London can be at the heart of the Islamic finance revolution

 
Bandar M H Hajjar
The Islamic Bank Of Britain Opens In The UK
In 2014, the UK became the first non-Muslim country to issue a Sukuk bond (Source: Getty)

This Monday, many of the world’s leading investors and experts will meet in the heart of the City of London.

They are gathering to discuss one of the oldest but – conversely – also one of the most under-developed elements of the global financial market: Islamic finance.

Delegates to the summit will focus in particular on the Sukuk: a bond structured to generate returns to investors without infringing Sharia Law, which prohibits taking or charging interest.

Read more: Forging renewed City links with Saudi Arabia and the UAE

The Sukuk market represents a key component of the Islamic financial system, which has grown at a double-digit rate for the last decade and reached $3.5 trillion (£2.4 trillion) last year. Yet despite this growth, the sector has traditionally been seen as little more than a niche activity within western economies.

Now we have a real opportunity to realise the potential of Islamic finance and build a truly global marketplace – starting right here in the UK.

There are three key reasons why I believe that this is a crucial time for Islamic Finance here in Britain.

First, as the prolonged double-digit growth suggests, Islamic finance and the Sukuk are now performing strongly on the global stage. Total Sukuk issuances grew from $85bn in 2016 to almost $100bn in 2017, showing that, although the international market is in its nascent stages, there is enormous potential for growth.

Second, Islamic finance has grown significantly within the UK in recent years. The UK now has the largest sector of any OECD country and London is increasingly regarded by banks, governments, and corporate firms (both Islamic and non-Islamic) as an important global centre for Islamic finance.

In 2014, the UK became the first non-Muslim country to issue a Sukuk, while last month the Birmingham-based Al Rayan Bank became the first bank in the world to issue a public Sukuk in a non-Muslim country. These are just some of the reasons we chose to host our Sukuk Summit here in London.

Third, it’s not just about the financial returns. The Islamic finance sector has a proven record of promoting financial, social and economic stability, as well as financial inclusion and shared prosperity.

We have seen that financial success and responsible investment need not be mutually exclusive.

Here, the innovation and creativity within the Sukuk market is truly outstanding. Consider Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which issued a Sukuk that raised over $500m to help protect tens of millions of children against preventable diseases. This is truly social impact investment on a grand scale.

And there is so much more we can do, from green bonds to fintech and ethical investment funds.

The Islamic Development Bank’s funding plan for the first half of 2018 is estimated at $2.5bn, the largest since the Bank’s inception, where a benchmark sized Sukuk issue will soon be launched subject to market conditions. The proceeds will be used to support infrastructure, education, and health projects across our 57 member nations.

We have also just launched Engage, a new $500m philanthropic fund that will support science and technology startups across the world to promote the Sustainable Development Goals.

I truly believe that the Sukuk can change the world for the better – for investors, but also for the billions of people who benefit from the growth it drives.

Furthermore, after the global financial crisis in 2008, the world has looked for a new banking and financial order based on sharing risk through linking together the real and financial sectors and avoiding excessive speculation.

This is how the Sukuk market can contribute to global economic stability and sustainable growth.

I want the UK – and London in particular – to be at the heart of this movement, and Monday’s summit is a great place to start.

Read more: Why the UK is well placed to capitalise on growth of Islamic finance market

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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