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HALAL ECONOMY

Australia’s Growing Camel Meat Trade Reveals a Hidden History of Early Muslim Migrants

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Afghan cameleers helped settle Australia’s interior.

There is a camel in Hanifa Deen’s kitchen. He looks down at her as she cooks, eyes proud yet warm, delicately flared snout-smelling dinner. While the creature is merely an image on a poster, Deen, who has written several books on Islam in Australia, regards him affectionately. “It looks like such a regal creature, such a haughty creature,” she says. That’s why you’ll only find camels decorating the walls of Deen’s kitchen, rather than filling a pot on her stove. “I admit, I can’t bring myself to eat a camel burger,” she says.

For many, disinterest in eating camel may sound natural. But around the world, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa, and their diasporas, camel meat is dinner. In parts of Morocco, it’s stewed into fragrant tagines on special occasions. In Cairo, diners will pay a premium for the animal’s delicate fat. In Somali neighborhoods of the American Midwest, camel burgers offer immigrant communities, and curious neighbors, a fusion-inspired taste of home.

In contrast, most Australians, who are predominantly European in origin, come from cuisines unused to camel meat. Yet for a large lobby of Australian environmentalists, animal rights activists, and entrepreneurs—not to mention foodies—getting more camel into the Australian diet is not only a gustatory goal: It’s a solution to a major environmental problem.

That’s because Australia is home to the largest feral camel population in the world, with an estimated 300,000 to one million animals. The camels aren’t native to Australia: They were imported in the 19th century to explore the vast deserts of the country’s interior. Left to roam after the advent of motorcars, the population now poses a threat to both delicate ecosystems and local water supplies. In an attempt to address this environmental damage, the Australian government has sponsored aerial camel culls, in which feral camels are shot down by helicopter, their flesh left to rot in the sand. This outrages animal rights activists and many have suggested another way. Why not use feral camels for meat? In Australian neighborhoods home to recent Middle Eastern and African immigrants, after all, halal butcher shops already carry camel meat taken from the Outback, and the Australian camel-meat export industry is growing modestly.

The camel meat industry doesn’t just aspire to address the country’s feral camel conundrum. It also reveals the lingering legacy of a little-known aspect of Australian colonization. Recent Muslim immigrants to Australia present one potential market for the country’s fledgling camel-meat trade. Yet it was Australia’s first Muslim migrants who helped bring camels to Australia in the first place—and in doing so, enabled the settlement of the Australian interior.

In the 19th century, British colonists in Australia faced an endless desert. While Australia’s aboriginal people had thrived in the interior’s arid landscape for millennia, Europeans were stumped by the vast expanse. Was it flat or mountainous? Dry or a giant inland sea? Early expeditions failed to make much progress. European modes of exploration, including by horse, weren’t suited to the terrain.

Inspiration came from elsewhere in the Empire. The British had come into contact with camels in their colonial holdings in India, where camels and their drivers had traveled Northwest India’s Thar desert for centuries. In 1858, The Victorian Exploration Committee tasked horse dealer George Landell with recruiting camels and their drivers from India. When explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills set off on their famous 1860 trek across the Australian continent, they brought camels with them. Hardy, steady, and dependable, able to trek for miles under the brutal sun with very little water, camels became an invaluable part of the overland network of goods, labor, and infrastructure that enabled the settlement of Australia’s interior. In the latter half of the 19th century, Australians would import an estimated 20,000 camels to the continent.

Camel handlers came with them. Called “Afghan cameleers,” an estimated 3,000 of these mostly Muslim men migrated to Australia. They weren’t all from Afghanistan—many came from British North India—but white Australians dubbed them all “Afghan,” and the name stuck, says Philip Jones, Senior Curator of Anthropology at the South Australian Museum. Despite the careless nomenclature, the cameleers’ significance was acknowledged by some white Australian officials. “It is no exaggeration to say that if it had not been for the Afghan and his Camels,” wrote one white Australian official in 1902, then “Wilcannia, White Cliffs, Tibooburra, Milperinka, and other Towns, each center of considerable population, would have practically ceased to exist.”

Yet the settling of Australia’s interior was, like the rest of the British colonial project, underlined by a toxic cocktail of racial pseudoscience. The Muslim cameleers, especially those who came from what is now Afghanistan, were regarded as “the aboriginal natives of Asia,” says Nahid Afrose Kabir, a historian, and sociologist who has written a book on the history of Australian Muslims. While the cameleers may have escaped the more extreme violence visited by Europeans on Australian Aboriginal communities, white Australians’ belief in the Muslims’ racial inferiority, coupled with competition over scarce Outback drinking water, boiled over into occasional racial violence.

