By Frank Kane The National
Abdalhamid David Evans is playing a significant role in Dubai’s initiative to become the capital of the global Islamic economy.
Mr Evans has been fronting a series of presentations involving the news organisation Thomson Reuters, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other stakeholders in the initiative announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Three years from now, Sheikh Mohammed said last weekend, Dubai would be a global hub for Islamic business, in everything ranging from finance to food to fashion. “It would signal the beginning of a power shift away from Malaysia towards Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed’s initiative has changed the terms of the conversation,” said Mr Evans.
It would also be another milestone in his personal journey in Islam. Mr Evans, born in New York to parents of Welsh origins, became a Muslim in the late 1970’s. Since then, he has made himself an expert in many aspects of the US$8 trillion global economy that Dubai hopes to lead.
“The first step is to create the vision, and His Highness has done that. This is the first time the Islamic economy is being looked at in depth and as a whole, rather than just as Islamic finance or halal food. It is of vital social, political and economic importance,” he said. For much of the past decade, Mr Evans has been orchestrating the rival claim of Malaysia to be the leader of the Islamic economic world.
In the course of his Koranic studies he became interested in those parts of Sharia faith that involved business and finance, and he became such a well-known authority that the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad sought his advice when that country sought to enhance its own Islamic economy.
He helped to launch the Malaysian Halal Industry Development Corporation and the World Halal Forum, two successful organisations that have helped Malaysia achieve a leading position in the global Islamic economy.
When Sheikh Mohammed launched the Dubai initiative in February, Mr Evans’ talents were suddenly in demand in the Middle East. “I had been asking myself when is there going to be a move from the region? When are the Arabs going to get involved? Then along came the Sheikh Mohammed initiative,” Mr Evans said.
He is currently playing a leading role in organising what Dubai hopes will become the “Islamic Davos” – the Global Islamic Economy Summit to be held in the emirate at the end of next month. “It’s an exciting time. The Sharia laws on trade haven’t been much used since the end of the Ottoman empire, when western laws took over. They provide a complete ethical framework for business transactions, very much in need in the modern economy,” he said.
His speciality in Islamic economics is halal food, its production, distribution and retailing. That is one of the “seven pillars” planned by Dubai as the main strategic directions of its plans over the next three years.
“It’s an natural area. The countries of the Middle East and North African are not great food producers, so they rely largely on non-Muslim exporters like Australia, New Zealand and Brazil to produce food according to halal principles. But there is no concerted regulation or certification on a global basis. There is a role for Dubai here,” Mr Evans said.
Several big global food groups – such as Nestle,Unilever and McDonald’s, are considering backing the Dubai initiative, and their involvement could transform the halal industry from a peripheral sector of the global food industry into a mainstream business.
But Mr Evans warned: “The big corporations have to be careful how they roll out their halal offerings. There are social and political implications to their plans. Nestlé has had internal halal standards for the past 15 years, while McDonald’s and Burger King have an in-depth knowledge on the subject. For the global food industry, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ on halal food, but when and how.”
The other big sector of the global Islamic economy is finance, with billions of dollars in the international markets for sukuk (Islamic bonds) and takaful (Islamic insurance). “But food and finance remain in silos. I’ve often wondered why Islamic finance isn’t more involved in food investment, but they will be brought together by the Dubai initiative, and that’s a good thing,” Mr Evans said.
Of increasing importance, he believed, was the lifestyle element of the global economy. “Cosmetics, education, travel, tourism, media, even fashion … they can all be marketed to the next generation according to Islamic principles,” he said.
He believed Dubai had some natural advantages in its quest for global supremacy in the Islamic economy. “Dubai is not super-strict in religious matters, like some other countries, and that is part of the appeal. It is serious about religion, but it is also perceived as ‘cool’ around the Islamic world. Dubai can play that role extremely well,” Mr Evans said.