SETTING THE BAR
Long before the emergence Muslimah spas in Malaysia, healthcare entrepreneur Shahnas Oli Mohamed noticed a void in providing inclusive wellness service that caters to the need of Muslim women.
She also noticed, despite touting the use of halal products and forbidding men to enter its premises, most of these Muslimah-friendly establishments do not necessarily adhere to Shahriah standards and principles.
“A lot of spas call themselves Muslimah simply because people who dress like this goes to the spa,” Shahnas points to her tudung and baju kurung, “And somebody who dress like this, deals with the spa.”
That led her to setting up Malaysia’s first Shariah compliant spa called Sama-Sama, that is certified to the MS1900 Shariah compliant Quality Management System standards - a certification Shahnas went to great lengths to obtain.
“We sat with the auditors for one week. We sift through almost every piece of paper, for example, on how different kind of manicures or pedicures are done. There are SOPs for each of it,” explains Shahnas.
While using the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) certified products is a common prerequisite to be a halal establishment, the full aspects of running a business- practices, accounting, the choosing of suppliers and even drawing up contracts - are to meet the Shariah compliant standards in order for it to be certified.
“So, literally it is the ‘McDonald-lisation of spa,” she adds, “They check through each of the practices, the ingredients, the scrub, moisturiser, cuticle oil - whatever that we are using have to be Shariah compliant.”
“Even with trimming of nails, we follow the sunnah,” she adds.
Sama-Sama provides various nail, facial and spa services, only if they fit the permissible boundaries of a woman’s aurat (below the knee, above the naval).
Located at the middle and upper class neighbourhood of Bukit Jelutong, Sama-Sama’s clients are predominantly trendy, young, hijab-wearing women, or more commonly know, “hijabsters”.
This hijabster group is one that is young, vibrant, aggressive - they know their stuff, they know what they want and are very discerning
A discerning and savvy group, adhering to high quality and standards of Islamic principles are of utmost importance, says Shahnas.
“This hijabster group is one that is young, vibrant, aggressive - they know their stuff, they know what they want and are very discerning. To a large extent, they also have the purchasing power,” says Shahnas.
“So, you have to cater to them in an intellectual, intelligent manner. It has to be on the basis of facts, not hype marketing.”
Apart from walk-in customers, Sama-Sama does outcalls to events and functions, mostly providing pedicure and manicure services, which according to Shahnaz, is gaining popularity among the hijabsters.
“So, this is what sama-sama is aiming to do. Other than just putting across, ‘this is a Muslimah spa, we only accept ladies’ - which is not limited to that - we actually address the barrier and we look at what can and cannot be be done.”
“When you provide Shariah compliant and halal services, then there is an option. We are doing it as our communal obligation.”
While run as a for-profit, Sama-Sama is in fact a social enterprise aimed at equipping young women with the skills to kickstart a career in the spa and beauty business.
“We try to identify young ladies who wants to be given the chance,” says Shahnas.
“I don’t want to say underprivileged women because sometimes even those who are privileged just need a chance. We try to go out and look for these women - they may or may not have the basic skills in spa services, we bring them in to our system.” she adds.
My late father was known for having his daughters stand on their own two feet and putting in their best effort in everything that they do
Sama-Sama is funded by the Farrash Foundation, set up in 2013 in memory of Shannas’ late father. The foundation’s primary objective is to support Islamic outreach programs and initiatives; women empowerment being one of its core pillar.
“My late father was known for having his daughters stand on their own two feet and putting in their best effort in everything that they do. Literally, teaching us that if you do your best, you can do better than anyone,” adds Shahnas, who is also Managing Director for healthcare and pharmaceutical company Natural Wellness. The company also contributes to the Farrash Foundation.
“Gender is not something you make a fuss about. You are an individual."
About a dozen of young women, some from out of state, works at Sama-Sama. They live in a wakaf building - a property bequeathed for the benefit of the community - left by Shahnas’ late father.
“When I started my career, someone gave me a chance too,” recalls Shahnas. “When we went our separate ways, the person said to me ‘if you think I’ve done something good for you, then return that chance to others.’”
“That’s something I’ve held on tight - to have a value and principle based company that is not just driven by profits. But brings meaning to the entire system.”