Selangor

Malaysia, the Heartland of Muslim-Friendly Hospitality

Easy access to halal food, delightful cultural offerings, and existing infrastructures make Malaysia a popular destination for Muslim travellers.

Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash

Easy access to halal food, delightful cultural offerings, and existing infrastructures make Malaysia a popular destination for Muslim travellers.

In recent years, Malaysia has been excelling when it comes to Islamic tourism.

The country is an entire roster of attractions, ranging from tropical jungles and glittering shorelines to fascinating heritage and pulsating urban centres, while at the same time provides food that is halal (permissible according to Muslim guidelines called Shariah) and Muslims prayer facilities at every corner, allowing Muslim travellers to enjoy the destination with ease and without having to compromise their principles and values.

Speaking of praying, one might notice that the mosques in Malaysia are special themselves. These edifices serve as Muslims’ places of worship and community centres, often boast unique identities influenced by history, geography, and people, making them significant cultural icons worth visiting.

Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque was designed by the prolific government architect, Arthur Benison Hubback.
Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque was designed by the prolific government architect, Arthur Benison Hubback. (Photo by Shahida Sakeri)

For instance, the Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur is one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia. It stands on the bank near the confluence of Gombak and Klang Rivers, where the Selangor royal family, Raja Abdullah, along with Chinese tin miners first docked in search of tin ore and later founded the city of Kuala Lumpur that we know today.

The site was initially the location of the first cemetery for the Malay settlement back in the 19th century. But when the much earlier wooden Java Street Mosque was demolished to make way for a road widening project, the British administrators then commissioned a much sturdier, larger complex as a replacement and named it as Jamek, the Arabic word meaning the place where people congregate to worship.

The whitewashed domes of Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque are made of timber covered with malthoid roofing.
The whitewashed domes of Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque are made of timber covered with waterproof malthoid roofing. (Photo by Shahida Sakeri)

The mosque embraces the Indo-Saracenic style that once was a conventional feature in the Peninsular Malaysian architectural landscape. It has two identical minarets soaring into the sky, bare bricks and plastered walls, horseshoe arches, and three enormous whitewashed bulbous domes that just glow during the golden hours, turning it into a sight that truly lingers in the mind and heart.

“The mosque has been damaged on multiple occasions over the years, including during a devastating Japanese air-raid in 1941 and the unusually heavy rainfall in 1993. But it rose back gloriously every time,” says Mr. Johan Manaf, from the Masjid Tour Guide Program, a volunteer-led group that offers free guided tours around mosques in Klang Valley.

Realising the potential of mosque tourism in Malaysia, the Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) – a governmental body under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia dedicated toward advancing Islamic tourism – has identified various marvels with tourism appeal within the country worthy of being promoted locally and internationally.

The organisation also provides market intelligence, training and consultation to guides and mosque authorities so that they can meet visitors’ expectations better.

MORE STIMULATING EXPERIENCES FOR THE CURIOUS MINDS

There’s no better way of understanding the sense of a city than exploring it with natural storytellers: the personal tour guides. Knowing this, ITC confers the Muslim-Friendly Tour Guide (MFTG) certification to tour guides who tailor their services and tour itineraries specifically to the needs of Muslim travellers.

One recipient of such certification is Ms. Jane Rai, whose name is no stranger in the travel industry. She leads a group of passionate travel guides in providing tip-based walking tours for two hours every weekend. The tours allow guests to weave through Kuala Lumpur’s hidden gems and foodie spots at two separate locations: the East-West Connection and Chinatown.

Ms. Jane Rai helps her guests understand the history of the old quarter in Kuala Lumpur through engaging stories.
Ms. Jane Rai helps her guests understand the history of the old quarter in Kuala Lumpur through engaging stories. (Photo by Shahida Sakeri)

We personally experience the former which kicks off on a good note with a light snack in the comfortable lounge at the Cosmo Hotel. Interestingly, the hotel sits right by Leboh Ampang which is one of the oldest and busiest streets in the city. It was the main route to reach the tin mines during the city’s yore days.

