I hereby wish to present a brief Report on my attendance of the above-mentioned Ḥalāl Tourism Conference in Spain that was held over a period of two days and two days of tourist-sightseeing. Herewith attached is the Agenda of the Conference, which was held in Granada. The Conference had five basic themes, viz.:
- Understanding Ḥalāl Tourism
- Statistics, Economics and the Potential of Ḥalāl Tourism
- Muslim Tourists, the consumer need
- Attracting Ḥalāl Tourism
- Developing Strategies and the future for Ḥalāl Tourism in the Mainstream
From the outset, I must admit that this was the first conference I attended that the conference kept one occupied inside the conference hall from the start (09h00) till end (19h00) in the evening. This included a 20-minute tea break and a one and half hour lunch break (including ṣalāh). Thereafter, there was a “hotel-break” (freshen-up and relaxing) for one-hour and then preparing to go for dinner, and returning to the hotel @ 11h30 or after 12 midnight. The next morning one had to be in the conference hall at 09h00 sharp!
After a taxing two-day conference the delegates had to book out of their hotels in Granada @ 9h00 in the morning of the 24th and thereafter went for a tour of Granada. We then went to Córdoba by bus, which is about a 2-hour bus drive (from Granada to Córdoba). We slept over at the Marriot hotel in Córdoba. The next morning (the 25th) we did sightseeing of prominent Islāmic heritage places, including Madinat-al-Zahra. After spending the day in Córdoba we then departed for Málaga, which was about a 2-hour bus drive (from Córdoba to Málaga) and slept over at the Puerta Silken Hotel in Málaga. Málaga is one of Spain’s port cities and it also has one of Spain’s main international airports. The delegates actually departed from this airport to their respective destinations on the 26th September 2014.
Andalusia is the historical region of Spain that is insignia of the rich Islāmic heritage and Muslim reign in Spain since the Umayyad period in 711AD till 1492AD. Andalusia is a name that the Spaniards retained from the Arab-Roman naming of it during the Umayyad period. Likewise, are many other Muslim names retained in Andalusia, which is situated basically in the south-west of Spain, formerly known as the Iberian Peninsula. Andalusia consists of eight provinces, namely: Almería, Granada, Jaén, Málaga, Cádiz, Córdoba, Huelva and Seville. Granada was one of the last Muslim reign provinces and after its fall in about 1492, Islāmic rule and Islām, itself “evaporated”.
Andalusia is traditionally divided into two historical sub-regions: Upper Andalusia or Eastern Andalusia consists of the provinces of Almería, Granada, Jaén, and Málaga, and Lower Andalusia or Western Andalusia consists of the provinces of Cádiz, Córdoba, Huelva and Seville. Some of the Muslim Spaniards informed me that after the approximate 800-year Muslim rule in Spain (the Andalusian region, although historians claim that it extended beyond the Andalusian borders), there was no Islām for the following 400 years. Thereafter, Islām was further suppressed up to about 50 years, ago when the government (predominantly Christian) and other religious sectors started giving Islām and Muslims some recognition. Muslims could then practise Islām up to today, but in a very limited way. The Spanish Muslims are therefore saying that they have a 50-year of ‘revival Islām’ in Spain that has a gradual and ‘supervised’ introduction into Islāmic practices. They are still experiencing – in present-day Spain – many restrictions of building any religious sites, like masājid and madāris; sounding the adhān, and other religious practices.
The Spain Ḥalāl Tourism was the first such conference for Spain but also the entire Europe. It is therefore no surprise for the first ḥalāl tourism conference to be held in Spain, with the intention that such a conference affects and impacts on the rest of Europe, as well. The weather conditions in especially the Andalusia region is unlike the rest of Europe of extreme winter or summer weather. Andalusia enjoys a Mediterranean climate with the Atlantic ocean in its far west and the Mediterranean Sea in its south.
Spain, in general, is not unfamiliar to and/or nascent in tourism. All tourist-sights of present-day Spain are well-developed and well-preserved. This includes all the Muslim tourist-sites, as well. For example, there is saying amongst the Spaniards that, “if you haven’t seen Al-Hambra in Granada in Andalusia, then you haven’t seen Spain; and if you haven’t visited the Cathedral in Córdoba, then you haven’t experienced the ‘live history’ of Córdoba.”
Al-Hambra is actually “al-ḥamrā’“, connected to the Muslim heritage in Spain. Listening to the tour-guide, he/she would introduce and explain the finest architecture of the Palace, its original occupants of Caliphs/Leaders, including the original Arabic inscriptions on the walls. It takes one almost half-a-day to tour the entire Al-Hambra. Another tourist-sight of Islāmic significance is Madinat-al-Zahra, which was built during the time of Caliph al-Ḥakam in 973AD. It was then completely destroyed and covered with land and soil – being non-existent. A person by the name of Ricardo Velázquez Bosco initiated the archaeological excavations in 1911 (about 100 hundred years, ago). The tourist/heritage site is still in its excavation condition, but it is fascinating to walk through the ruins of a city of yester-year that existed more than one thousand years, ago. All these and other heritage/tourist sites are under the control of the Spanish government.
