More than 2,600 Muslim leaders of business and politics are gathering in London for the ninth World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), the first to be held outside an Islamic country.
Tun Musa Hitam, a former Malaysian politician who is chairman of the WIEF Foundation, joined with Alexander Justham, the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, to formally open trading on the British market in honour of the WIEF gathering in the wind-blown capital.
“When the forum is in London, it means we have arrived,” Mr Hitam said. Mr Justham replied: “It is very important for the forum to be here. We truly appreciate the decision to come to London. We want to make this a better environment for Islamic capital.”
The overall theme of the forum, which formally begins today, is: Changing world, new relationships. It comes at a time of increasing competition between London and other financial centres to be regarded as the global hub of Islamic financial business.
Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor of London, responsible for business and finance, said: “The world comes together in harmony in London to make money.”
Malaysia is the world’s leading issuer of sukuk, or corporate bonds, but London has been challenging in the role of secondary trader of these and other forms of Sharia-compliant banking and financing, estimated to be worth some US$1.6 trillion annually.
Earlier this year, Dubai declared is ambition to become the global hub of the overall Islamic economy, worth an estimated $8tn, including finance. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, set a three-year timetable for Dubai to achieve its goal.
London is pushing its claim hard. Mr Malthouse said: “One of the things I have witnessed over recent years is the internationalisation of London. Now it is generally mixed, with lots of races living together in unexpected harmony, especially when they’re making money.”
He pointed to London’s track record of successful sukuk listings, and of the many law firms that had developed specialist Sharia-compliant departments.
Mr Malthouse also highlighted recent big investments by Arabian Gulf companies, especially Qatar, in London’s property sector, and contrasted the development of DP World’s London Gateway project with America’s refusal to sell ports in the United States as part of the 2006 takeover of P&O.
The British prime minister, David Cameron, is to deliver a keynote address to the forum today, in the presence of Najib Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia; King Abdullah of Jordan; Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan; and Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain, among other Islamic leaders.
A delegation from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, one of the main sponsors of the forum, is expected to attend, as well as other UAE government figures.
Underlining the importance of the event for Britain, Prince Charles will attend a gala dinner of Islamic world leaders.
Many poorer Islamic countries, such as Pakistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, will use the forum to make appeals for inward investment from energy-exporting nations. Private and government-related business groups will also be at the meeting.