CAIRO – Hoping to attract Muslim money and businessmen, Hong Kong is replacing its legendary cuisine with halal food to entertain Muslim businessmen from countries like Indonesia and the rich Gulf countries.
"There has been an increase in halal restaurants in the past few years; not only that, but supermarkets are now serving lots of halal products," Wael Ibrahim, an Egyptian businessman who has lived in the greater China region for a decade and chairs Serving Islam, Hong Kong's Muslim community organization, told the Time Magazine.
Promoting halal-food offerings is an effective way of "tightening the relationship between Hong Kong and other countries," he added.
Establishing Muslim-friendly services in China's Hong Kong, the number of halal-certified restaurants and markets jumped from just 14 in 2010 to three times that figure in a year.
Competing with traditional Chinese pork cuisine, Tsim Sha Tsui district alone is having 13 halal-certified restaurants.
The new restaurants helped in establishing a stronger business relationship between the natural-resource-rich Muslim world and the greater China region, which is in dire need of fuels for its burgeoning economy.
"Mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the Muslim world are extremely important to China," says Ma Hongjian, president of the Beijing-based China-Arab Council for Investment Promotion.
"There are so many examples of the Chinese government trying to provide facilities for our Muslim guests," says Ma, himself a Chinese Muslim.
The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
By developing Muslims services, Hong Kong was hoping to establish a strong platform for Islamic finance.
"We hope to develop a wholesale Islamic capital market," says a spokesperson for Hong Kong's Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau.
That would include Islamic bonds, known in Arabic as sukuk, which pay investors in assets to avoid, at least nominally, the exchange of interest.
Local Muslims are still skeptical.
"We hear that [Hong Kong banks like HSBC] are studying about implementing Islamic finance in Hong Kong, but so far nothing major has materialized," says Ibrahim of Serving Islam.
Islam, the second largest religion in China, has a very long history in the western Asian country.
According to official data, China has 20 million Muslims, most of them are concentrated in Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions and provinces.
Unofficially, Muslim groups say the number is even higher, stating that there are from 65-100 million Muslims in China — up to 7.5 percent of the population.
Islam forbids Muslims from receiving or paying interest on loans.
Islamic banks and finance institutions cannot receive or provide funds for anything involving alcohol, gambling, pornography, tobacco, weapons or pork.
Islamic banks have proved a success because of rules that forbid investing in collateralized debt obligations and other toxic assets that cause financial crises.
The Islamic banking system is being practiced in 50 countries worldwide, making it one of the fastest growing sectors in the global financial industry.
Starting almost three decades ago, the Islamic banking industry has made substantial growth and attracted the attention of investors and bankers across the world.
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