New Shariah-Compliant Airline Takes To The Skies

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Can being Islamic-compliant as an airline be a point of differentiation which will garner business?

That’s what Rayani Air — a new Malaysian airline — is banking on. The new airline is based in Langkawi, Malaysia, and will operate domestic flights within Malaysia using Boeing 737-400 aircraft (former Malaysia Airlines planes, actually).


They had their first flight between Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur yesterday, and made quite a splash as the world’s fourth Shariah-compliant airline (after Iran Air, Royal Brunei Airlines, and Saudi Arabian Airlines).

What does being a shariah-compliant airline mean in practice? Via Yahoo News:

  • In-flight meals are completely halal
  • Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited
  • Muslim flight crew must don the hijab (non-Muslim crews are to be “decently dressed”)
  • There will be a prayer before takeoff


None of the above are really revolutionary concepts. Emirates doesn’t serve any pork products on their flights. Etihad even has a travel prayer before takeoff:

But ultimately Malaysia is one of the more moderate and tolerant countries when it comes to religion, and it’s especially interesting that they seem to be an airline targeted mostly at tourists, based on the fact that they’re based in Langkawi.

Will being shariah-compliant be a selling point for some “locals?” I don’t know, maybe. Will it “scare” off some people? Not for good reason, but given the percentage of Americans who think Muslims shouldn’t be allowed into the US, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.

Bottom line

I would assume being shariah-compliant goes beyond the beliefs of the founders, but was also a business decision. Just as Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, etc., have made the business decision not to be, despite being from much “stricter” countries otherwise (at least on the surface).

Ultimately the distinctions on a domestic flight are very minor — Malaysia Airlines doesn’t serve alcohol domestically, and it’s not like they’re gong to serve a bacon roll as the inflight snack. So in practice it comes down to donning the hijab and the prayer before takeoff, neither of which are a big deal one way or another, in my opinion.

Do you think being shariah-compliant was a business decision for Rayani Air, or were they just going with their beliefs? Would you be more or less likely to fly a shariah-compliant airline?

  1. Do they conduct beheadings in the galley? Surely they at least chop off your hand for grabbing a second bag of peanuts.

  2. “But ultimately Malaysia is one of the more moderate and tolerant countries when it comes to religion”

    Malaysia is extremely intolerant towards people who are not of the Muslim faith.

  3. Most intolerant set of folks..Wonder what Islamists would say if prayers were said in non-Islamic countries..Religion of Pieces

  4. Stick to travel related stuff, please. I don’t really want to go through all the errors in this article, but spouting random judgements about countries based on your few days experience in 5 star hotels is not a good look.

  5. The amount of bigotry in the comments
    I shouldn’t be surprised tho considering how the article is worded to bait people.

  6. I wonder if they used Sharia compliant financing to acquire the planes. There is a large Islamic bank in Malaysia that provides Sharia compliant financing. Interest is riba (usury), so not allowed. Perhaps securing financing with an Islamic finance bank to acquire or lease the planes requires/allows them to meet sharia principles in operation. So, it may be a business decision based upon attracting passengers, or a business decision based upon attracting finance.

  7. As a Muslim, these steps will make me feel welcome although the 4 steps listed above don’t buy much from Shariah-compliance point of view. I don’t mind if non-Muslims are allowed to have pork and alcohol on the flight as long as there is no cross-contamination.
    What can be a big seller for being Shariah-compliant, is having either separate partitioned areas for men and women or separate suites for families. Then the hijab wearing ladies can open their hair on a long flight and relax in peace.

  8. Are you sure about this? “But ultimately Malaysia is one of the more moderate and tolerant countries when it comes to religion”

    For a Caucasian tourist like you, it certainly will appear that way.

    For reality, just ask the native ethnic Tamil speaking Hindus how they are treated. Yes, Air Asia’s Tony Fernandez is an exception.

  9. What comment on all the ignorant comments, but will say from memory etihad also doesn’t serve pork. Flew the apartments from syd – auh a few months ago and pretty sure breakfast came with no bacon and chicken sausages.

  10. I am with Mark. My questions are related to the financing side of the house. Most other airlines that are mentioned on the article – Iran Air, Royal Brunei and Saudia – are state owned so I guess they can get away with financing arrangements that do not involve interest. Plus, Saudi and Brunei are way loaded with oil money.

