Business can unite the West and Islamic world in these troubled times

WHAT better symbolises London than Hamleys? More than a toy store, it is an iconic destination for millions of visitors to the UK. And from this December, there will be a branch in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of my own country Malaysia.

It will join a series of UK firms that have invested successfully in Malaysia, including that of Sir James Dyson, your brilliant inventor who moved a lot of his manufacturing there in 2002. And it’s not one-way traffic. This week, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has been in London to attend a ceremony at Battersea Power Station. After years of uncertainty, it is to become an exciting residential and retail complex, and the backers for the project are Malaysian.

This investment is only the start of the potential economic links both between our two nations, and between Britain and the wider Muslim world. And it’s one of the reasons why I’m bringing the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) to London for the first time in its decade-long history.

We are dedicated to the proposition that, in these troubled times, the most reliable way of building bridges is through business cooperation. And London was the obvious destination for our conference. It is, outside the Muslim world, the leading international centre for Islamic finance, a trillion pound business forecast to grow to £1.6 trillion within a couple of years. Britain has the largest Islamic banking sector outside the Middle East and Asia, with 22 shariah-compliant banks or banks with Islamic windows.

And partnerships between the UK and the Muslim world are growing. The UAE and UK Joint Economic Committee has agreed to increase bilateral trade by 60 per cent by 2015, and last year UK bilateral trade with Turkey reached £9.1bn, with UK goods exports of £3.7bn. 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 countries have an estimated value of $17.5bn (£11.4bn).

This is unsurprising. A quarter of the world’s population – 1.8bn people – are Muslims, and many live in some of the world’s most rapidly expanding economies. And take the halal sector. It’s among the fastest growing global businesses in the world, worth an estimated $632bn annually. Muslim countries are also young. Within the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, 40 per cent of the population is under the age of 25. The sense of optimism and possibility is endless.

For nearly a decade, WIEF has been helping to build bridges. But while many Western business people and leaders have attended, we’ve always met in nations from the Islamic world. This year, we decided that the time had come to meet in the West, to bring our message that there is more that unites nations than divides them. We want 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 eighth WIEF struck deals worth an estimated £5.8bn.

The Honourable Tun Musa Hitam is chairman of WIEF Foundation, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, and former chairman of Sime Darby Berhad. The ninth WIEF conference takes place in London between 29 and 31 October. To register visit www.9thwief.org