Halal tourism, the Middle East has yet to exploit this young, growing market.
Muslim family in the sea
Halal tourism brings people together, argues Thuraya Al Haj Mustafa (right)
Only a handful of Sharia or Halal hotel developments have so far materialised in the region - yet the World Tourism Organisation says Gulf travellers spend $12bn (£7.7bn) annually on leisure travel.
Abdul Sahib Al Shakiry, an Iraqi tourism expert and founder of Islamic Tourism Magazine, said that a good chunk of this money could be channelled into the Halal tourism industry.
"People want to spend money and if you give them what they want, they'll spend money in this direction and there will be business," he said.
But while some welcome the arrival of the Islamic beach holiday, others see it as a form of isolationism.
'Double standards'
"I find it very alarming," says Muslim writer and columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
"Cultural racism or religious racism, which is what this to me is, is saying there is no common humanity. That we have to, even on holiday, be apart from the rest of you.
"You can go on holiday anywhere in the world and you don't have to drink, nobody forces you to drink.
Muslim women wearing the burqini
A sense of freedom: Burkini-wearing is the norm on a Halal beach holiday
"I accept the Halal food argument but there are always other thing you can eat.
"How would we feel if there were Christian-White only holidays advertised?" she said.
"We would be appalled. You can't have double standards."
Thuraya, on the other hand, said that such holidays are not isolating but rather bring people together.
"You see Muslim people from all over the world. You have Muslim people from China, Russia, Belgium, France.
"The other thing is that when I go to any other normal vacation or hotel they wouldn't accept me wearing the burkini," she added.
"They don't make me feel comfortable so why should I go there?
"I'm not searching for isolation but there's no other possibility for me as a Muslim lady," she said.
Whether or not Halal tourism drives people apart, or brings them together, one thing is for sure - Mizan, Nazma and their children had a fantastic time on this beach holiday.
On their last day in Alanya, Nazma told me that the one thing that has given her a sense of freedom she had not had before, is the burkini.
"I'm not held back any more. I've been able to go in the sea and take part and not think twice.
"Everyone I've seen has been wearing burkinis, so I don't feel like the odd one out," she said.
"It's been a really good experience and something that we want to come back and enjoy next year."
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Watch Fast Track on the BBC World News channel on Fridays at 2230 GMT, Saturdays at 1230 and 1830 GMT or Sundays at 0730 GMT.


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