Glitzy Dubai eyes profit in setting Islamic standards
By Bernardo Vizcaino and Mirna Sleiman
DUBAI (Reuters) - From cosmetics to accommodation, travel to toothpaste, complying with religious principles is becoming big business in the Muslim world, and Dubai, better known for flamboyance and unrestrained consumerism than Islamic scholarship, sees an opportunity.
The emirate is mounting the world's first systematic drive to profit from "halal" goods and services by setting global standards for them and providing certification where the standards are met.
In January Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, announced plans to make the emirate a center of the "Islamic economy". Next week, Dubai will host a conference on the subject that it is expected to attract over 2,000 officials, businessmen and consumers from around the world.
It might sound like a hard sell for a city where alcohol and bikinis loom large in the lives of some of its foreign residents and millions of tourists who visit each year, but the emirate, already the Gulf's top financial center and a merchandise trade hub, may have the business acumen and international connections to pull it off.
In fact, it may succeed precisely because of its cosmopolitan culture. Standards set in stricter countries such as Saudi Arabia might struggle for acceptance in more liberal societies such as Malaysia; Dubai may be best placed to take a middle path acceptable to most of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims.
"Dubai's economy hinges on its maintenance of coexistence among faiths," said Jim Krane, a fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy in the United States, and author of "City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism".
"That makes Dubai an ideal testing ground for halal standards. If halal standards are too restrictive and impinge on social freedoms, they might hurt business."