  11. Sounds great. That way when the female FA’s give you crappy service you can legally beat them as they submit to you. Sounds great. You can also treat the gay FA’s as criminals instead of sinners.

  12. I am with Sam: Are Jews/Israelis allowed on bord?

    As you said: Emirates is much more tolerant, since I enjoyed some wonderful kosher meals (though, not being Jew).

  13. What ever way the wind blows…

    Seeing as I’ve no intention of flying anywhere besides KL as far as Malaysia is concerned its sort of a non issue. But everyone needs to get somewhere and some stricter Muslims may prefer this. And in the interests of fairness, Ben, let’s not fail to point out another carriers with religion-based restrictions far more rigorous than those you listed–namely El Al which keeps kosher, does not fly on Shabbat, and fails to account for discriminatory gender-based practices regarding seat assignments.


  14. I find the level of Islamophobia in the comments a little weird. This is a travel blog, right? Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d think that a lot of readers would have travelled to Muslim countries, and accordingly show a little restraint in their intentionally offensive comments.
    That said, I find it odd that they’re based in Langkawi, which I understand to be a kind of a beach and party destination. Kind of like having a heterosexual airline based out of Key West, I guess.
    @flyer also brings up a great point about seating. How do you arrange seating in accordance with the rather strict Islamic protocols? Segregate by gender? Trap the women in by the window?
    I’d likely avoid Rayani myself. I’m not a huge fan of Sharia, and think that the hijab is just a tool to keep women in their place. Accordingly, not my thing, but to each their own.

  15. It just amazes me how much misinformation is out there about the Muslim faith. I’ve lived in Muslim countries and it’s totally fine. As for this airline, whatever. Short domestic flights and if the price is right if consider it. Though would probably stay with Malaysia aitlines for the miles

  16. Just saw a video of a woman looks to be aged (50 to 65) being beheaded by Saudi police, prison official in streets of of their city. Cars park on busy streets , police and saudi long dress gets out, one men with a sword and some cops push the women down to lay on the street. The woman screams and begs to leaave and pleads for life, the guy with the sword hits her neck with the long knife couple of times, her neck is cut off and they put everything in some bags and leaves the scene. Just horrific. religion of peace

  17. Is there any moderation of the comments here? Some of the comments strike me as very prejudiced and ignorant. Frankly, I am a bit shocked.

  18. Ben/Lucky,
    As always, love your blog and your stories. But the lack of moderation in the comments section is disturbing. Of course people are free to express their opinions, but would YOU (or anyone else) really let a comment calling a Black person a “n****r” or a LGBT-identified person a “f*g/d**e” stay? It’s just as bad to let these blatant Islamaphobic comments stay as letting the others stay.

    As a gay man dating an amazing Muslim man, I think you’re really doing disservice to all by not doing anything.

    And it doesn’t hurt to fact check before posting (even if you write these in advance):

  19. Ben – Id appreciate if you started cleaning up the racist and ignorent comments on here. This is unacceptable!

  20. How is it ignorant if someone said he saw someone get beheaded in an Islamic country and ,therefore, he does not see Islam as a religion of peace. People are free to have their own opinion.

  21. It is my personal opinion that religion is private and belongs in the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. Not in public life and definitely not on publicly flown airlines. The day my flight starts with a public prayer, of any faith, is the day I ask to deplane and for a refund. I won’t be flying ANY airline that incorporates religious hocus pocus in the flight plan. There’s enough other companies out there that just want to fly and not bring religion into the skies.

  22. No way in hell I’d ever fly an airline like this. Probably wouldn’t visit any country like this, either.

  23. The amount of bigotry, hatred and pure stupidity if some people commenting… Please crawl back to your Trump-ed KKK caves

  24. @frequentflyer @Penn Adam

    “Malaysia is extremely intolerant towards people who are not of the Muslim faith.”

    Bullshit. As an Islamic-ish country of course non-Muslims don’t have the exact same freedoms that Western countries have, but to brand them as being “extremely intolerant” is pure hogwash.

  25. To those guys asking for moderation … Lucky does very little if any moderating of comments because the more controversial the comments the better for business. This was discussed in comments on another post. I love the blog, but the comments section is invariably disheartening.

