Call to strengthen dialogue between Islam and West

HIS Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday called for urgent efforts to enhance constructive relations and solidarity between Islamic and Western cultures as significant historical, political and cultural divides among civilisations exist between them.

His Majesty delivered a titah at 9th World Islamic Economic Forum at Excel London Exhibition and Convention Centre, London, United Kingdom, yesterday.

His Majesty proposed that dialogues between Islam and the West, which were started as part of the global process a decade ago, such as “Alliance among Civilisations” and “Interfaith Dialogues” should be enhanced to promote better understanding, trust and confidence among both communities. “They need to understand each other’s world view in order to remove fear and suspicion,” said His Majesty.

Earlier in the day, His Majesty was greeted by Dato’ Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia and Patron of World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation; Tun Musa Hitam, Chairman of World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation; and Tan Sri Ahmad Fuzi Abd Razak, Secretary General of World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation.

The opening session began with welcoming remarks by Tun Musa Hitam followed by a speech from Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ali, Honorary Fellow of World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation and President of Islamic Development Bank. This was later followed by the opening address by Dato’ Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak.

Immediately after the opening address, His Majesty delivered the titah which was later followed by statements from other heads of state and government as well as other delegates.

In his titah, His Majesty firstly expressed his pleasure for being able to participate again in the World Islamic Economic Forum and said that it was very timely that the meeting was being held in the City of London – a vibrant, diverse and a well-established international financial centre with a history dating back centuries.

His Majesty said the forum was taking place against a backdrop of major changes in the global landscape. Within the last decade, the world has witnessed a rapid pace of globalisation and ICT revolution, bringing down barriers and overcoming distance. There has also been increasing economic interdependence and integration among various regions and countries of the world. All these have tremendous implications in the way people think, work and deal with each other. It implies that people have to constantly renew and strengthen the relationships with one another.

Notwithstanding these positive developments, His Majesty said that there are still those who tend to subscribe to the division of the world between “Islam and the West”, as though the two are permanently locked in opposition to each other. However, history has shown that Islam and Muslims have co-existed harmoniously with other peoples and civilisations in various parts of the world and this is certainly still the case today.

Out of approximately 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, many millions live in the West and are contributing to the development of the communities they live in. Trade and investment flow between Western and Muslim countries, such as the Gulf Cooperation Countries and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in the last five years have been impressive.

His Majesty, however, said that despite the information revolution and the march towards globalisation, there still exist significant historical, political and cultural divides among civilisations, especially between Islam and the West. In fact, what binds the world together is much more significant than that which divides it. Around the world we see growing disparities between the rich and the poor, with increasing unemployment, leading to social and political unrest. Global growth is still confronted with risks, and our peoples continue to face challenges in various aspects of their lives, both socio-political and economic.

His Majesty added that those are interests and concerns with global dimensions, affecting our societies and their quality of life. The Western and the Islamic worlds face these common problems and no country has the capacity to solve them alone. Thus the need for constructive relations and solidarity between these two great cultures, Islamic and Western, is more urgently needed today than ever before. The challenges are profound and demand our collective efforts to enable our communities to live and work together to ensure global peace and security. In light of this, His Majesty proposed that the Forum consider strengthening these approaches.

“Islam celebrates diversity. Getting to know each other better is a basic premise in seeking a common ground, and in beginning to explore ways and means of addressing our common problems,” said His Majesty.

His Majesty also suggested that we should deepen our collaboration in further developing and complementing our financial resources. In many Muslim countries it has been shown that Islamic banking and finance can co-exist and prosper alongside conventional banking systems, and they should be mutually reinforcing. Islamic finance is one of the fastest growing segments in financial markets. Current estimates project that the global Islamic industry will grow at an annual rate of 12.5 per cent and is expected to reach US$1.8 trillion by the end of 2013.

His Majesty added that in order to ensure an efficient, stable and effective Islamic Financial and Banking Industry that conforms to Syariah requirements, a number of major international financial centres have deployed the necessary infrastructure, including legal, regulatory and supervisory frameworks. Hence, innovation and creativity in the industry will always be based upon both strong governance practices and Islamic finance requirements. It is important that this momentum is maintained and work to ensure that both the Islamic and conventional banking systems are able to serve the needs of the world community, especially in helping to manage the challenges faced by our communities.

In this regard, His Majesty highlighted that these challenges call upon banks and financial institutions to embrace the values of moral responsibility and to promote and protect social justice, for example as required by the practice of “Zakat” or tithes in Islam. In short, it is important for both banking systems to undertake charitable deeds with a view to give back to society. There is certainly plenty of scope for the banking world to help address some of the challenges that we currently face. For example, recurring food insecurity poses major obstacles to development.

His Majesty continued to say that Islamic finance can use this opportunity to address pressing problems by investing in agricultural research and development to enhance efficiency and expand production capacities. Islamic finance should also play a role in promoting small and medium enterprises by bringing together ethically responsible investors and businessmen and women who aspire to make a difference in their communities.

On this matter, His Majesty is happy to learn that London is also rising to the occasion. London’s role in Islamic finance came about more than a decade ago when regulators and policy makers introduced reforms, which eased the use of “Syariah-compliant products”. Syariah compliant assets have grown from $826 billion in 2010 to $1.2 trillion in 2012 and are expected to further grow.

Finally, His Majesty stated that when Islam was revealed through Prophet Mohammad, (pbuh), 1,400 years ago, the first verse of the holy Quran was to command the Prophet to “read”. The main tenet of the religion has always been to promote, nurture and persevere in the quest for learning. In fact, learning and the acquisition of knowledge are fundamental to human survival and existence.

Therefore His Majesty suggested that our educational institutions should further develop networks and linkages in order to promote wider student exchanges in all fields of knowledge including Islamic studies. His Majesty is glad to note that Britain is host to many fine educational establishments and institutions, including a number that focus on Islamic studies such as the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.

In conclusion, His Majesty said that Islam has been a part of Europe for a long time dating back to 10th century in Cordova, Spain. It had contributed immensely towards Western civilisation in all fields of human endeavours. As our fate and wellbeing become intricately intertwined, His Majesty believes Islam will also be very much an essential part of Europe’s future. Therefore, His Majesty welcomed the World Islamic Economic Forum as part of global efforts to open up avenues of communications that will forge a new enduring relationship between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities worldwide, united by their shared values, interests and concerns.

After the opening session ended, His Majesty joined other heads of state and government as well as heads of delegation for a group photo and luncheon hosted by Dato Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak.

After the luncheon, His Majesty had a four-eye meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan. In the meeting, Their Majesties discussed bilateral matters of mutual interests, as well as regional and international issues.

Accompanying His Majesty were Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Abdul Rahman bin Haji Ibrahim, Minister of Finance II at the Prime Minister’s Office and Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Dewa Dato Seri Setia Lim Jock Seng, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II. - Borneo Bulletin (30 October 2013)