Looking at the five basic themes of the Ḥalāl Tourism Conference in Spain and, notwithstanding all the presentations made at the conference, one would appreciate what the organizers tried to do by focusing on tourism from an Islāmic perspective. The key objective was to attract more Muslims from all over the world to visit Spain in order to explore and identify with their Islāmic heritage in Spain, albeit of whatever “remnants” there are of it. The spin-off of this is to grow the economy of Spain, as well, thus the buy-in into ḥalāl tourism by the Spanish government and other non-Muslims. They have seen the economic potential of ḥalāl tourism for Spain. Already, the Andalusian region of Spain is a tourist/holiday destination for many Europeans because of Andalusia’s favourable weather conditions, especially in times when the rest of Spain and Europe experience extreme weather conditions. Many Middle-Eastern, far-eastern (e.g. Malaysia and Indonesia), and especially the Arab north-African countries have chosen Andalusia as one of their tourist/holiday destinations.
The non-Muslim delegates from European countries who attended the conference corroborated such sentiments when they declared their interests in ḥalāl tourism. Their rationale was that since the 2008 economic decline in especially Europe, the entire Europe has not fully recovered, yet and the people are suffering and struggling. For them, ḥalāl trade and thus ḥalāl tourism is the answer for their economic disparities and financial miseries/difficulties, which they are currently experiencing as emerging businesses and the principle of survivalism.
Like in South Africa, wine and pork are two inseparable components that are “entrenched” in the tourism industry, not only in Spain but also in the entire Europe. Ḥalāl tourism entails the focus on every aspect of the tourist industry in Spain and not only on tourist-sites and hotels, etc. One factor that pervaded throughout the conference and that was, ‘whoever subscribes or gets involved in ḥalāl tourism has to be, or becomes ḥalāl-compliant’. This was also strongly motivated and ‘demonstrated’ during the subsequent two days of taking the conference delegates on the tourists’ excursions. The niche the Muslim Spaniards, as a compromise, could get the non-Muslim hoteliers, restaurateurs and others involved in ḥalāl-compliance in the ḥalāl industry and ḥalāl tourism, was through coining or presenting the concept ‘ḥalāl-friendly’ to them.
Live entertainment with music, culture and art are other inseparable, conspicuous components of the essence of the people’s very existence in Spain. The music, art and culture as expressed by the Spaniards are emblematic expressions of the passion and love; joy and happiness; and patriotism/nationalism each Spaniard has within himself or herself for music, culture and art, amongst other things. I was informed by the European delegates that such music, art and culture are permeating throughout every other country in Europe. They cited Turkey as an example. The question is, how do we translate/interpret or transform “ḥalāl” into this? For the conference organizers, ‘ḥalāl-friendly’ was the best concept to be promoted within the Spanish/European ḥalāl tourism industry.
Actually, we need to reflect on the concept of ‘ḥalāl-friendly’ Vs ḥalāl-compliance and ḥalāl-control within a South African context and then within an international milieu.
- The non-Muslims in Europe are ready to enter into the ḥalāl arena, albeit only for economic reasons;
- The Spanish non-Muslims have displayed their willingness to comply with the ḥalāl criteria and practices. We were taken to one businessman who has already transformed his business into a fully-fledged ḥalāl-friendly;
- It is for us (South Africans and particularly the MJCHT) to reflect on issues of “ḥalāl-friendly“, music, arts and the general cultural way of doing things in terms of MJCHT’s ḥalāl standards and its interpretation of ḥalāl lifestyles, ḥalāl-friendly and the ḥalāl-compliance procedures and practices thereof;
- The above-mentioned international ḥalāl-trends are important not only for South African Muslims to understand and comprehend it correctly, but particularly for the MJCHT (as one of the forerunners in the ḥalāl industry; and guiding Muslims and non-Muslims on ḥalāl standards). This becomes even more imminent, now especially that the South African National Tourism Minister has indicated to introduce ḥalāl tourism in, especially, Cape Town;
- The MJC Halaal Trust (MJCHT) has to broaden their horizons and take ḥalāl-certification to other levels, as well, by becoming optimally involved and promoting ḥalāl Malaysia is leaps and bounds ahead of us, in this regard, and in many other facets of the global ḥalāl industry, but it does not preclude us of getting proactively involved in the macro-global ḥalāl trends, starting with South Africa.
I hope and trust that the above Report is in order;
Shaykh Achmat Sedick