One may also notice that the pre-war shophouses lining up the street have varying visual appearances and numbers of window.

“In the olden days, the administrators had introduced tax for both windows and doors. So the richer you were, the more windows you could afford for your home,” shares Ms. Jane during the tour.

These fun facts, along with other incredible stories are just some of the quality crash courses on the history and society of Kuala Lumpur that guests can expect as the tour progresses.

As the Southeast Asia’s largest museum dedicated to finest Islamic arts, this prestigious institution is at the forefront of safeguarding, conserving, and expanding the knowledge on the subject.

The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
The conservation centre of Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia was a first of its kind in the country and the region. (Photo by Shahida Sakeri)

It houses a state-of-the-art conservation centre with strong expertise, along with 12 galleries showcasing over 10,000 valuable artefacts of the Islamic civilisation as far back as the seventh century, spanning from the Middle East to China, India and Southeast Asia.

Architecture aficionados should not miss the gallery featuring replicas of famous mosques around the world because each of them is crafted in such great detail, while the lavishly decorated Damascus Room (an area intended to entertain honoured guests) from the Ottoman period is another rare exhibit not easily witnessed anywhere else.

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
The Scholar’s Library at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia holds an extensive collection of rare items including this map of Istanbul from 1559. (Photo by Shahida Sakeri)

Besides the incredible collections of artefacts, IAMM welcomes the community of scholars to access its Scholar’s Library, regarded as one of the best in the world for Islamic Art studies, with over 20,000 titles including 3,000 rare, out-of-print books bought from reputable auction houses.

Entrance fees: MYR14 for adults, MYR7 for students, MYR7 for senior citizens (Malaysians), and MYR14 for senior citizens (non-Malaysians).

Have you ever wondered how the Quran copies are made? Then get acquainted with the champion of Islamic calligraphy, Restu Foundation, an organisation that is tasked to produce the copies of Quran in Malaysia.

The institution laudably produces handwritten mushaf (manuscripts of the Quran) for the past three decades, each beautifully adorned with intricate motifs consisting of local influences like bamboo shoots and star anises.

Once completed and checked by the Lajnah Tashih al-Quran (the committee responsible in verifying the integrity of the Quran), the manuscripts are then sent to its printing plant in Putrajaya, the Nasyrul Quran Complex, which also happens to be the world’s second largest Quran production centre after Madinah.

The stamp seal of Prophet Muhamad exhibited in the gallery of Selangor Islamic Arts Garden Complex.
The stamp seal of Prophet Muhamad exhibited in the gallery of Selangor Islamic Arts Garden Complex. (Photo by Shahida Sakeri)

Back at the Selangor Islamic Arts Complex, there are multiple galleries dedicated to the arts and history of the Islamic world that visitors can learn.

The highlight is the interactive gallery called Rehlah Nabawiyyah that narrates the journey of Prophet Muhamad’s life through engaging installations such as three-dimensional animations, dioramas, holograms, and even the scaled-down replicas of Prophet Muhamad’s and his wife Siti Khadijah’s residences. We recommend bringing children to this tour as it makes learning history more engaging and meaningful!

Entrance fees: MYR15 for adults, and MYR10 for children, students, and senior citizens.

A self-pampering spa session is always delightful, but some wellness seekers may shy away from the experience as they may find it a little too indiscreet for one’s comfort. This is where a Muslim-friendly spa comes in handy.

But how does a spa become Muslim-friendly? It is when the establishment is run according to Sharia principles such as offering privacy, gender segregation, and respecting modesty, including using halal-certified products, making it ideal for hesitant guests regardless of background, creed and gender.

