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Business booming as halal sector valued over $2 trillion

Children toys on display at a recent London expo   -  
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AP Photo

United Kingdom

Hundreds of halal products all under one roof - from children's toys to carpets and street food.

In Arabic, halal means "permissible", in contrast to haram which is forbidden.

It's a wide-ranging expression that covers many aspects of Islamic life.

Halal is most closely associated with meat, but many sectors of business fall within Islamic law - including beauty, pharmaceuticals, fashion, tourism and finance.

The first Halal Expo London is aiming to bring together these diverse sectors and promote global trade.

Dinar Standard is a management consulting and market research firm - like McKinsey or Accenture - specialising in the Islamic business sphere.

From its headquarters in New York and Dubai, the firm produces global reports into the state of the halal economy.

But one of the first challenges is defining what the halal economy is.

"Defining Halal economy is one of the key challenges," says Rafi-uddin Shikoh, CEO and managing director of Dinar Standard.

"So, we actually introduced a definition in 2013, which was that all industries or sectors whose core products or services are structurally affected by Islamic law or ethics."

With close to two billion Muslims on the planet, it's hardly surprising that the halal economy is a large and fast-growing sector that all businesses (halal or otherwise) can't afford to ignore.

"If you take food, modest fashion, pharma, cosmetics, tourism, all of these other sectors, the global spending of the 1.8 billion Muslims, approximately, on these sectors is $2.01 trillion (USD) last year, which is the latest estimates we did, which if you look at just the food sector among these six, is the highest one, about $1.17 trillion of consumer spending," adds Rafi-uddin Shikoh.

All eyes here are already on Ramadan for 2023, which is likely to begin on 22-23 March next year - precise dates are determined by religious scholars depending on the lunar cycle.

Almost all businesses at the show reported dramatically increased profits during Ramadan in the run-up to the Eid festival.

Soul Gems, for example, is a London-based jewellery business that engraves inspirational Islamic Arabic text onto bracelets, rings and pendants.

"Ramadan is the big time, busiest time, of the year for me," says founder Hasina Momtaz.

"So, about two months before I start gearing up and getting ready and start doing my marketing and my PR. So yeah, it's really important, and this is a really good time to be here at Halal Expo because we're just kind of six months away."

The fashion sector also falls within the halal economy.

British Pakistani designer Mariam Quereishi is showing off her latest range of modest swimwear.

"It means a lot to me that I can, as a British Pakistani Muslim, I can represent my own brand within the Muslim community, but also the non-Muslim community, because I feel like I'm probably a fine balance between Western and sort of culture from like a Pakistani aspect as well," she says.

Children's author and illustrator Bushra Hussain - who is raising her children in the UK - says she felt alienated by the children's literature available to her and wanted to create something more inclusive for her own children.

She designed and illustrated My Islam A-Z, which has been widely distributed to schools around the UK.

A is no longer for apple, but Allah, and D is no longer for dog, but Du'a (a prayer or supplication).

"It's got all the basic tenets of the Islamic faith, with a small description. So, like it's got Du'a, which is a supplication or a prayer," she explains.

"What I wanted was for families to be able to use it through different generations, because you want your children to be able to speak to their grandparents. But sometimes if your grandparents, English might not be their first language, or they find it really arbitrary reading about cats and dogs and animals and things that are not related to them. So, it's nice for them to connect over their religion."

Halal is most closely associated with food, where Islamic law does not permit pork to be eaten and states animals must be slaughtered alive and healthy with the offering of prayer and a single strike from a sharp knife.

One of the largest UK suppliers of halal meat is Shazans, which provides meat for major supermarkets, including Tesco, and restaurant chains, including Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Nando's.

What began as a small family business in Preston making samosas, has rapidly transformed into a halal meat empire, worth over £100 million GBP in 2022.

"I would have said I think if you look at us when we started in 2014, the main aim was to give Muslim consumers choice across supermarkets and the products to be an equivalent standard to UK retail products. And that's what we did," says Gama Khan, halal strategy director at Shazans.

"It started from around about £3 million (GBP), I would have said our sales this year are going to be over 100 million (GBP) this year."

Being part of the halal economy is important for the brand identity of many businesses.

Essences by Nadya produces beauty products for the skin adhering to halal.

"I think it's very important because with the growing number of Muslims in the world today, everyone tries to purchase products or items that suit their background and what's in line with their religion and what they follow. So, it's very helpful for the Muslim population," says founder Nadya Ali.

A recent 2021 census, by the UK's Office for National Statistics, revealed that in England and Wales the number of people describing themselves as Muslim increased from 4.9% to 6.5% , in the decade since the last census.

Halal Expo London ran from 2-3 December 2022.

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