“The Afghans and their camels are the filthiest lots that ever went near water,” wrote one Australian official in 1893. Tensions exploded in 1894, when a white Australian, Tom Knowles, shot and killed two cameleers, Noor Mahomet and Jehan Mohamet, as they performed wudu, the ritualistic washing before namaz or Muslim prayers, in a Western Australian spring. A jury found Knowles not guilty.

The cameleers set up enduring networks of infrastructure and trade, but they were mostly transitory. This was partly the nature of their profession: Even in India, cameleers were accustomed to undertaking long, rough, episodic voyages on contract. But it was also by Australian government design. By the late 19th century, calls for Australia to become a country of its own were mounting. Nationalism brought a wave of heightened racism. In 1901, the new Australian nation codified these racist sentiments into law. Collectively called the White Australia policy, these immigration laws barred immigrants pending their successful completion of Byzantine “language tests,” administered in any European language immigration officers pleased. Like the “literacy tests” of the U.S. Jim Crow South, these tests were about race, not language; the arcane requirements magically loosened for European applicants. The policy halted almost all non-white immigration until the Australian government relaxed enforcement in the 1970s.

Combined with the advent of motorized transport, the White Australia policy meant there was no place left for the Afghan cameleers. By the 1920s, the vast majority of them left the country. Their camels remained behind. Some of them were shot under the South Australian Camels Destruction Act of 1925. Others were released into the wilderness, where they continue to thrive to this day.

While the most visible, feral camels aren’t the only mark the cameleers left on Australia. Several of their mosques, like those in Perth and Adelaide, continue to host religious services. Meanwhile, descendants of the 300 or so cameleers who stayed and married white or Aboriginal women still live in parts of South Australia, recognizable by their surnames and their family pride.

Hanifa Deen’s affection for camels may stem from this legacy. Growing up in one of the few Muslim families in Perth, Deen attended a mosque alongside a few of the remaining cameleers. They seemed ancient. “I’d see all these old men, bearded with their turbans, pulling on their hookahs slowly and swaying as if caught up in a dream from another world,” she says.

When she began doing research on the cameleers for a book project, Deen was struck by the vitality of the young men in archival photographs. They were vibrant, hopeful, and very, very handsome. “My main problem was who was I going to marry,” she jokes. But in one photo, a strangely familiar face gave her pause: It was her grandfather. A businessman, he had migrated to Australia from British India in the late 19th century. His wife briefly joined him, and their son, Deen’s father, was born on the continent. While as a child he returned to South Asia with his mother, he eventually settled in Australia.* Growing up in majority-white Australia, Deen rarely heard official histories of people like her family. The reason for this omission, she says, is obvious: “Who writes the history books?”

Now, Deen and other Australian Muslims are remedying this historical erasure by writing history books themselves. Thanks to these efforts and education initiatives from institutions such as the Islamic Museum of Australia, the past couple of decades have brought increasing recognition of the cameleers’ role in Australian history to the mainstream. Kabir says this is especially important in the wake of recentbrutal Islamophobic attacks like the Christchurch mosque shooting, which was committed by a white Australian.

Meanwhile, the very groups Australia once excluded may just hold the key to solving—at least in part—the country’s feral camel dilemma. From halal butcher shops to wholesalers exporting camels to the Middle East, Australia’s camel meat trade is on the up. The industry faces challenges, primarily among them the difficulty of transporting feral camels and fresh meat across the Outback. But lovers of camel meat say it’s worth it for the taste alone: like a cross between lamb and beef, mostly lean but with pockets of sweet, delicate fat. Camel meat is so good, one Somali-Australian butcher told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it’s only a matter of time before European Australians catch on. When they do, they can thank the Afghan cameleers.


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HALAL ECONOMY

Muslim-Friendly Tourism is the Next Big Opportunity for Malaysia

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Global Muslim-friendly tourism is projected to contribute significantly to international tourism, with an estimated 230 million Muslim travelers expected to spend around $225 billion by 2028. Recognizing this immense potential, many popular destinations are introducing innovative offerings to attract Muslim tourists. Malaysia, already a preferred destination, stands to benefit greatly from this trend, provided it capitalizes on the opportunity and addresses rising competition from neighboring countries.

Muslim tourists currently make up about 20% of Malaysia’s total tourist arrivals, contributing approximately RM14.7 billion to the local economy in 2023. However, countries like Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand are aggressively promoting their Muslim-friendly tourism and hospitality (MFTH) products and services, posing a competitive challenge for Malaysia.

