JAKARTA - Providing visitors with an environment that goes in line with Islamic teachings, the Indonesian government has joined hands with Muslim scholars to turn the country into a world hub for Shari`ah tourism.
"Basically Shari`ah tourism is a concept [involving] leisure accompanied by religious values, Firmansyah Rahmin, director general of destination development for the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy (MTCE), told Khabar Southeast Asia on Thursday, March 28.
It provides facilities and services closest to the values of Islam.
The MTCE has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to promote tourism in line with Islamic teachings.
The agreement aims to turn the Muslim-majority country into an attraction to devout Muslim holiday-makers seeking to abide by their religious teachings.
"Interestingly most Muslim travelers were not only coming from the Middle East but also Europe, Australia, Japan, and China, said Riyanto Sofyan, chairman of the Indonesian Sharia Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHSIN).
The potential Shari`ah market in the tourism industry remains virtually untapped.
About 1.3 million Muslim tourists visited Indonesia in 2010.
Estimates show that about 18% of Muslim visitors were interested in Shari`ah tourism.
In Islam, Shari`ah govern issues in Muslims' lives from daily prayers to fasting and from to inheritance and marital cases to financial disputes.
The Islamic rulings, however, do not apply on non-Muslims, even if in a dispute with non-Muslims.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim state with Muslims making up around 85 percent of its 237-million population.
Christians, both Protestants and Catholics, make up nearly 12 percent of the country's population.
Some hotels have already begun to provide an Islamic environment for tourists.
"We provide a Qur'an, Muslim prayer rug and directions for praying in every room, said Riyanto, the head of the Sofyan Hotel chain.
We provide toilets with sprinklers. We also don't sell any alcohol or pork in our restaurant.
The hotel chain began the scheme 15 years ago by closing down its nightclub and discotheque.
In 2002, it began screening visitors to ensure that they are not using the hotel for un-Islamic activities.
For instance, unmarried couples are not allowed to stay at the hotel.
"Guest selection is conducted to determine whether a couple who is going to check in is a married couple, family or an unmarried couple, Riyanto said.
If they are an unmarried couple and going to stay a short time, we will politely reject them.
But some scholars call for taking the country's religious diversity into consideration while implementing the scheme.
"MUI is very supportive of the development of the tourism business," MUI representative Slamet Effendy Yusuf said.
He, however, opines that this scheme is not applicable in all Indonesian tourist sites.
"Definitely Shari`ah tourism cannot be implemented in Bali or Manado (where Muslims are in the minority), he said.However, it can be implemented in places such as East Java or Lombok. Therefore, we should be wise in implementing it.