Belgium may be an unfamiliar name in the Islamic finance universe, but VINEETA TAN writes that this is likely to change as the European nation embarks on a series of initiatives which are bound to elevate its standing in the Shariah compliant finance fraternity.
The country caught attention last November when Cecile Jodogne, the secretary of state for foreign trade and investment for the Brussels-Capital Region, during the Belgian Economic Mission in Malaysia confirmed the growing demand for Islamic finance in Belgium, and how the country could leverage Shariah compliant finance to attract investment flows. It was also revealed to IFN that the Association of Belgium Muslim Professionals had submitted a memorandum to the Ministry of Finance and the regulator to consider enabling a regulatory environment favorable to Islamic finance (See IFN Report Vol 11 Issue 48: ‘Belgium: Application of Islamic finance with minimum legal change’).
Building on this keen interest from both industry players and authorities, IFN has also been informed that the Belgium-based Louvain School of Management (LSM) of Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL), in association with global Islamic finance legal network ISFIN, are launching Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg)’s first university diploma in Islamic finance, with classes to commence this April.
“At the heart of Europe, Belgium host[s] the most esteemed international companies and institutional head offices. In the last decade, we have observed many actions from Belgian authorities and institutions towards the Gulf, the Mediterranean and Muslim markets (prince economic missions in Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the UAE). The interest for these markets is growing in the Capital of Europe. Luxembourg and Belgium are profiling themselves to become recognized actors in Islamic finance, funds and the Islamic economy,” noted a joint press release by both ISFIN and UCL.
With Islam as Belgium’s largest minority religion (6% of total population according to Pew Research Center), the Kingdom does indeed hold significant potential not only for Islamic finance, but also the wider Halal industry as Brussels could act as the gateway to 15-20 million Muslims in the eurozone. Although Belgium’s Islamic finance industry is nascent at best, the country does have redeeming advantages including: increasing demand and concerted efforts from market players, as well as existing legal and financial infrastructures which accommodate the issuance of Sukuk — the most popular platform among sovereigns in launching their Islamic finance ambitions. And with this upcoming Islamic finance qualification, the country is tapping one of the most fundamental components in the development of the industry — human capital. With these developments unfolding, the global Islamic finance community cannot ignore the very likelihood of Belgium making its mark as a serious player in the near future.