MANILA: A new measure intending to build Muslim prayer rooms in public and private facilities across the Philippines is intended to attract more Middle Eastern tourists, a Filipino lawmaker recently told Arab News.
Muslims make up about 5% of the almost 110 million inhabitants in the mostly Catholic Philippines. The majority of the country’s significant minority lives on Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in the central-western province of Palawan.
On February 8, legislator Mujiv Hataman of Basilan in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region — an autonomous, predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao’s southern tip — introduced the bill in the Philippine Congress.
The proposed legislation No. 7117 would require at least one Muslim prayer space in every public facility, including airports, transportation terminals, hospitals, military camps, and privately owned malls, factories, and other large corporate organizations.
Such prayer rooms are “imperative for the free exercise of their Islamic faith” for Muslims, according to Hataman in a note accompanying the bill’s introduction, and should thus be provided in facilities meant for public use.
However, there is an economic component to consider, since such prayer rooms may attract foreign Muslim travelers, Hataman told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“There are many Muslim businessmen and travelers,” Hataman explained.
“One of the reasons I filed a bill is so that we can attract more visitors because we have many friends who visit us and sometimes finding halal restaurants and prayer rooms is one of their problems.”
“During Ramadan, many Middle Eastern visitors choose to go to Malaysia and Indonesia because of the availability of prayer rooms and their strong halal industry,” he said.
“That is why, for example, malls, airports, and government buildings must all have a prayer room.”