Why Halal May Be The Biggest Business Opportunity In The World

A US$2.3-trillion industry is nothing to sniff at. That’s what the global Halal economy is estimated to be worth, and companies are starting to take notice.

Halal, which means “permissible” in Arabic, denotes products that are in accordance with Muslim law, can include food and beverage products. But halal can go far beyond food and include fashion, Islamic banking, and tourism packages for holidays that abide by the rules of Islam.

Ottawa-based Queendom Hijabs specializes in designing hijabs for athletics, for example. And last month, CBC News reported about Salaam Swipe, a new Tinder-like “matching app” created by a developer from Surrey, B.C. Described as a "halal dating" platform, Salaam Swipe aims to match potential couples based on their religious and spiritual identities towards the ultimate goal of marriage.

Meanwhile, the website Zilzar.com is looking to make a splash in the e-commerce game as a “Muslim lifestyle” answer to America’s eBay and China’s Alibaba marketplaces. Zilzar.com, which sells anything from Muslim prayer beads to halal cosmetics and fashion items, marks one year since its launch next month. Zilzar.com now has than 12,000 vendors around the world.

With Islam now the world’s fastest-growing religion, tapping into the Shariah-friendly marketplace is considered a vital money-making strategy for businesses, says Mohammed Shukri Abdullah, CEO of the World Halal Summit in Malaysia. And not just for those in predominantly Muslim nations.

“With a huge prospect of the halal economy from food and beverages, to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals and the booming tourism and hospitality industry, it’s an industry that is set to grow substantially with the increasing Muslim population,” Abdullah said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has taken notice, too, particularly when it comes to the $1-trillion Islamic banking economy. (Islamic banking is guided by Shariah principles, which prohibits the collection and payment of interest, as well as banning investments in “haram” or forbidden products and services such as pork and alcohol.)

In 2013, the Conservative government helped sponsor a World Islamic Banking Conference in the Persian Gulf, and has recognized there is a gaining interest in Shariah-compliant banking solutions in North America, according to Walid Hejazi, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“Awareness in Canada of Islamic banking has increased dramatically in the last few years,” Hejazi told the Vancouver Sun.

According to the World Halal Summit, there are 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. Within the next 15 years, that population is expected to increase to 2.2 billion.

Canadian roughly 1 million Muslims make up around 3.2 per cent of the country’s total population. That population rose about 82 per cent in the decade between 2001, when Muslim representation was at about 579,000 people, and 2011.