LAST_UPDATESun, 22 Jul 2018 9pm

Does A Shariah-Compliant Washing Machine Mean The Existing Ones Are Non-Islamic?

An article in Utusan Malaysia which recently featured an inventor showcasing his latest creation: a washing machine that he claims to be Shariah-compliant, to be used for Muslims so that they can ensure their clothes will be cleaned in the Islamic way, had received mixed reactions from readers.

While many questioned if there was a need to create such a product targeted only for a certain group of people, Muslims were primarily concerned over the fact that their current washing machines used were completely invalid in an Islamic viewpoint?

A question that also begs is, in light of the recent viral image of a launderette for Muslim customers only in Johor which came under fire, would this cause unnecessary tension between races in the nation?

Yesterday, the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim voiced his disappointment over the service provided by the launderette in the state, stating the owner’s discriminatory policy “went against the vision of a united, harmonious, moderate, tolerant Johor.” Echoing His Majesty's stance, safe to say, should a Shariah-compliant washing machine hit the market, it could possibly create an even bigger social gap between Muslim and non-Muslims in the country.

Nevertheless, while the Shariah-compliant washing machine is still under development and far from commercialisation, Malaysian Digest sought out opinions from religious and industry experts whether Muslims in Malaysia really need a revision in the current washing machine system to meet their religious needs, and whether they see this innovation being feasible in the market.

Inventor Shares His Motivation For The Invention

We interviewed Dr Hudzari Razali, the Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) lecturer who came up with the invention of the Shariah-compliant washing machine. He was previously a lecturer from Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UNiSZA) in Kuala Terengganu, involved in the field of academic research since 2002.

“My motivation for the invention of the washing machine is primarily to comply with the Shariah standards that has been decided by some Islamic scholars.

“While I do not deny the existing type of washing machine that we currently have in the market, as a Muslim I believe Allah has created us and to test which among us is best in deed, as according to Chapter 67, Verse 2 of the Holy Qur’an: “He who created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deed.”

“So I believe we must try to be our best in applying Islamic elements in all aspects of our lives,” said the lecturer.

Dr Hudzari insisted that the main difference between his product and the existing ones in the market is its mechanism that allows water to continuously flow inside the drum during the beginning part of the ‘spin’ stage, instead of just spinning the clothes that were wet from the water of the ‘rinse’ stage.

“In conventional machines, the wet clothes inside the drums will be dried during the spin mode. For my product, the spin mode will be done for around ten minutes, and during the first three minutes, three litres of water will continuously flow inside the drum, rinsing the clothes from the water of the ‘rinse’ stage,” he explained.

The lecturer started the invention of the product since 2013, after he received a Research Acculturation Grant Scheme (RAGS) funding from the Ministry Of Higher Education (MOHE). The washing machine is a subsequent invention after his research into removing the harmful natural substances from ubi gadong or Dioscorea daemona (yam) resulted in a machine that is similar to the washing machine.

Ubi gadong is a type of tuber plant that contains toxic substances in it, however it is edible if the tuber is processed correctly as according to Dr Hudzari’s research, which involves a machine that flows water continuously on the tuber while it is being processed.

“Because the toxic substances from the plant was removed due to the continuous water flow, I’d thought the same principle can be adapted to remove stains from clothing as well, and washing clothes with a continuous water flow is advisable and preferred in Islam,” he said.

The washing machine is currently still in development by other lecturers from UiTM Shah Alam, Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM) and UNiSZA to improve its performance in competing with the existing washing machines, and he plans for the machines to hit the market around one-and-a-half years from now.

His current prototype, which costed around RM1,000 to build, is registered under the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO) and the lecturer is looking for a second grant for commercialisation purposes. He aims to sell his product at a commercial price lower than RM1,595.

“I have also referred to the Islamic faculty of other universities as well, and they are in agreement with my invention. My idea was also presented at the International Halal Conference 2016 in Shah Alam, and has won a gold medal from the event,” he explained.

Dr Hudzari has already conducted laboratory tests on the performance of his machine, and has submitted his results to be reviewed by the German journal publishing company Springer.

“From the tests that we have done, we can confirm that the stains are completely removed from the clothes via the continuous water flow method, and while we have yet to conduct a comparative test with the machines in the existing market, I am confident of the performance of my invention,” he firmly stated.

Do Washing Machines Really Need To Be Shariah-Compliant?

Inventions aside, what do Islamic scholars think of the existing washing machines we have? While it is understandable for the religion to demand a continuously flowing water source when washing our clothes to ensure that the water is as clean as possible, the conventional machines have also proven to remove stains from clothes effectively.

To gain an insight on the religious perspective, we contacted Muhammad Asyraf Mohd Ridzuan, an Islamic preacher commonly known as Imam Muda Asyraf.

Imam Muda Asyraf.Imam Muda Asyraf.“The issue about washing machines have long-been a topic of discussion by Islamic scholars, as some of them disagree with the working concept of the current washing machines that do not have continuous water flow. They opined that the najis (stains) on clothes should be removed manually first, before putting them inside the drum of the washing machine,” he explained.

However, the general consensus of the Islamic scholars’ state that if the najis on the clothes is small, then it is permissible for Muslims to group together clothes with and without najis inside the washing machine.

