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The real reason Rayani Air went kaput

 | April 12, 2016

Malaysia’s first shariah-compliant airline went into a nosedive because it wasn’t truly shariah-compliant.

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Ravi Alagendrran and Karthiyani Govindran, non-Muslims who raised eyebrows when it was revealed that they were the founders of pioneering Rayani Air, may have thought it would be a cinch to handle a shariah-compliant airline. Their assumptions have come crashing down to earth.

Launching operations out of Langkawi just four months ago, Rayani Air became one of only 4 shariah-compliant airlines in the world and touted itself as a carrier which offers assurance to Muslim travellers (many of whom were still shaken by the three airline catastrophes which shook the Malaysian aviation industry in the space of one year). All meals offered were strictly halal, alcohol was not served, female flight attendants wore hijabs, and Islamic prayers were recited before each flight.

Rayani Air suspended its operations on Friday, ostensibly as the result of a pilots’ strike (what Ravi has claimed is internal sabotage), as well as ‘technical issues’ and a ‘company restructuring exercise’. But I think I’ve figured out the real reason behind Rayani’s very, very short flight time.

You see, to run a shariah-compliant airline, you’ve got to be, err… shariah-compliant. And despite being praised by many Malaysian Muslims for providing an alternative to other less ‘Islam-oriented’ airlines, the truth is, Rayani Air complied very little with shariah principles.

For an airline, shariah compliance doesn’t just mean banning alcohol, serving halal food, requiring flight crew to cover their aurat, and conducting prayers before take-off. Islamic principles go far beyond that, and require that you:

  • Keep your promises – take off and land on time, as pledged to customers
  • Be trustworthy and fair – do not cancel flights without sufficient notice, explanation and apology
  • Be dependable – alternative arrangements should be offered if flights are cancelled.
  • Follow procedures and be professional – no handwritten boarding passes!
  • Never be deceitful – do not give customers false information.
  • Never break the law – don’t leave staff with no option but to go on strike
  • Practice good leadership – pay staff wages on time.
  • Be accountable – never blame others for your own shortcomings

It’s rather sad that while Rayani Air was willing to exploit the niche Muslim market by promising shariah-compliant services, it was patently incapable of delivering on its promise. And that has left many consumers wondering: if the company and its management were not ready to embark on their little experiment, why go into business in the first place?

Maybe this is a sign from Allah, warning us not to misuse religion for personal gain. Maybe this is God’s way of telling us not to use religion as a marketing gimmick – in which case, you could consider the airline’s failure as the result of the Almighty’s wrath (I’m just saying).

But Rayani Air was not the only one that failed to abide by shariah principles. If travellers who chose to fly with the airline were truly Islamic, wouldn’t they have simply accepted flight delays and cancellations philosophically and stoically – or qada and qadar, as the will of Allah? To complain or protest is not very shariah-compliant behaviour, wouldn’t you agree?

At the end of the day, whether shariah-compliant or not, airlines have to understand that all customers are alike – they want reliability, security, safety, professionalism and affordability. Maybe after rectifying its operational issues, Rayani Air could focus on tweaking its corporate philosophy if it wishes to take to the air again. (The airline could also just hire an Imam to recite a “doa selamat” and give religious sermons to the pilots and crew – as soon as it gets its aircraft windows and hydraulic systems fixed, that is, and that’s NOT the job of an Imam).


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