Why Afraid of Halal Tourism?

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Listening to debates on social media about the polemic of halal tourism (halal tourism), the author is reminded of the experience while on vacation in Bali some time ago. When entering the Asr prayer time, the writer who was at Kuta beach had difficulty finding a place of prayer. After asking local residents, they suggested that the writer go to Beachwalk shopping, which is located approximately 500 meters from the beach. At the mall, the writer then found a comfortable place of prayer.

At that time the writer wondered, why is it not provided a place of worship in Kuta beach as well as in other public places? There is no need to be labeled with a particular religion, but the place of worship can be used by people of different faiths. The availability of places of worship in public places is a necessity in a religious community such as Indonesia.

The idea of   halal tourism is not new. In countries which are boosting the tourism sector as a commodity, the development of inclusive tourism for Muslim groups is indeed stretching. This is not without cause. Muslim groups have a variety of special needs that need to be treated as ‘special’ like breastfeeding mothers and people with disabilities.

Five daily prayers and halal food security are two of the needs that most need to be accommodated. This is related to theological beliefs that are non-negotiable. In various developed countries, efforts to create a public space that is moslem friendly continues. At Baiyun International Airport Guangzhou, China, for example, the writer has enough convenience in consuming food because there are several restaurants at the airport that are certified as halal. It is at this point that the author realizes the importance of a halal label for a Muslim to determine his consumption choices.

Halal vs haram tourism

‘If there is halal tourism in Bali, let’s push forbidden tourism in Aceh.’ That was the sound of one of the narratives built by the group rejecting the idea of   halal tourism. The narration is not quite right, but the writer does not entirely blame the impetus over the sarcasm. The emergence of such narratives can be caused by several things.

First, there is a phobia in our society against labels that are theological in nature, or more precisely in Arabic. This is the result of using theological terms that are not in accordance with the original function and understanding. For example, the term hijrah is precisely interpreted narrowly as a change in the way someone dresses. There are many public figures who declare themselves to be migrants instead turning out to be more exclusive in their behavior. The inappropriate theological term users often use the lecture pulpit to attack other groups.

The emergence of exclusive groups that use religion as a mask in committing violence adds to this fear. As a result, there are many stories where Arabic names such as ‘Ahmad’, ‘Abdullah’ and so on have difficulty gaining access to the West because of the actions of some people who present the face of Islam as a scary face. This has become self-criticism among Muslims so that they work together to ‘clean up’ the name of Islam from violent acts that are not in accordance with the teachings of the religion.

Secondly, the existence of polarization in society is so acute that an area is identified with a certain religion. To respond to any issue to use a comparison that is considered ‘break even’. The shift in the religious paradigm from inclusivism to exclusivism has been a driving force why this polarization is so strong in recent years. Therefore, the idea of   halal tourism is considered a form of threat to locality.

Third, the rejection of the idea of   halal tourism is a form of social protest to the government that is too privileging one group, but does not heed the needs of other groups. Regarding the provision of places of worship, for example, the government seems to be still ‘selective’ because there are many cases of religious people having difficulty in carrying out their beliefs and establishing places of worship. The case of the Bogor Yasmin GKI sealing, the refusal of the temple in Bekasi, the refusal of the mosque in Papua, the expulsion of the Ahmadiyya community in Lombok, and a number of other cases that failed to resolve made the people embarrassed and pointed at each other. As a result the community needs to do ‘revenge’ due to the injustice it receives.

Fourth, the emergence of community ignorance due to over-exploitation of religious terms. In recent times, people have always been offered a variety of halal products, shar’i, and so forth. Though Islamic law says all things (other than worship) are lawful until there is an unlawful proposition. But in Indonesia which is predominantly Muslim, this argument is reversed as if all of it is haram until there is a halal certification issued. Halal certification is no longer a theological activity, but has become a business commodity.

Beyond the debate that arises, if examined properly, the idea of   halal tourism is not something scary. This concept refers to the availability of places of worship and halal food security in a tourist area. The status is the same as the availability of diffable access and space for breastfeeding mothers in public spaces that should be provided. Instead of calling it halal tourism, halal tourism as is being worked on by many countries is more worthy of being called a moslem friendly tourism area.

 Muslim market

Muslim groups are a promising new market in terms of business. Janmohamed (2016) writes the emergence of a Muslim middle class in the West that makes halal a prerequisite for choosing products. The same high purchasing power and spiritual behavior has made the halal business flourish there.

Then why sell halal labels also sell well in Indonesia? It turns out that the phenomenon in the West is not much different from what happened in Indonesia. The Center for Middle Class Consumer Studies (CMCS) in 2014 said the number of Muslim consumers reached 87 percent of the entire population of Indonesia. In the Muslim middle class segment, what CMCS found is no different from the results of research conducted by Janmohamed where halal is one of the main considerations of a person in making a product purchase decision.

Discouraged halal tourism seems to answer the needs of the market. If it is truly implemented, the government should consider several things. One of them is an effort to develop 10 new Bali regions which have been campaigned for in the past year. While in established tourist locations such as Bali, the government only needs to complete the various needs of visitors without giving branding which actually creates resistance. In short, the government does not need to disturb the ‘old’ Bali which has now been overloaded due to the arrival of 4 million tourists each year.

Providing facilities for places of worship at tourist sites is important in order to attract a bigger market. But far more important than that all, the government should ensure that all religious communities can carry out their beliefs safely and comfortably as mandated by the 1945 Constitution. Not only in tourism, but also in social spaces where all people can live together in harmony. Wallahua’lam.

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