In response to the increasing competition and to tap into the vast potential of Muslim tourists, the Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture (MOTAC), is enhancing its efforts to strengthen Malaysia’s position as a top Muslim-friendly destination. ITC has introduced the Muslim-Friendly Tourism and Hospitality Assurance and Recognition (MFAR) and the Muslim-Friendly Tourist Guide (MFTG) programs to ensure the quality of products and services, boost tourist confidence, and open new market opportunities.

Launched in 2019, MFAR is the first government-backed recognition for businesses offering Muslim-friendly services in various areas such as tourist accommodations, spas, medical facilities, travel management, transportation hubs, shopping centers, and entertainment parks. ITC sees these standards as essential for attracting Muslim travelers and enhancing their experience in Malaysia.

Nizran Noordin, ITC director-general, stated, “Just like how Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia’s (JAKIM) halal certification has been helpful for Muslims in their decision-making regarding food and consumer goods, MFAR aims to provide the same recognition for tourism products and services.” The goal is to optimize tourists’ satisfaction and experience, enabling them to explore Malaysia’s cultural and natural attractions confidently.

The MFAR program not only assures the quality of Muslim-friendly services but also serves as a marketing tool to communicate the availability of amenities such as prayer facilities, halal food, and water for ablution. While emphasizing Muslim-friendly tourism, MFAR recognition does not exclude non-Muslim patrons, ensuring inclusivity.

The MFTG program recognizes MOTAC-licensed tourist guides who have completed ITC’s training and passed assessments on understanding the Muslim tourist market. This initiative aims to enhance the quality of services provided to Muslim tourists.

Malaysia has consistently topped the Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) since its inception in 2015. In 2023, Malaysia was named “Muslim-Friendly Destination of the Year” and “Muslim Women-Friendly Destination of the Year” at the Halal in Travel Awards. These accolades highlight Malaysia’s strong transport infrastructure, communication proficiency, ease of entry for travelers, safety, extensive halal dining options, and the availability of prayer places and Muslim-friendly accommodations.

With the upcoming Visit Malaysia Year 2026, the country targets 35.6 million tourist arrivals and RM147.1 billion in receipts. MOTAC aims to position Malaysia as an Umrah hub for Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania, further increasing Muslim tourist arrivals. Nizran Noordin emphasized that the growth of the Muslim tourist market could sustain various sectors such as banking, finance, and insurance through offerings like payment gateways, digital wallets, and travel insurance tailored for Muslim tourists.

To facilitate the application for MFAR recognition, ITC has developed a rating system where businesses can achieve silver, gold, or platinum recognition based on their level of commitment and compliance with the guidelines. Nizran Noordin expressed hope that industry players will adopt these recognitions to provide greater assurance to Muslim tourists, especially as Malaysia prepares to become an Umrah hub.

The potential for Muslim-friendly tourism in Malaysia is immense. By leveraging strategic initiatives and addressing competitive challenges, Malaysia can solidify its position as a leading destination for Muslim travelers, driving economic growth and enhancing its global standing. For the latest updates on Malaysia’s tourism initiatives, follow official announcements from the Islamic Tourism Centre and MOTAC.


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HALAL ECONOMY

Pilgrims Remain Bedrock of Saudi Tourism Plans

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By Andrew Hammond

Saudi tourism is to undergo a massive expansion with religious travellers remaining its bedrock – but some hotel operators are wary of an overheated market.

The kingdom is aiming to bring in 150 million visitors per year by 2030, with tourism accounting for 10 percent of non-oil GDP, playing a key role in its economic transformation plan valued at $1.25 trillion.

The Saudi Tourism Authority displayed the country’s offerings – from the futuristic luxury resorts in Neom, to wellness holidays in AlUla and mountain climbing in Aseer – at this year’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai. 

The plans include an additional 320,000 hotel rooms by 2030 according to property consultant Knight Frank, with more than half of them expected to be in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

“Knight Frank’s analysis of hotel supply in Mecca and Medina reveals a significant figure of 221,000 hotel rooms announced, planned or under construction,” said the consultancy. Super-rich Muslims are also seeking homes there. It added that of the 320,000 extra hotel rooms, 251,500 will be in the luxury and upscale brackets, raising the share of high-end hotels from 66 to 72 percent of the total.

The high percentage of religious tourism is telling. As the location of the annual Hajj pilgrimage and the year-round pilgrimage known as Umrah, Saudi Arabia can be sure to attract a solid base of these visitors who still account for nearly 50 percent of tourism.

Pilgrimage tour and hotel operators say the opening up of the visa system since 2019 and the end of restrictions on businesses requiring a local partner have revolutionised the sector.

