London, Asharq Al-Awsat—London is set to become the first western city to host the annual World Economic Islamic Forum (WIEF), it was announced on Wednesday.
The forum, set to be held in the city’s Excel Centre in October, was launched by the prime minister of Malaysia, Dato Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, at a meeting in the city.
The forum has been previously held in Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Pakistan but will be held in London this year in collaboration with London & Partners, the official promotional organization for the city.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of London and Partners, Gordon Innes, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We started liaising with the representative of the WIEF and discussing that it would be great to bring the forum to a western city. They really liked the idea and, of course, London was the first option given that is so international and has a huge Muslim population as well as international bureaus and a number of international companies.”
Innes also highlighted the existing trade links between London and various firms and countries in the Islamic world.
He said: “London hosts the most significant Islamic finance cluster outside of Muslim countries. London is really the only center in the west that has such depth and expertise in this field.”
“Islamic finance is a relatively small part of the turnover in the city at the moment but it’s the fastest growing part of local finance at about 25 per cent per year . . . it isn’t just the banks that are issuing Islamic compliance bonds but there are also more than 25 law firms within this field.”
There are also 22 Shariah compliant banks in London and Saudi Arabia is the second largest foreign investor in the UK after the US. Innes also cited the example of the Shard, London’s 72-storey skyscraper and the tallest building in the European Union, which is largely financed and run by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. “Kuwait is allocating 5 billion dollars to investments in the UK,” he added, “and a number of Islamic countries from the Gulf to East Asia to Turkey, etc. find tremendous opportunities in London in terms of growth and exports.”
The Malaysian prime minister said that thoe choice on London was a recognition “not only of London as a place of ideas and discourse; but also as a bastion of tolerance and inclusivity amidst an often divided world.”
The WIEF is a Malaysia-based business platform that displays business opportunities in the Muslim world and strengthens exchange and collaboration between Muslim and non-Muslim countries. The forum itself is reun by the WIEF Foundation, which is permanently based in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
The chairman of the forum, Tun Musa Hitam, speaking at the launch of the forum on Wednesday, described it as an attempt “to build bridges towards peace and prosperity between the Muslim and non-Muslim world through the common language of business.”