The 9th World Islamic Economic Forum: More that unites nations than divides them

We are living in at a critical moment for the world, as the powerful current of economics, finance, religion, science and culture threaten to pull us apart. 

One of the many reasons could be lack of engagement and understanding of the other. But at the same time they offer opportunities to forge new bonds between nations. 

The 9th World Islamic Economic Forum, took place at London’s ExCel from 29th – 31stOctober, and offered a great opportunity for us to strengthen relations between the Muslim and non-Muslim world.  When people get together for business, they can put aside their political, religious and ideological differences because there is one compelling commonality that matters most before them – and that is the impetus to be peaceful and prosperous.

For nearly a decade, the World Islamic Economic Forum has been contributing to this debate. Although many Western business people and leaders have attended, we’ve always met in nations from the Islamic world. This year, I was delighted that the time had come for the WIEF to meet in the West. The Forum brought to London its message that there is more that unites nations than divides them.

More than 1,500 government leaders, captains of industries, academics, regional experts, professionals and corporate managers from 120 countries came together to boost trade and cultural partnerships between markets. We wanted to reach out in the most tangible sense to the West at this crucial time. And we believe actions speak louder than words - last year’s 8th WIEF struck deals worth an estimated £5.8billion.

One quarter of the world’s population, 1.8 billion people, are Muslims. Islamic economies account for nearly half of the world’s fastest growing economies. London is a global hub of trade, enterprise, education and finance and a gateway to Western economies. It’s this combination of opportunities, which explains not only why the Forum convened in London, but also why so many prominent figures from both sides of the world continue to support our initiative.
We received the support of some of the most influential political figures in the world, including The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, The Hon. Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, H.E. Abdelillah Benkirane, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Morocco, Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, H.M. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam, President of Bosnia Bakir Izetbegovic, H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid, Crown Prince of Dubai and many others around the world.  In attendance were Central Bank Governors from Dubai, Oman, UAE, Malaysia and Nigeria.

Business leaders such as Jeff Lynn, CEO Seedrs, Mr Hasan Al Jabri, CEO, Saudi Economic and Development Company, Bob Schukai, Global Head of Mobile Technology, Thomson Reuters, Prof. Sultan T. Abu-Orabi, Secretary General, Association of Arab Universities, Ms Raja Teh Maimunah CEO Hong Leong Islamic Bank, and Datuk Jamil Bidin, CEO Halal Industry Development Corporation will be speaking, and delegates can network with organisations including BDA China, Jaguar Landrover, Islamic Development Bank, Xenel Group, JS Comsa Corporation, PricewaterhouseCooper and the Aga Khan Development Network.

We chose to meet in London because it is a truly global city, which embraces international partnerships and used London to showcase to the world the very best that the Muslim world has to offer as a lucrative trade and investment destination. But we also chose London because of its status as a leading financial and cultural centre of the world, and a business gateway between the Muslim and non-Muslim world. 

Last year, David Cameron promised to double the value of bilateral trade between the Islamic and Western worlds to £8 billion a year by 2016, however, this direct investment is only the beginning of the potential economic involvement between these two nations.

Partnerships between the UK and Muslim world are growing. The UAE and UK Joint Economic Committee agreed to increase bilateral trade by 60% by 2015, and last year UK bilateral trade with Turkey reached £9.1 billion, with UK goods exports of £3.7 billion. Saudi Arabia is the second largest foreign investor in the UK and is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. The 200 joint ventures between the two countries have an estimated value of $US17.5bn.
The Islamic Finance sector also offer great prospects to work together. It is estimated to be worth £1.2 trillion, and is expected to grow to £1.6 trillion by 2015. London will seek to extend its role as a western hub for Islamic finance, building on the £22.3 billion that has been raised to date, by promoting its status as the leading exporter of financial services across the world.

However this year’s WIEF also discussed a number of other issues beyond just trade and finance. We also discussed harnessing the potential of women as critical growth drivers, exploring the export potential for high quality education in developing economies and developing technological collaboration between Islamic and European economies.

We also looked at Halal, one of the fastest growing global businesses in the world. The total value of the global Halal market is estimated at $2.3 trillion a year. We explored how we develop the provision of halal tourism in hotel, food and entertainment, and we were joined by experts such as Datuk Jamil Bidin, Chief Executive Officer, Halal Industry Development Corporation and Fazal Bahardeen, Founder & CEO Crescentrating.

The Marketplace of Creative Arts (MOCAfest) – a global culture festival hosted alongside the Forum –brought together artists and audiences from the Muslim and non-Muslim world, for two days of performances and master-classes.
Free and open to the public, and featuring 30 artists from a diverse range of genres, MOCAfest explored the role that art and culture plays in driving economic growth and business collaboration between East and West. The festival showcased some of the most exciting new talent from across the globe, and panel discussions and workshops helped emerging artists develop skills to help them to launch their careers.

MOCAfest’s installation exhibition showcased works from artists such as: Mohammed Ali, a street artist from the UK, famous for using his graffiti styles to convey messages of positive social change; Sukina Douglas, a poet and hip-hop artist based in London who has been described as a forerunner in the growing hip-hop scene; and Eckhart Ahmed Krausen, a photographer based in Copenhagen who specialises in the study and documentation of Islamic architecture across Europe. 

The WIEF is dedicated to the proposition that in these troubled and fast moving times, the best and most reliable way of building bridges between nations is through business cooperation. The continuing aftermath of the credit crunch across much of the world, challenges of income inequality, and finite resources, make it ever more important to cooperate if the 21st Century is to be as transformative for the human race as the 20th Century was.  The London Forum was a huge step forward in bringing about better understanding of different communities, cultures, traditions and religions through the medium of trade and finance.   
The World Islamic Economic Forum took place at London’s Excel Centre, October 29th – 31st 2013. To find out more please go to
Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the Former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain and a founding member of the International Advisory Board of the WIEF Foundation.