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There’s a popular saying that when one door closes, another one opens.

That’s how I would describe the story behind Marookha Cafe, the first (and so far only) gentlewoman’s club in Malaysia, where you can find a fitness studio, a restaurant, and a nail and waxing salon under one roof. 

Before starting the cafe, Zara’s company had just closed down. While contemplating her next move, she figured it wouldn’t hurt to call a personal trainer to her house. 

As a hijabi, she couldn’t find any fitness centres nearby that allowed her to exercise without her hijab on. But a fitness trainer wasn’t the most cost-friendly option and it lacked a community spirit. 

That’s when it hit her. “I realised that there might be other women who wanted to work out without wearing a hijab but couldn’t find a suitable place,” Zara stated.

Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

This prompted her to be the change she wanted to see.

A space that doesn’t compromise religious obligations

The inspiration for Marookha can be traced back to Zara’s trip to the UAE (United Arab Emirates). During that time, she was visiting her husband Ahmed’s family.

Being a Muslim country, the UAE has adopted a number of hijabi-friendly spaces. Meaning there are plenty of amenities like private beaches and swimming pools that are available exclusively for women.

At the same time, she noticed the jarring contrast of this with the issues she faced at home.

Confiding in us, Zara shared that she and her group of hijabi friends would struggle to find a space where they needn’t cover themselves. 

Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

Since there weren’t such Muslimah-friendly spaces in Malaysia, they resorted to taking turns hosting parties at home. But the issue was their husbands would always come home early which cut their ladies’ time short.

Seeing how the UAE overcame this issue, Zara was inspired. “I realised that many Muslim women would benefit from having a similar space [in Malaysia], where they could be free and comfortable without having to compromise their religious obligation,” she explained.

So with the encouragement of Ahmed, the now-36-year-old decided to fill that market gap herself. That’s how Marookha Cafe got its start in 2021.

Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

Build muscle mass and an appetite

At Marookha Cafe, you can find a slew of services tailored for the fairer sex, such as the salon that tends to your nails and waxing needs. But its most popular one has to be the all-women’s gym.

There, visitors can sign up for training lessons for boxing, Pilates, Muay Thai, and the like. Each is hosted by skilled instructors.

Zara shared that Marookha Cafe is quite selective with the trainers they partner with. “We don’t choose instructors who only teach for the money, rather we select those who want to get to know their students and provide them with the best possible guidance.”

Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

To book your slot, customers simply need to tap on the link in Marookha Cafe’s Instagram bio. You’ll find all the details there, including the kind of fitness class, the instructor’s name, and the time and date for your choosing.

We don’t recommend walk-in as Zara shared that most classes are fully booked in advance.

But if you’re in the area already, you could also check out their in-house cafe that specialises in authentic Palestinian cuisine. All the recipes are from Ahmed’s mother, who herself is a Palestinian.

One of their must-try dishes is the Maqluba, which consists of layers of onion, aubergine, potato, and rice that are cooked in spiced chicken stock.

Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

A community centre for the people from “Venus”

At this point you might be wondering, what does “Marookha” mean? 

Marookha, also known as “Maruja”, is a Spanish slang term referring to a housewife who dresses up and prepares to throw a party. This is the spirit that Zara hopes the gentlewoman’s club embodies.

While on the surface, it may appear to just be another fitness studio, cafe, and social gathering spot, its intention is much more than that.

“Its true purpose is to spread positivity and encourage people to engage in face-to-face conversations rather than venting their thoughts on a screen,” Zara explained.

Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

Marookha Cafe is essentially a community centre by women, for women. The spaces available there like the gym and the salon are vehicles of empowering women by building up their self-confidence.

Which is why it also welcomes children below the age of 10, as motherhood is a part of many women’s lives.

In that light, the cafe has also taken it upon themselves to organise markets every two months to support women entrepreneurs. There is a different theme each time to attract a variety of vendors and customers. 

“We understand that starting a business on your own can be challenging, so we aim to provide a platform to uplift them in their journey. By doing so, we can support each other and work towards achieving our goals,” Zara confided.

Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

It’s not a space open only to Muslim hijabis

So far, Marookha Cafe has been gaining positive reception from the crowd in Malaysia. 

Although the intention was to create an inclusive space for hijabis, Zara shared that many non-Muslim and non-hijabi women frequent the space too.

This is particularly true for the gym, where they’ve received feedback of patrons feeling more comfortable there. One key reason could be due to the place being run by an all-women crew.

Hence, Zara and her team plan to double the size and expand the fitness studio to accommodate more students soon. 

Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

As for the bigger picture, they aim to open a couple more Marookha Cafe outlets within the next ten years. Preferably in areas that would benefit from having such a space, though I’d argue that this applies to everywhere.

To do so realistically, Zara admitted that they would require additional capital or partners.

But for now, the husband-and-wife duo are content with the space they’ve created. Their goal at the end of the day is to help more women live a physically, socially, and emotionally healthy life.

  • Learn more about Marookha Cafe here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Marookha Cafe

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)