The 21st World Islamic Banking Conference (WIBC), deemed the largest and most influential international gatherings of Islamic finance industry leaders, has commenced in Bahrain, attended by 1,300 delegates and 90 specialist speakers and industry thought leaders.

The event is being held with the support of the Central Bank of Bahrain and the Economic Development Board (EDB), whose chief economist, Dr Jarmo Kotilaine, commented that Bahrain “is poised to play a crucial role driving forward Islamic finance policy and regulation.”

Kotilaine went on to note that the country is also “a knowledge hub for the industry — a position built on our strong regulation and the most highly skilled workforce in the region — and it has the highest concentration of Islamic finance institutions found anywhere in the world.”

In September, Bahrain was ranked as the most developed Islamic financial market in the Middle East and the 2nd in the world by the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD)-Thomson Reuters Islamic Finance Development Indicator (IFDI).

Bahrain is not only home to 32 Islamic banks and takaful and re-takaful firms, but also many of the world’s leading Islamic finance policy and regulations organisations, as well as Islamic divisions for the finance intelligence giants: Thomson Reuters, Ernst & Young and Deloitte.

HE Kamal bin Ahmed, acting CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, added that, “Islamic finance is set to play a much more prominent role in the wider economies of both traditional OIC markets and new countries exploring the potential of Islamic finance — witnessed recently in markets from Hong Kong to the UK.”

In a nutshell

This year’s event was convened by HRH Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister of Bahrain, and carries the theme: Towards the New Paradigm Shift in Global Financial Markets.

The key speakers notably include Baroness Sayeeda Warsi of the UK House of Lords — a key driving force in the progress made by the UK in Islamic finance — and Prof. Datuk Rifaat Ahmed Abdel Karim, CEO of the International Islamic Liquidity Management Corporation (IILM) and one of the greatest pioneers in the industry.

HE Rasheed Mohammed Al Maraj, governor of the Central Bank of Bahrain, will also be in attendance alongside representatives from the Bank Indonesia, National Bank of Kazakhstan, and Jaseem Ahmed, secretary-general of the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB).

The headline ‘power debate’ will be led by Basel Al-Haj-Issa, CEO of Ibdar Bank; Badlisyah Abdul Ghani, CEO of CIMB Islamic Bank; Hisham Alrayes, CEO of Gulf Finance House; Afaq Khan, CEO of Standard Chartered Saadiq; and Toby O’Connor, CEO of Islamic Bank of Asia.

A significant year for Islamic finance in Africa, 2014 witnessed the first sukuk in South Africa with a $500m debut — a development assisted by Kuwait Finance House and one that represented only the third of its kind for a non-Muslim country after sukuk issued by the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Kuwait bank debuts $500m sovereign sukuk in South Africa