Indonesia lags behind in Islamic economy

Indonesia lags behind in Islamic economy
Tun Musa Hitam, chairman of the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) Foundation.

The 10th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which ended on Thursday, revealed growing interest from many governments in the Islamic-compliant economy, while a new report showed Indonesia had much work to do in improving infrastructure and regulations to support such an economy.

The presence of top officials and business representatives from Japan, Luxembourg, South Korea and the UK, to name a few, underlined the importance and relevance of the Islamic forum for the global community.

"It has developed to a level where it should be. The global economic crisis has driven the international community to look for a new platform. The Islamic economy has emerged as an option," WIEF Foundation chairman Tun Musa Hitam told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the forum.

South Korea was one of the many non-Muslim countries that looked eager to develop the Islamic economic industry. In his remarks, Moon Soon-choi, the governor of Gangwon Province, South Korea, thanked Tun Musa Hitam for making the South Korean province part of the regular Islamic gathering.

Gangwon is scheduled to host a roundtable on Islamic finance next year. In addition, Japan and Spain will also host roundtable events next year, discussing issues among other halal food production and Muslim-friendly tourism.

The halal industry won great attention over the past decade as the volume of the industry reached more than US$2.1 trillion (S$2.7 trillion).

The problem of the halal industry lies in the lack of consolidated supervision during production and distribution, which eventually drove Islamic bodies to agree on the need of controls for the issuance of halal certificates, a WIEF publication said.

Russia's largest hotel chain, Aerostar Hotel, recently launched a "halal service" in apparent response to growing demand for Muslim-friendly tourism. Through this programme, the hotel is committed to providing pork-free meals, allocating praying rooms and giving out Holy Korans to Muslim guests.

In line with the growing popularity of "halal tourism", MasterCard and CrescentRating inked a deal on Oct. 29 to develop the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) to be released for the first time in January. The index, to be updated every three months, will include 100 destinations worldwide.

"This collaboration underscores our commitment to cater to the specific needs of Muslim travellers who are looking to travel with peace of mind," said Safdar Khan, group head of MasterCard Islamic payments for Southeast Asia.

A report by Thomson Reuters revealed that the global outbound travel spending of Muslim tourists reached $137 billion in 2012 (not including haj and umroh - the pilgrimage to Mecca) or 12.5 per cent of the nearly $1.1 trillion travel spending worldwide.

Meanwhile, New York-based marketing research company DinarStandard estimated the annual spending of Muslim tourists was $140 billion in 2013.

Aside from the halal food and tourism industries, the WIEF also discussed elements of Islamic finance, such as sukuk (Islamic bonds) issuance, takaful (Islamic insurance) and Islamic banking.

According to Thomson Reuters Islamic Capital Markets global head Sayd Farook, total global Islamic assets grew to over $1.66 trillion by the end of 2013. Despite the growth, concerted steps need to be taken by policymakers and regulators particularly to tackle the continued fragmentation and disparate development of the industry.

Thomson Reuters' Islamic Finance Development Report 2014 showed Malaysia topped the list, scoring 93 (on a scale of 100), far higher than Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, which ranked 12 with a score of 28.

Shaima Hasan, project leader of the report, said the scores represented the availability of supporting infrastructure and regulations related to the Islamic-compliant economy.

With Indonesia scoring far behind the top-listed Malaysia, it means the former is lagging behind its peer in developing its Islamic economy.

"It [the explanation] is quite simple. Because Indonesia's economic size is huge, it takes longer [to expand] particularly when the economy is mostly small scale and a large number of people are un-bankable," Tun Musa Hitam told The Jakarta Post.

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