DRAWING THE DEVOUT

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Published on September 01, 2015 with No Comments

Malaysia emerges as a favourite destination to combine Islamic conferences and a halal getaway.

Words ANIS RAMLI
Images TOURISM MALAYSIA

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Malaysia is becoming a key fixture on the international Islamic lecture circuit as more and more notable speakers pencil in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang on their speaking calendars. Interestingly, speakers of the calibre of Zimbabwe’s Mufti Ismail Menk, Jamaican-born Dr Bilal Philips and British Sheikh Abdurraheem Green aren’t just drawing the faithful of Malaysia, but also devout English-speaking and affluent Muslims from across the region who shuttle in on budget and full-fare airlines.

In the last calendar month, Malaysia has hosted some of the biggest and most notable events such as The Straight Path Convention, Ilm Fest 2015, Journey of Faith and, in Ramadhan 2014, a whole month of lectures on “Getting to Know the Companions of Muhammad” by the respected scholar Mufti Menk. These events are always well publicised and attended by a full house. What’s even more interesting is that conference audiences come from far and wide. Zalina Omar, manager of Dakwah Corner Bookstore (DCB), organisers of The Straight Path Convention says, “It was very encouraging to note that among our audience were representatives of over 10 countries.” Some came from as far as the Philippines and Australia.

Zalina is not alone in noticing that English-medium international Islamic conferences are becoming popular not just with Malaysians, but overseas guests as well. Laila Hassan, who’s company LightUp7 was tasked to organise the first international conference for Sri Lankan’s The Daily Reminder in Malaysia says, “I believe the public’s gravitation towards these events is due to its content that seek to educate Muslims on authentic knowledge untainted by cultural bias and traditions.” Today’s Muslims, she says, are more aware of the importance to understand Islam based on the real teachings of the Holy Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings be upon him) exemplary behaviours and manners.

Observers opine that this sudden reawakening could perhaps be a result of the rise and continuous perpetuation of Islamophobia in the West and around the world. As more Muslims realise that they have to take a stand and mobilise the authentic teachings of Islam – which is a religion of peace – and transform the negative mindset, these new platforms for Islamic education provide the means to remind and educate.

In fact, scholars such as Menk, Philips, Green and many others have been singled out for their contemporary Islamic views and approach, while maintaining Islam’s authentic teachings. This may also explain why some of these events have also attracted audiences of other faiths. At a conference entitled “One God, Why So Many Religions?” last year, organiser Multiracial Reverted Muslims (MRM) reported a wide range of people in the audience that included various races and religious backgrounds. MRM’s Vice President, Mary-Ann Gooi explains, “We chose that particular theme because we felt that it was important for people to understand the message that Islam carries – that it is a faith that unites humanity regardless of race or status. We also wanted to provide a platform for people of different faiths to clear misconceptions and have their questions on Islam answered by an expert in the field.” Interestingly, the conference’s speakers, Dr Bilal Philips and Malaysian scholar Sheikh Hussain Yee, are both reverts to Islam, further lending an authentic voice to the event’s purpose.

In addition, these events are not just food for the spiritual soul. They also feature a secular dimension – notably, packaging speaking engagements to boost a specific segment of the halal and Islamic tourism market. Linda Harris from Perth purposely arrived in Malaysia a week prior to The Daily Reminder Conference that took place 29-30 August. During that time, she journeyed to Penang to admire its pre-war architecture and then to Terengganu to get acquainted with the gentle giants of Tasik Kenyir’s elephant sanctuary. She says, “I was super excited about the event itself and the speaker line-up was impressive. It was not difficult to make that decision to come here for a short holiday and include a session where I can increase my knowledge in Islam.”

Malaysia as a brand has increased its efforts in developing its destination products and visitor experiences, especially in the Muslim travel sector. In marketing itself as a preferred destination for Islamic events and conferences, Malaysia continues to create new opportunities for innovative services and processes while meeting planner and audience perceptions about value and experience. The presence of these attributes – halal food and services, accessibility of prayer places, a tolerant culture that generally embraces a gentle and warm etiquette and mannerism – coupled with competitively priced lodgings, pristine nature, beautiful beaches and UNESCO-awarded cities and sites – help to enhance conference attendee experience.

Internet-savvy travellers also help drive the trend of this particular market forward. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Weibo are often used as a communications platform to promote the events and create interest. And, with customers increasingly seeking a personalised travel experience, combining conferences with travel appears to be a winning combination. Particularly for the devout Muslims.

 

 

Royal Brunei Airlines flies Kuala Lumpur 2x daily.

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