MANAMA: Following the success of this year's World Islamic Banking Conference (WIBC) in Bahrain, the UK has been praised as the leading Western centre for Islamic finance and one of the world's most attractive destinations for Islamic banks.
The conference, supported by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), included an expert panel from the UK, which led debates on the future of the sector, both in the UK and around the world.
This panel included three members of the UK Islamic Finance Secretariat, as well as representatives of leading advisory firms.
They spoke to a large audience of Islamic wholesale and retail bankers from across the Gulf region and beyond, as well as advisers and other professional service providers specialising in Islamic finance.
The panel looked at the pitfalls and opportunities for Islamic finance in light of the global economic downturn and opportunities for growth in the sector, with some estimates putting its value at more than $4 trillion in the coming years.
"Small corporates looking at sukuk issuance are favouring UK law because it's a safe pair of hands," said Wragge & Company lawyer Kazi Rahman.
"We have recently been asked to look at several issuances particularly for this reason and also due to the experience we have in the UK working with international institutions," he added.
"The UK is the number one centre for co-operation with other Islamic finance centres such as Bahrain and Malaysia," said Gatehouse Bank chief executive officer Richard Thomas.
The panel urged the audience to learn from UK experiences and implement changes within their own institutions.
The UK, and especially London, has been working to move the Islamic finance sector from niche to mainstream over the last decade, with wide expertise and a financial infrastructure that is uniquely placed to support Islamic banking.
In the UK there are 18 major law firms providing legal services in Islamic finance, five stand-alone Sharia compliant banks and five of the largest national professional services firms with Islamic finance teams based in London providing Sharia-complaint services.
The WIBC has been running for 17 years, and is the world's largest and most influential gathering of Islamic finance industry leaders.
This year there were more than 1,200 international delegates from more than 50 countries.