Why business is key to uniting East and West

TODAY the ninth World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) meets for the first time outside a Muslim country. And it’s happening here in London, the UK’s cosmopolitan and inclusive capital. There has never been a more important time for Western and Islamic countries to work together. We’ve discovered that, when people get together for business, they can put aside their political, religious and ideological differences. There is one compelling commonality that matters most – the impetus to be peaceful and prosperous.

Holding the WIEF in London is our first step in promoting direct engagement in Europe. The choice is no coincidence. London is home to a vast multicultural population and is a gateway for trade, commerce, finance, culture, ideas and philosophy. We have a long history of two-way trade. This week, we will look at business opportunities in the UK, but will also use London to showcase the best the Muslim world has to offer as a lucrative trade and investment destination.

Our theme this year is “Changing World, New Relationships”. The world is in the grip of massive change, and many fear what the unknown will bring. Some have reacted to the challenge by retreating into isolationism, even violence. Instead, we must embrace the opportunities that a changing world offers: forging new partnerships, transcending fears, and building relationships for mutual understanding and prosperity.

Yesterday, I opened the London Stock Exchange, not only to mark the start of this festival, but as a symbol of the Muslim world’s desire to reach out to global business partners. Today we will hear from David Cameron, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, and from 17 global leaders. In the coming days, five central bank governors, and over 2,300 chief executives, academics, regional experts, health professionals, business leaders, policy makers, innovators and investors from 120 countries will come together. They will network with organisations including Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Coca Cola, Xenel, London Stock Exchange Group, Saudi Economic Development Company, Jaguar Land Rover, BDA China, Maybank Islamic, Khazanah Nasional, and the World Health Organisation.

Experts will debate global challenges like combatting non-communicable diseases, the growth potential for high-quality education, and the potential of women as growth drivers. We will look at new business opportunities in micro-finance and startups, smart city design, harmonising Islamic and Western banking, and encouraging greater connectivity through digital technology between Islamic and European economies.

We chose London because it embraces global partnerships, and reflects our belief that business offers a common discourse to drive our world forward, building bridges between East and West.

Tun Musa Hitam is chairman of the WIEF Foundation. www.9thwief.org