Malaysia’s Rayani Air took to the skies last month after a quick recital of Prophet Mohammad’s supplication before travel. The short domestic flight from Kuala Lumpur saw passengers, most of them Muslims, cupping their hands, as a member of the crew murmured the prayer over a loudspeaker. Rayani Air is the first Islamic airline to operate in Malaysia, offering passengers flights that abide by Islamic law, including the recitation of prayers, a conservative dress code for female flight attendants and meals without pork or alcohol.
Ironically, those who launched Rayani Air are Hindus, thus indicating that a business venture can overcome any religious divide. Ravi Alagendrran and Karthiyani Govindan are the founders of Rayani Air, which currently operates flights to and from three domestic destinations with two Boeing 737s. The couple used parts of their own names to name their business venture.
The concept of Rayani Air emerged out of much-publicized complaints lodged by conservative Muslim passengers, who largely believe that both major air disasters, including Flight 370 going missing in March 2014 and Flight 17 being brought down a few months later, were a result of Allah’s wrath. They proposed that all airlines adhere to stringent Islamic customs to avoid divine retribution. The reaction to the disasters as well as the creation of Rayani Air that operated its first flight on December 17 highlights the growing hardline Islamic values in Malaysia, where Muslims constitute approximately 60 percent of the country’s 30 million population.
“We are answering the call of many Malaysians who wanted an Islamic airline,” Rayani’s managing director, Jaafar Zamhari, told the media. “We are not talking about being a holy airline or flying to holy destinations. We just want to provide an alternative to travelers, but we are open to all races and religions.”
Neither Alagendrran nor Govindan were available for comment but speaking informally to the media, the former had said that Rayani Air was meant for any person who wished to travel in a modest airline with an alcohol-free environment.
During a 55-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Baru, over 100 passengers were greeted by Muslim female flight attendants, who wore lime green jackets, long trousers and black headscarves. A prayer was recited before takeoff and passengers were served halal food afterwards.
At least one passenger said that she chose Rayani Air because it is compliant to Islamic norms.
“It’s quite important for me because first of all, I am a Muslim, and second, Malaysia is an Islamic country,” said Che Masnita Atikah, a 23-year-old student. “It’s quite important to have this kind of airline to represent Malaysia and its image as an Islamic country.”
Rayani Air is the fourth Islamic airline in the world, ranking after Royal Brunei Airlines, Iran Air and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Jaafar clarified that Rayani Air does not compel male and female passengers to sit separately and passengers do not have to abide by any particular dress code either.
“Even if they come in shorts, they are most welcome,” he said. “We respect the differences among us.”
Photo Credits: Aviation Gazette