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Islamic Finance – What it Means for PR and Communications Professionals in Dubai

Late February 2013, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, launched a new initiative aimed at transforming Dubai into being the global centre of Islamic sukuk (bonds). The strategy was part of his bigger vision for Dubai to become an international capital for Islamic economy, with plans for Islamic finance products such as sukuk, re-takaful (Islamic insurance products), an Islamic digital economy, Islamic financial services regulation, sharia best governance promotion, halal parks and Dubai halal certification for meat products. With these aims, Dubai intends to compete directly with London and other financial centres to secure the title of global capital for Islamic economy.

Islamic finance, which is based on principles that forbid interest and pure monetary speculation, is growing increasingly important around the world, although its profile remains much smaller than conventional finance. Dubai has been one of the pioneers of Islamic finance, with Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) having the distinction of being the world’s first Islamic bank.

In December 2013, the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre was established to lead the transformation of Dubai. The key objectives of the centre are to promote Dubai regionally and globally as a main centre for Shariah-compliant goods and financial and non-financial services. 2013 saw the centre launch the annual Islamic Economy Awards which seek to recognise innovative world-class business initiatives and ideas that are sharia-compliant and contribute to the social and economic welfare of the Muslim population. On June 21, 2014, the second year of the awards was announced.

Many supporters of Dubai’s Islamic economy initiative believe that the strengths of the emirate make it the ideal place to be the global capital for Islamic economy. Dubai’s location sees it as a regional hub for Asia and a convenient destination for Africa. The emirate is more accessible than Malaysia (Asia’s leader of Islamic finance) from Europe. The blend of Eastern and Western cultures in Dubai is ideal for Islamic economy that is not just limited to Muslim consumers or Muslim-owned companies. Dubai is attractive for companies setting-up and operating Islamic focused products and services products because it has a globally-recognised judiciary system. Its high standard of support services that the Islamic economy requires – such as banks, brokers, accounting firms and law firms – are already in place in the country.

For public relations in particular, the push of Islamic economy by Dubai offers up considerable food for thought. On a global-level, we can expect to see more PR activity by other cities competing for the title, as each location tries to differentiate itself, sell its USP and attempts to secure the title of global capital for this form of finance. It is a near certainty that Dubai will use PR and marketing to showcase its Islamic economy pedigree and credentials and to announce new initiatives.

The push will also require Dubai communications professionals to formulate their strategies within the confines of Islamic finance. We need to better understand this new and growing group of stakeholders important to the Islamic economy – i.e. those who will purchase Islamic financial products and Islamic insurance services, or buy halal meat products soon to be certified by Dubai. A whole new understanding is required of their purchasing needs, habits, priorities and preferences and we need to be able to tailor communication to reach all Islamic economy stakeholders. We will have to develop new messages appropriate to reach these audiences and determine the media – both traditional and social – that are appropriate for PR around Islamic economy.