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KAI RYSSDAL: We’re live from Dubai this week, in the United Arab Emirates. A guy I was out to dinner with the other night ordered a beer when we sat down. Didn’t work out. I think he wound up with sparkling water. Sharia, or Islamic law, shows up in a lot of different businesses in this region, including hospitality. The Al Mulla Group, based in Dubai, announced a Sharia-compliant hotel portfolio not too long ago. Alcohol-free. The food will be “halal,” prepared in accordance with Islamic laws, and they’ll have different wait-staffs for men and women. Somewhat less strict, but still Islamic-friendly hotels are popping up all over the Middle East, including here in somewhat-less-strict Dubai.
We sent Marketplace’s Sean Cole to check them out.
SEAN COLE: I went to the new Copthorne the day it opened. It’s a four-star hotel not far from the airport. Manish Singh, the Assistant Sales and Marketing Director, showed me around.
MANISH SINGH: King-size bed, overlooks to the creek, with a little balcony.
One hundred sixty-three rooms and suites running anywhere from $400 to $1,000 a night, including taxes. No min-bar. This Copthorne is owned by the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, so it’s a dry hotel. Also, there are different swimming times for men and women.
SINGH: From seven until two is for ladies and from two to seven in the evening is for the men.
But apart from that, you wouldn’t know it’s Sharia-compliant. In fact, Singh didn’t want to talk about it being Sharia compliant — at all.
SINGH: We just want to show everybody we are a hotel. We don’t want them to buy us because we are Sharia, and not to buy us because we are Sharia.
Would it not though be a great selling point?
SINGH: We don’t want to be stereotyped. We want to be open for all.
The thing is that Dubai has really tailored itself for all-comers. It’s a place you can let your hair down, so a Sharia-compliant hotel here is news, but a lot of them are in the works, including a whole Islamic-friendly brand called Tamani. The first one just opened in Dubai Marina. Five others are planned for Dubai alone. Twenty-two hundred rooms in a hospitality market that’s famished for them, and lucky for me Tamani didn’t mind talking about Sharia one bit.
ALAIN GUERNIER: There is absolutely no reason for us to hide our visions, our concept and our values.
Alain Guernier is French, if you haven’t figured that out. He’s also the CEO of Tamani Hotels and Resorts.
GUERNIER: We are also holder of a very large Islamic fund. Therefore, if we raise money within the Islamic community we cannot start opening nightclubs and discos and everything else. The two are not necessarily compatibles.
But having said that . . .
GUERNIER: I think people are making far too much out of that alcohol things.
For one thing, Guernier says you can buy booze at a duty-free and drink in your room, and that’s true at all these places. For another, he says people should focus on what a hotel does provide. He gave the example of the Taj Palace Hotel, which has been around for seven years.
GUERNIER: It’s a Sharia hotel. It’s an excellent, I’ve stayed there 25 times. Excellent hotels, no bar, so? You go to the lobby. You look. Do you think they are all Arabic? They are not.
But a lot of them were the day I went, or at least there were a lot of women draped in black abayas covering everything, including their faces in some cases, and one of the guests made a point of this in explaining why he liked it there. His name’s Shams Kanani. A self-described international businessman originally from Kenya.
SHAMS KANANI: Dubai has now unfortunately become a center for illicit business, but when you come here you will see that you will not find any of those type of women around, and we feel at home, that it is like a family hotel.
Kanani was actually the first ever guest of the Taj Palace Hotel in Dubai. He came running when he heard it was going to be Sharia-compliant. He also says that his company is involved with hotel management and that he sees a lot of opportunity in the West for hotels that make Muslims feel at home.
In Dubai, I’m Sean Cole for Marketplace.
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