Brunei is the Ultimate Halal Vacation









Anis Ramli
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

Sunday, January 11, 2015

HALAL Travel is fast becoming a catchphrase in the travel industry. The Muslim travel market segment was estimated to be worth US$140 billion ($187.33 billion) in 2013, representing almost 13 per cent of global travel expenditures. Brunei Darussalam joins an increasing number of countries that are now keen on tapping into this segment.

With 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide as potential customers expected to spend US$181 billion on travelling by 2018, Brunei would be remiss not to tap into this growing and lucrative market.

Already known internationally as one of the world’s foremost Islamic countries, many of Brunei’s tourism products and services are already Muslim-friendly while others are adapting their services to take into account the unique faith-based needs of Muslim travellers. In short, Brunei makes for a wonderful and easy destination for the Muslim vacationer as well as those interested to experience an Islamic country that is both modern and tolerant.

Mosques that are majestic in its design and highlight the unique culture and architecture of the country can easily be found everywhere. The larger and more well-known mosques, such as the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, also offer both Muslims and people of other faiths the opportunity to discover its history and architecture through its scheduled guided tour. Located in the heart of capital Bandar Seri Begawan, the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddin Mosque is a great starting point to understand Islam and its cultural context as well as its role in the community.

But halal travel means more than just mosque visits. Brunei as a Muslim-friendly destination also factors in the ease of vacationing in the 21st century, in compliance with the Quran and Sunnah. Hotels across the country have rooms equipped with the prayer direction (qiblah), prayer mats and in some rooms, Quran for remembrance. Minibars are Muslim-friendly as the entire country is alcohol-free.

The observation of the five daily prayers is made even easy as prayer times are provided in all local publications. Royal Brunei’s award-winning inflight magazine, Muhibah, available to guests of high-end hotels, also publish the prayer times for easy reference.

Meanwhile, the musolla (praying room) is also available in major tourist attractions. Tour companies that operate in Brunei also respect prayer times, further providing peace of mind and ease for the Muslim traveller as they vacation around the country.

It’s also interesting to note that on Fridays, the holy day for Muslims, businesses close for the duration of the entire Friday prayer as a sign of respect. This includes restaurants and eateries (although hotel staying guests can still make use of in-room dining facilities), and allows the visitor a unique insight into the everyday Islamic practices of the faithful in Brunei.

Ease of vacationing is further provided by the widespread availability of halal food. From fine dining to street food, there are plenty of choices to satisfy the traveller. All fast food and international F&B chains are halal certified, too. Muslim tourists visiting during the holy month of Ramadhan will also find a number of places that offer iftar (breaking fast) and Ramadhan bazaars. Major hotels also provide suhoor (pre-dawn meal) while the iftar spreads are often a culinary adventure in themselves.

For lovers of Islamic culture and history, Brunei will appease their appetite for these and more. It is simply a country filled with rich historical and Islamic references. Visitors can truly understand this when they visit the famed Kampong Ayer.

This cluster of homes built on stilts over Brunei River is where Brunei’s civilisation was thought to have stemmed from. It was through here that Islam first came to Brunei and, it was also once an important trading port for ships sailing from Straits of Malacca.

The Arabs that came to the Malay archipelago to trade spices would make Brunei their port of call. Fast forward to the present day, you will see how remnants of that trading have lodged itself into Brunei’s cultural realm. Those same spices have come full circle and used not only for local cooking, but extend into healing therapies unique to Brunei and the Southeast Asian region. Visitors may explore the spas in major hotels that highlight the use of these historically traded spices in various indulging and relaxing treatments.

It is also a good time to familiarise yourself with the local coffee shops, or ‘kopitiam’. Brunei’s kopitiam revive the art of coffeehouses that thrive in many early Muslim civilisations. Where once coffee beans were chewed to keep worshippers alert at night, Brunei has taken the coffee concept and localised it to reflect the country’s cultural diaspora.

Of course, other mainstream attractions are there too for the traveller to explore, such as the Royal Regalia Building, Brunei Museum and Ulu Temburong National Park.

Brunei is an easy country for one to have a syariah-compliant vacation. From the airlines to hotels and local businesses, Brunei’s everyday lifestyle centres around putting Islam first and everything else second. Royal Brunei, for instance, is the only Southeast Asian airline that maintains an alcohol-free environment. It is for these reasons that the country is poised to capture the huge halal travel market and remain among one of the top destinations for the Muslim vacationer.

Muhibah is the inflight magazine of Royal Brunei Airlines.

Muhibah

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