  26. @ Concerned reader
    If you loved yourself, you would see no need for Lucky to censor the comments. As a gay man I find it far less offensive to be called a fag than for someone to pretend to accept me as an equal when they don’t. Thin skinned people should look within to find the true source of prejudice.

  27. This Shariah compliant is purely a business marketing decision… the owners of the airlines are not even muslims!

  28. so much negative derogatory comments coming from not knowing the great religion practiced by over 1 billion people as proclaimed by you-know-who. we as Christians need to tolerate and be considerate of our lovely bros, when they slap one side of your whatever, we need to bend backwards to give them another side. now is a good time to forgo the offensive term christmas after nearly 250 yrs of no signs of turbulence.

  29. If you replace women with, say, blacks, you see just how offensive strict Islamic practice is. What if blacks had to cover their heads or faces? What if blacks had to sit in separate sections and could not mingle with non-blacks? What if blacks couldn’t drive or couldn’t vote, couldn’t own property, and needed the approval of a “guardian” to travel? What if non-blacks could be adulterous but blacks were punished for adultery? What if non-blacks took on 10 year old black brides? Remind you of anything? We would never accept this, we SHOULD never accept this, nor would we accept any airline that put such policies into practice. And yet when women are the victims it’s OK? It’s just a cultural difference, not a human rights violation?

    Eric, love your imaginary friend comment.

  30. DJ, Islam is not a religion. Islam is a totalitarian ideology. It controls all aspects of its adherents’ lives and also controls (and in many cases punishes) non-adherents as well. You should not be tolerant of it any more than you would be tolerant of fascism.

  31. @Tara, it’s people like you who spread ridiculous untruths. Woman are not required to ride in separate cars on public transportation. There are cars where only women and children are allowed, but they can ride in any car of their choosing. Women are not required by law to cover their heads nor faces, but may choose to for religious purposes . I could go on dispelling the old wives tails that you are spouting, but you will probably still insist that you know more than those of us who have actually visited that part of the world. If any group is discriminated against it is men, since they are not allowed to use certain facilities set aside for women, but there are no similar facilities set aside for men.

  32. Ken, you are wrong. In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive, and if they want to leave their homes they need to be accompanied by a “guardian”. They also need the permission of the “guardian” to travel or open a bank account. They are forced, yes FORCED, to wear some type of head covering. Fortunately not a burqa, but in some other Muslim-controlled areas, e.g., Afganistan, women are forced to wear the full burqa covering. This is just a tiny taste of what women experience under Muslim rule, UAE appears to be the lone exception. You should read more and stop making excuses for these inhumane practices. I suggest again that you replace women with blacks and see if any of the practices would be acceptable. Women get treated like crap in this world and few people seem to care, you included.

  33. @Tara aka Ken your wrong- clearly you need to turn off the TV and get out of the US for once in your life. This article is about Muslims in Malaysia- I don’t know a single woman there who is “forced- yes FORCED” to wear the hijab. Rather, it’s religiously intolerant countries in the West that ban the hijab that are discriminating against women. How would you feel about a law that required you to go topless while attending school?

    @ Joyce- do you get up and walk out of baseball games, etc when they play God Bless America?!

    Back to the original question, sure, is fly a Sharia compliant airlines if they had the best prices, schedule and service. Not being able to get a drink would be the main impediment, and in fact makes me choose Jetstar or Tiger over AirAsia (which is similarly dry) if the fare and timing is about the same.

  34. Ironically Rayani Air is owned and run by a non-Muslim couple (they’re Malaysian Indians) so yeah it was a business decision 🙂 Rayani comes from a combo of their names, husband-and-wife team Ravi Alagendran and Karthiyani Govindan.

  35. The people who take issue with Ben saying Malaysia is one of the more tolerant (Muslim) countries have either never been there or never really spent any time with local people from whom they could learn. I have good Malaysian friends who are Catholic and have been to their home and we discussed this matter. They have never felt persecuted for their religion; they just need to respect Muslim traditions, which is only fair. They have total religious freedom.

    Sure, it’s still Malaysia and it’s still Muslim, so compared with other Asian countries, it’s very conservative, but compared to the other Muslim countries (except Indonesia), it’s miles ahead in terms of tolerance.

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