Engaging and collaborating with the youth is key to growing the global Islamic economy: this was the main takeaway of an international panel titled “The Role of Muslim Lifestyle and Youth in the Islamic Economy,” which was part of MLE Connect 2017 in London.
Abdulla Mohammed Al Awar, CEO of the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC) and head of the panel, emphasized the importance of engaging and educating youth early on.
“The global development of this sector is also one of our objectives, which is why we are always collaborating with other jurisdictions when it comes to the Islamic economy,” he said during the keynote of the event, which is the United Kingdom’s first dedicated B2B hub for the thriving global Muslim lifestyle sectors.
“We started with seven pillars within our strategy. [But] we undertook an exercise late last year to refresh our strategy. It has been three years since we have launched, so we decided to focus on core sectors: Islamic finance, the halal industry, and the Islamic lifestyle sector.”
Focusing on lifestyle, Al Awar stated that the key here is the involvement of the UAE’s youth: “This sector provides a lot of promising opportunities, especially due to the role the youth play in the sector,” he continued. “We have to also keep in mind that the majority of the population of Muslim-majority countries are young. The youth make up the majority of these populations. They will play an important role in defining the future of the Islamic economy.”
“We have rolled out a series of initiatives in the next three years, and we feel that [the youth] will play an even bigger role [than they are at present] in these various initiatives in Dubai in achieving our objectives for the Islamic economy.”
Sharing this sentiment, Saeed Mubarak Kharbash, DIEDC’s Head of Strategy and Planning, said that while progress was being made, there was still a long way to go in promoting the sector to younger generations.
Explaining the role of the DIEDC as well as various Dubai initiatives such as the Global Islamic Economy Summit and free zones like Dubai Silicon Oasis’ DTEC hub, Kharbash stressed the importance of global collaboration.
“We have found that many sectors within the Islamic economy are not addressed worldwide,” he said. “What we have done—and Abdullah was the champion of this within the Dubai government—we went to many countries, such as Argentina, the UK, Italy, Malaysia … doing roundtables to address the importance of the Islamic economy, and more importantly to address the role of youth within the Islamic economy.”
Based on the outcomes, Karbash stated, the DIEDC has gone to work with stakeholders, both private and from the Government of Dubai, to promoting it to the youth. He said that two more accelerators are set to launch soon in the emirate, one focused on Islamic fintech and the other on the halal sector, and that it was now time to shift to “non-mainstream” industries.
“At the moment, we are heavily focused on promoting art and design; it’s a big sector that hasn’t really been tapped into as yet. For instance, Dubai Culture has started to promote Islamic geometric design,” he said. “But one of the difficulties we are facing is the disconnect between Islamic economies worldwide. We went to the US, where we did a roundtable on entrepreneurship and innovation in within the Islamic economy—you see great examples—but they’re not being promoted as Islamic economy.”
UAE VERSUS THE UK
In terms of entrepreneurship in the Islamic economy, Dubai is well ahead of other regions, including the United Kingdom. Yasmin Waljee OBE, Vice Chairman of the mentoring programme Mosaic, which inspires young people from deprived communities to realise their talents and potential, said that young Muslims in the United Kingdom had a “considerable disadvantage”.
“Even though there are marvellous opportunities globally, actually in the UK there is a considerable disadvantage and we mustn’t overlook that,” she said, and went on to say that 50 per cent of Muslims in the UK currently live in the bottom 10 per cent of deprived communities. “We [also] have huge amounts of unemployment. Only 25 per cent of Muslim women in the UK are economically active.”
“So we’ve got an awful lot of work to do with our young communities to allow them to find a way to aspire and to allow them to reach their full potential. Despite all these wonderful opportunities there are out there for young Muslims, which are going to benefit them either here [in the UK] or internationally, we need to invest in them from a very early age, including at primary school.”
Having graduated from university in 2012, Arfah Farooq, co-founder of MuslamicMakers, a meetup and networking group for Muslims involved in tech startups, design and development, was one of the youngest entrepreneurs at the event. When asked about her thoughts on the challenges Muslim youth currently face, to her it was the “disconnect” between generations when it came to collaboration versus competition.
“And I am referring to a generation that’s just around ten years older than I am,” she said. “My generation is very collaborative; we don’t see others as competition, instead, it’s all about raising the ummah together. It’s not about seeing who can get up to the top first. This happens a lot, and it is disgusting. We’re talking about the halal economy, and so ethics is everything, if we’re Muslims, then the way we conduct our business has to be ethical.”
“You might be a thought-leader in your industry right now, but at some point, you are going to retire. So help the next generation up. It’s great to hear what’s happening in Dubai [for youth],” she concluded.
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