“The strategy for 2030 means they need pilgrims from everywhere,” said Ahmed Saber, CEO of Indonesia-based Diar Al Manasik International.

“Before it was difficult to get the visa, difficult to get the package. But now it’s easy, you can go online.

“Businesses used to need a Saudi partner but now you can bring your company from outside and start business (registering) with the government,” he said, adding he had set up new offices in nine countries over the past year offering pilgrim tours.

Earlier this year the government began offering visas on arrival for pilgrims who are resident in the EU, US and UK or who possess a valid visa for those countries. Nationals of Australia, Canada, China, Malaysia, Norway, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey can receive an Umrah visa on arrival.

The Saudi market is so frenzied that few hoteliers seem to worry about cannibalisation amid the plethora of projects underway.

Red Sea Global, a key tourism-focused giga-project, says it will have 79 hotels by 2030. Neom is to host at least 12 resorts. Even cutting edge mall projects like Cenomi Central’s Jawharat Riyadh, which is due to open in 2027, will contain hotels.

Mandarin Oriental, which has only one luxury hotel in Riyadh among a number across the Gulf, is taking a cautious approach in contrast to some brands.

“Whilst we want to expand in Saudi Arabia, we are probably not on that progressive trajectory like some other luxury players,” said Michael Koth, general manager of the Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental in Abu Dhabi.

“I dont think on a global scale it’s the only country one wants to invest in, but it’s one of the countries one needs to invest in. Other luxury operators have chosen to do it differently.”


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HALAL ECONOMY

HLISB Introduces BizHalal To Support SMEs in the Global Halal Market

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In a significant move to empower Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) navigating the lucrative global Halal market, Hong Leong Islamic Bank (HLISB) has introduced BizHalal. This innovative, Shariah-compliant banking solution is designed to provide both financial support and Halal advisory services, aligning with Malaysia’s strategic vision to expand its Halal ecosystem.

What is BizHalal?

BizHalal is more than just a financial product; it’s a partnership between HLISB and the Halal Development Corporation (HDC), solidified through a recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This collaboration underscores HLISB’s dedication to fostering growth and development within the Halal industry.

Strategic Goals and Historical Context

HLISB CEO, Dafinah Ahmed Hilmi, reflected on the bank’s ongoing commitment to the Halal sector since 2018 and expressed enthusiasm about how BizHalal will further stimulate the expansion of local Halal SMEs. The service package includes tailored financing solutions and expert advisory services, ensuring businesses are well-equipped to thrive in this dynamic market.

Market Potential and Economic Impact

The global Halal market, valued at USD 3 trillion in 2020, continues to grow, with projections placing Malaysia’s Halal industry at US$113.2 billion by 2030. Despite this potential, a gap remains between the market demand and supply, highlighting the critical need for increased investment and collaboration to tap into this burgeoning sector.

Partnership Impact

HDC Chairman, Khairul Azwan Harun, emphasized the importance of strategic partnerships like that of HLISB and HDC in closing the market gap and cultivating local Halal champions. These collaborations are pivotal in ensuring the sustainability and global competitiveness of Malaysia’s Halal SMEs.

Technological Integration

Acknowledging the role of technology, HDC has introduced the Halal Integrated Platform (HIP), which simplifies the certification process and enhances the operational efficiency of Malaysia’s Halal ecosystem. This digital approach not only streamlines operations but also broadens the accessibility of Halal certification for SMEs.

Support and Advisory Services

Under BizHalal, HLISB’s Halal Industry Specialists provide comprehensive support to customers. This includes a readiness assessment, advisory assistance, and integration into the Halal Digital Ecosystem. These services are crucial for both existing Halal-certified businesses and new entrants aspiring to obtain certification.

Inclusivity and Accessibility

BizHalal is accessible to all HLISB customers, supporting both current Halal-certified businesses and those seeking to achieve certification. Additionally, customers who avail of HLISB’s business financing facilities will automatically qualify for the BizHalal program, making it easier for SMEs to join and benefit from this initiative.

With the introduction of BizHalal, HLISB reaffirms its commitment to supporting the growth of SMEs in the global Halal market. This initiative not only aligns with Malaysia’s economic goals but also serves as a catalyst for the development of a robust, sustainable Halal ecosystem that can lead on the international stage.

This rewrite not only incorporates the key phrase “HLISB Introduces BizHalal To Support SMEs in the Global Halal Market” effectively for SEO but also enhances the article’s relevance and informative nature, making it more engaging for readers interested in Islamic finance and the Halal industry.


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