M'sia the global <i>halal</i> hub?

Government agency signs deal with Microsoft to transform the country into an online trading hub for goods and services catering to the Muslim community.

MALAYSIA--Microsoft is helping Malaysia build an online system that aims to position the country as a global trading hub of halal  goods and services, tapping on a market worth US$600 billion per annum.

Based on Microsoft's Office Open XML, the hub is designed to be a one-stop portal for trading halal  goods and services, and will encompass a repository of information on halal  and related market intelligence and a centralized Web-based system to facilitate the international halal  certification process.

Halal  is a collective term for things that are permissible or deemed lawful according to the Quran, the religious book in Islam. Much like how Kosher food is to Jews, halal  is often used in the context of food--particularly meat--to indicate that the food has been prepared in accordance with Islamic principles and techniques.

When fully implemented, the Malaysian halal  trading hub is expected to service the 57 member states under the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an inter-government body where members aim to safeguard the interest and people in the Muslim community.

Malaysia's Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC) signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft Malaysia at last week's World Halal Forum 2007 to develop the system. The HDC operates under the country's Prime Minister office, and was established to coordinate efforts to drive investments, develop international standards and promote halal  goods and services in the global market.

The rapid expansion in the halal  food sector has become a key area of opportunity across the industry. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said: "The business and commercial potential of the halal  industry is beyond doubt, with a [global] market of 1.6 billion Muslims and an estimated market size [worth] more than US$600 billion (2.1 trillion ringgit)."

This lucrative market is driving an increasing number of companies and countries to incorporate Islamic standards--endorsed by a halal  authority--into the manufacture and preparation of food products. The majority of meat-producing countries worldwide including Argentina, Australia, India, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States, are incorporating halal -certified slaughter techniques across their operations.

Making Microsoft Malaysian
Microsoft's pact with the government-backed HDC marks another feather in the cap for the software giant in its bid to "Malaysianize" itself. Last week's agreement marks "a new chapter in our ongoing efforts to continue Malaysianizing Microsoft," said Yasmin Mahmood, Microsoft Malaysia's managing director.

HDC Chairman Syed Jalaludin Syed Salim said the Ecma International-approved Open XML was chosen for the platform as "we don't want to be caught with proprietary standards".

Yamin said: "The Open XML system will provide for easier and better integration than other competing technologies, and empowers administrators and users with greater choice, flexibility and innovation. This is important given that the system is designed to cater for the needs of the international halal  community."

Under the agreement, Microsoft is expected to provide document management, workflow and database technologies, and Web development application and end-user tools.

Lee Min Keong is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.