President Mohamed Nasheed addressed the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, outlining the links between Islam and trade and expressing hope that the forum, and commerce between Muslim countries, will grow in the future.
The forum, which was held from 18-20 of May, was a platform for governments of Muslim and non-Muslim nations, and business leaders, to meet and discuss trade and economic issues.
This year’s theme, Gearing for Economic Resurgence, focused on the role of Islamic banking and financing, and how it can play a role in building a more stable global finance system.
Speaking at the forum, President Nasheed said he believed it was “appropriate that modern day Muslim nations meet to trade and invest with one another.”
He added it was important to “forge ties with nations of other faiths, just as Muslims have done over thousands of years.”
Nasheed noted that “it was through trade and commerce that Islam was introduced to many parts of the world.”
The spice trade brought Islam to Central and South East Asia, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa, he continued, and it was trade that brought Islam to the “then Buddhist Maldives.”
Arab merchants were attracted to the Maldives in the 12th century when they found out about the “abundant supply of Cowry shells…[which] were used at the time as an international currency. “
Because of the islands’ geographic location, said Nasheed, many merchants also stopped in the Maldives during their travels from the Spice Islands to the Middle East, and waited for the monsoon.
President Nasheed noted that the famous 14th century explorer, Ibn Battuta, also came to the Maldives during his travels and was “impressed by combs made from turtle shell, as well as rope and fibres, which were exported abroad.”
Nasheed reiterated that Islam and trade have always been closely tied, as “in the past, trade brought Islam, and Islam brought greater trade. To my mind, Islam and commerce are synonymous.”
Moreover, he said, “Muslim people have a strong culture of commerce” and the Qur’an was “explicit about correct terms of trade and commerce.”
President Nasheed said although “some people belittle Muslims and Islam—they like to portray Muslims as backward and impoverished people,” he believes “the signs of growing Muslim prosperity are everywhere: from the glittering desert cities of the Arabian peninsula, to the vibrant export economies of Malaysia and Indonesia.”
He added that, “as Muslims, we can be confident in trading and investing with one another.”
Although the Maldives’ economy was once “relatively closed”, the president told the delegates, the current administration had “introduced a radical programme of privatisation and public-private partnerships.”
“We believe that the free market is the most efficient and effective mechanism to deliver goods and services,” he said. “We are offering investment opportunities across the board: from housing to hotels; from energy to education.”
The president said historically Maldives “exported cowry shells and provided respite for sailors. Today, the mainstays of our export-oriented economy are tuna and tourism.”
He added that Maldivian tuna is “caught sustainably” by pole and line, making it “some of the best tuna available on the market.”
A ruling made in March by the Cabinet has now allowed long-line fishing for Maldivian vessels, which is more harmful to the environment. Although the government has defended its decision, there are still concerns from the fisheries industry and environmentalists that long-lining will adversely affect the industry and the environment in the Maldives.
President Nasheed ended his address by saying Maldivians and other Muslims have “always been entrepreneurial people” and the “dynamism and creativity of the Muslim peoples” should be harnessed and built upon.