When David Cameron stepped onto the stage at the World Islamic Economic Forum in 2013 to announce the United Kingdom would be the first western sovereign state to issue an Islamic bond, the mainstream press scrambled to understand more about the mysterious world of Islamic finance. ‘Cameron unveils plan to make London a Mecca for Middle East wealth’, whooped the Independent, whilst the ever-opportunistic Boris Johnson grabbed his moment to share the limelight by welcoming the Islamic petrodollar to our shores.
Inwardly I sighed. Oh sure, the sovereign sukuk, or Islamic bond, was a headline financial instrument, and its issuance by a western government was a milestone in enhancing the credibility of the UK’s Islamic finance industry in global financial markets. I should be – and I was – proud that the City of London was the envy of the world in creating a regulatory environment to allow this form of alternative ethical finance to flourish, and proud also that I lived in a country where I am free to practise my faith.
But what if all that really mattered was a photo opportunity for politicians to entice the richest people in the world to a city where the contrast between the wealthiest and the most deprived could be no more horrifically illustrated than the loss of 72 souls in the Grenfell Tower fire? Has inequality in one of the world’s most affluent countries reached the point that a few pounds per piece of fire-proof cladding to prevent loss of life was deemed uneconomical?