Teratak Spa at Seri Pacific Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, offers Urutan Malaysia to weary souls who intend to try it.
Teratak Spa at Seri Pacific Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, offers Urutan Malaysia to weary souls who intend to try it. (Photo by Teratak Spa)

A good example is the Teratak Spa, a temple of relaxation that offers a range of therapies rooted in Malaysia’s culture of wellbeing and warm hospitality. Indulge the senses from the moment guests step in, as the traditional ceremony of gently hitting the gong marks the beginning of guests’ healing journey. A thorough consultation with the therapist follows, whose gender is the same as the guests’.

Interestingly, Teratak Spa also offers Urutan Malaysia, a specially developed form of treatment centred around Malaysia’s diverse cultures. It begins with herbal foot soak and continues with a Chinese technique of Qi Gong breathing.

As the body slowly relaxes, the treatment proceeds with a Malay urut (massage) by the expert hands of the therapist. At the background, one might realise that the soothing music is actually a stream of folk songs that Malaysians might remember from childhood to bring about warm and fuzzy feeling.

The treatment wraps up with an Indian head massage that extends to the neck and shoulders, leaving the guest feeling better than ever before – truly, it is the very pinnacle of Malaysian wellness practices.

MUSLIM-FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATION RECOGNITION (MFAR) CERTIFICATION FOR HOTELS AND RESORTS

Being a Muslim-friendly country, Malaysia has no shortage of accommodations and facilities that cater to Muslim travellers. In fact, the government has even issued the MFAR scheme through ITC to help set the bar and acknowledge the properties that have gone the extra mile in making their business model and daily operations adhere to Islamic values. These may involve providing facilities for Muslim guests like prayer rooms, bidet in the washrooms, and halal food availability at the premises.

Being the first five-star hotel to receive the Islamic Quality Standard (IQS) award in Malaysia and listed under the Platinum Category by the MFAR scheme, Mardhiyyah Hotel and Suites is a syariah-compliant hotel guaranteed to meet the needs of Muslim guests.

Mardhiyyah Hotel & Suites
Mardhiyyah Hotel & Suites ia a Muslim-friendly hotel that can cater to every need of Muslim travellers. (Photo by Mardhiyyah Hotel & Suites)

Every modern room here comes with a large window, with some rooms offering spectacular views of the grand Blue Mosque, including prayer mat on top of the usual conveniences like satellite TV, mini bar, and coffee- and tea-making facilities. There is also a swimming pool on site with separate timings for male and female guests.

Moreover, the hotel makes an ideal choice for MICE events since it boasts a well-equipped ballroom and several meeting rooms along with a dedicated praying space for guests to conveniently perform their prayers comfortably in between their affairs.

Guests can also enjoy fully halal meals at its three food and beverage outlets, including Tung Yuen Chinese Restaurant, which is popular among locals for its dim sum. The hotel even has a Halal Purchasing Officer to ensure that all ingredients used in the kitchens are halal.

Sunway Hotels and Resorts is a leading hotel brand that strives to provide an inclusive, comfortable, and sustainable environment for all its guests, including Muslims.

Sunway Hotels and Resorts
A bird’s eye view of Sunway City Kuala Lumpur, location of the iconic Sunway Resort. (Photo by Sunway Hotels and Resorts)

In fact, three of its properties namely the Sunway Resort Hotel, the Sunway Pyramid Hotel, and the Sunway Lagoon Hotel have been recognised by the MFAR scheme under the Silver Category, boasting beautiful-appointed rooms complete with qibla direction, bidets and prayer mats. These hotels have separate prayer rooms for male and female guests in public areas.

These properties are also known for their fantastic dining options, operate with kitchens certified by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) that are supervised by a dedicated Halal Executive so that Muslim guests can dine with absolute confidence.

International guests coming from the Middle East and North Africa would be glad to know that there are Arabic-speaking guest relations officers available on site, should the need arises.

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It is clear that Malaysia’s future in Islamic tourism is promising. Moving forward, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, through its agency, Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), is set to embrace new opportunities and travel trends in keeping Malaysia as the top-of-mind destination among Muslim travellers.

*The writer’s visits to the establishments mentioned in this article are part of the Islamic Tourism Writers Workshop (ITWW) by Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC).

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