(eTN) – Islamic countries from the Asia Pacific region have agreed to form an Asia Pacific Islamic Travel and Tours Federation to “safeguard” the interests of Muslim tourists and travel agents.

Representatives from the four founding member countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei together with ASEAN neighbor Singapore – have agreed to its formation at the recent Bumitra Islamic Tourism Forum 2008 in Kuala Lumpur.

“Islamic travel,” said Syed Razif, Bumitra president, “does not cater only for those going for the umrah and haj, but also leisure travel. It will create opportunities among member countries.”

According to Ayub Hassan, deputy president of Bumitra, Muslims can now choose travel packages to Korea, Japan, Europe and the US in addition to destinations in China, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“Islamic tourism has great potential,” said Razali Daud, deputy director general of Tourism Malaysia. “In addition to promoting Malaysia as a main tourist destination for Muslims, the Malaysian government aims to make Malaysia a tourism hub for Muslims in the region.”

In a related development, Malaysia has been praised for its leadership in enhancing trade cooperation, alleviating poverty and various capacity-building measures among Muslim countries during its chairmanship of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in the past four years.

Ahead of the OIC Summit to be held in Dakar, Senegal, scheduled for March this year, Malaysia has been praised for its efforts for promoting projects to uplift the Muslim “Ummah,” said Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Ali, president of the Islamic Development Bank.

Among notable achievements made were the setting up of World Islamic Economic Forum-Universiti Teknologi Mara (WIEF-UiTM) campus in Shah Alam, funded jointly by the IDB and UiTM to collaborate in education in the Muslim world.

“Malaysia is an exemplary country among OIC member economies, willing to transfer knowledge to other member countries,” adds Dr. Mohamed Ali. “Countries from Asia to Africa have benefited from these programs. The university is a shining example that rural society can be active and participate in a country’s development efforts.”

IDB, a multilateral development financing institution set up following the conference of OIC finance ministers in 1973, has also been responsible for sponsoring missions and visits to Malaysia by officials from other OIC member countries.