With draft law on Muslim prayer rooms, Filipino legislator seeks to attract Middle East tourists

A new bill seeking to establish Muslim prayer rooms in public and private facilities across the Philippines is aimed at attracting more tourists from the Middle East, a Filipino lawmaker told Arab News recently.

In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, Muslims constitute roughly 5 percent of its nearly 110 million people. Most members of the sizable minority live on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in the central-western province of Palawan.

The bill was filed in the Philippine Congress on Feb. 8 by lawmaker Mujiv Hataman from Basilan in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region — an autonomous, largely Muslim area of the southwestern portion of the island of Mindanao.

The proposed legislation No. 7117 seeks to mandate the allocation of at least one Muslim prayer room in every public facility, including airports, transport terminals, hospitals, military camps, as well as privately-owned malls, factories, and other big business establishments.

For Muslims, such prayer rooms are “imperative for the free exercise of their Islamic faith,” Hataman said in a note accompanying the bill’s introduction, arguing they should therefore be available in facilities intended for public use.

But there is also an economic factor to consider, Hataman told Arab News in an exclusive interview, as such prayer rooms may attract international Muslim travelers.

“There are a lot of Muslim businessmen and travelers,” Hataman said.

“One of the things that encouraged me to file a bill (is) so that we can also attract more visitors because we also have many friends who visit us and sometimes that’s one of their problems, finding halal restaurants and prayer rooms.”

“Middle Eastern visitors, like during this time of Ramadan, many of them choose to go to Malaysia and Indonesia because of the availability of prayer rooms and they also have a strong halal industry,” he said.

“And that’s why, for example malls or airports, and government buildings, must have a prayer room.”