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Bumpy Start for Malaysia’s First Sharia-Compliant Airline

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Bumpy Start for Malaysia’s First Sharia-Compliant Airline

Delays, canceled flights and handwritten boarding passes.

Bumpy Start for Malaysia’s First Sharia-Compliant Airline
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Rayani Air

Rayani Air is Malaysia’s first sharia-compliant airline – there is no alcohol on the plane, female Muslim cabin crew have to wear the hijab while non-Muslims have to be decently dressed, and prayers are recited before the aircraft takes off.

The airline scored another first when it issued handwritten boarding passes to its passengers in March.

Lau Wen San

Lau Weng San’s handwritten boarding pass.

Rayani Air’s handwritten boarding passes came to the public’s attention when passenger Lau Weng San uploaded a photo of his pass dated March 18, 2016 on his Facebook account. The post subsequently went viral.

“Guaranteed to be a halal boarding pass, brother,” wrote Satees Muniandy on Lau’s Facebook page.

“No barcode on a boarding pass is a serious security risk. Anyone can print a paper boarding [pass] and walk into the plane,” wrote Shaun Amir.

Lau’s viral posting caught the attention of Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, who warned Rayani Air it will be suspended if it did not comply with all the safety regulations.

“Yes, it [a handwritten boarding pass] can be a security threat because you can’t read the handwriting. If it’s clear, then it’s different, but if it is not clear, then normally that is not the case,” Liow was quoted as saying by the MalayMailOnline.

Liow said his ministry has received many complaints against Rayani Air and was monitoring the airline closely. He added that the Transport Ministry had already issued a warning to the airline for canceling flights without prior notice and failing to provide replacement flights.

Rayani Air responded by saying it would not be issuing any more handwritten boarding passes.

“Rayani Air apologizes to all passengers who were affected by the flight delay and the confusion caused,” the airline said.

Recalling his experience, Lau said he was traveling from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur to the eastern city of Kuching on Borneo island. His flight was delayed for more than eight hours.

“I was supposed to depart at 8:20 pm. I eventually departed the next day at 4:30 am,” Lau told The Diplomat.

Lau’s flight delay paled in comparison to passenger Derek Yeoh’s – his flight was delayed for five days.

“5 days is beyond ridiculous. Will never fly Rayani Air again. Ever,” tweeted DerekYeoh.

Rayani Air’s entry into the market was warmly welcomed by many in Muslim-majority Malaysia, enthusiastic over its sharia compliance. But poor service and incompetence have left many disappointed.

“The entry of Rayani Air should be celebrated by passengers but if they compromise on the minimum requirements on safety and punctuality, I think they are not going to survive even if they offer free seats,” said Lau, who is an opposition member of the Selangor state assembly.

Rayani Air’s bad service drew a rebuke from a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Asyraf Wajdi Dasuki, who told the airline not to use Islam to gain popularity without fully understanding and implementing its values. Asyraf is a former lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Asyraf said the concept of sharia should not be limited to attire, and its implementation should be made wider.

Asyraf said he was concerned that what’s happening with Rayani Air may affect non-Muslims’ perception towards Islam, who may see Islam as a religion that stresses only outward appearances.

He said Rayani Air needs to improve many things, including its services as a sharia-compliant airline company.

“Islam is not a label, let alone to be bought or sold. But its principles, values and morals need to be fulfilled,” he wrote.

Malaysia Airlines, the country’s major airline, suffered twin tragedies in recent years with the missing flight MH370 and the downing of MH17 over Ukraine by a Russian-made missile. Rayani Air’s bad service and handwritten boarding passes does nothing to contribute toward helping the country recover its good image in the aviation industry.