“I am not sure what makes a washing machine ‘Shariah-compliant’ but if an inventor manages to come up with the idea of a machine that utilises the concept of continuous water flow during the wash as according to the Shafie school of thought, then I do not see the problem with such inventions as long as the clothes come out clean from the washer,” said Imam Asyraf.

While the young imam is eager to see what makes a washing machine Shariah-compliant, he insisted with Malaysian Digest that there is already a fatwa (ruling) that allows conventional washing machines to be used by Muslims.

“He cannot say a washing machine is ‘Shariah-compliant’ just because of a special mechanism as there are previous fatwas that allow for the use of conventional washing machines. So long as the clothes come out clean, then it is fine by the religion,” he told Malaysian Digest.

He further highlighted Islam is not a religion that wants to burden its followers with unnecessary rules, while pointing out to the recent issue regarding the shared use of public washing machines between Muslims and non-Muslims that has gone viral.

The image which was circulated online showed a public launderette in Muar, Johor that only provides cleaning services to Muslims had garnered many reactions including from the Perlis mufti Dr Mohd Asri and Johor prince Tunku Idris Sultan Ibrahim, whom both expressed their disagreement over the concept of separating services between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“To separate the believers and non-believers of the religion is very impractical. Personally, I do not agree with the concept of separation, as that would mean that we must separate everything in matters that involve exchanges between Muslims and non-Muslims such as in clothing or donation.

“In Islam, we have a concept called umum al-balwa which allows for certain aspects of interactions with non-Muslims that are usually impermissible, to be permissible due to a widespread situation and difficulty to avoid such aspects,” he explained.

Will People Want To Buy A Shariah-Compliant Washing Machine?

While it is one thing to invent a Shariah-compliant washing machine, it is another matter to sell it.

“In terms of business, it is impractical to sell a product just to a certain group of people, as that means limiting the market of the said product,” said Ridzuan Abdullah, president of the SME Association of Malaysia (IKHLAS).

Ridzuan Abdullah.Ridzuan Abdullah.Targeting a market based on race and religion is very challenging, and that could affect sales, Ridzuan opined.

For example, the MARA Digital Mall, which was established as an outlet for Bumiputra Information Communications Technology (ICT) retailers in 2015, is losing its sales two years after its launch. Business were well in the first few months, however customers returned to buy from Low Yat Plaza or the Sogo mall, due to their inability to sell with competitive prices.

On the other hand, Ridzuan insisted that if the product manages to garner a good reception, it could be the birth of a new market.

“For example, the halal market is very wide and lucrative now that even the non-Muslims are interested to join in the halal business to attract Muslim customers. The halal certificate in Malaysia especially, is much sought after compared to halal certificates of other countries.

“If reception is positive, then other companies will want to create a similar product that could cater to the same group of people as well,” opined Ridzuan.

If a Shariah-compliant washing machine succeeds in making a breakthrough in the Muslim market, then Ridzuan believes we will see more Shariah-compliant equipment in the future, as businesses realise there is a market need for such products.

“Business is all about competition. If one company manages to sell a product well based on the Shariah-compliant concept, then other companies, possibly bigger ones, will be interested to take in their share of the profit.

“Inventors of other Shariah-compliant products can even approach the huge companies that could mass manufacture the products and sell them to the huge Muslim market,” said Ridzuan.

Meanwhile, Adnan Shah, a Malaysian who works as an industrial engineer at a private corporation in the United States, says, producing such a washing machine with new mechanisms could be expensive, as the inventor needs to ensure every aspect of the machine is stable and for the mechanical aspects of the machine to work well together.

“In ensuring a continuous flow of water during the required stage, he needs to address certain limitations such as, how often or rare should the washing machine be maintained, the maximum/minimum load weight and other design elements.

“These elements will undoubtedly affect the cost of production and therefore the cost of the product in the market,” the engineer relayed to Malaysian Digest.

While inventing a washing machine with a new mechanism is one thing, manufacturing it will be a whole different story.While inventing a washing machine with a new mechanism is one thing, manufacturing it will be a whole different story.

Selling a Shariah-compliant washing machine to the Malaysian market would be a tough challenge, as the extra mechanism that allows for continuous water flow could mean the washing machine will be significantly more expensive than the existing ones in the market.

“Can Malaysians afford such a product? Or better yet, are Malaysians willing to pay for a product that is relatively new in the market? The basis of ‘Shariah-compliant’ is not a strong enough Unique Selling Point (USP) because let’s look at it this way, if it is important to introduce such a product in the market, why haven’t the United Arab Emirates invented one?

“Perhaps before mass production, the lecturer should educate and enlighten the public more on the issue,” Adnan concluded his opinion.

While this Shariah-compliant washing machine invention is still in its development stages, if the invention pulls-off, it could no doubt be a breakthrough. But having said that, as industry insiders reveal, it will undoubtedly be challenging for the new product to compete with ones in the existing market that have gained trust amongst Muslim consumers, and even certified as Islamic by standards, by the fatwa council.

Whether targeted Muslim consumers will bite into the Shariah-compliant feature of an electrical product, it remains to be seen. Echoing our stakeholder’s stance, nevertheless, with more education and further understanding of this product, perhaps it might just have a stronghold on target consumers and be able to open up a whole new market, as displayed by the halal foods industry.

-- Malaysian Digest