London Steps Up Islamic Finance Ambitions

In London, he fine-tuned the energy-saving Franklin stove – during winter, he was in bed by 4:30 p.m., the better to cut down on candle usage. Franklin lived only a block from the Thames, not too far across the murky river from the tomb of the Revolution’s most notorious villain: Benedict Arnold. The American general plotted a handover of the fort at West Point to the British for a tidy sum of money, making his name synonymous with treachery. He moved to London after the war to evade capture, bringing along his young wife, Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a prominent Philadelphia judge and granddaughter of the founder of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. The Arnolds lie buried in the crypt below St. Mary’s of Battersea, a Georgian-era stone church overlooking the Thames. Visitors can call the church to gain special access to the tomb. Sunny, the parish administrator, led us into the lower recesses of the church. The word crypt conjured up images of a gloomy, spiderwebbed cave. What we saw surprised us. The space has the low, vaulted stone ceilings one would expect, but the brightly lit walls are painted a vivid white. Colorful accents are provided by a tropical fish tank and children’s artwork adorning the walls.

Franklin and Arnold, hero and villain – in London

The Benjamin Franklin House (right) on Craven Street, built in 1730. The inventor and statesman lived there 18 years, starting in 1757.

“We want to be the leading (Islamic) finance sector outside of the Muslim world,” deputy mayor of London Edward Lister said in a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. Islamic finance follows religious principles such as bans on interest and gambling, and is playing an increasingly prominent role internationally as often oil and gas-rich investors from Islamic countries put more of their money to work overseas. Britain’s Islamic finance task force, established in March, is led by several ministers and industry figures as well as top executives from Gatehouse Bank and Oakstone Merchant Bank Ltd. It was launched ahead of London hosting the World Islamic Economic Forum in October and its mandate is to facilitate Islamic financial business, including investment in British infrastructure by Islamic sovereign wealth funds. The forum, which saw 28 billion ringgit ($8.6 billion) worth of deals inked last year, is being held outside an Islamic city for the first time. Islamic finance has already played a role in several major deals in London, with Qatari investors taking part in funding the city’s Shard tower, Harrod’s department store and the athletes’ village used for last year’s summer Olympics. A Malaysian consortium is also spearheading the redevelopment of London’s Battersea power station, after acquiring the site for 400 million pounds last year. Malaysia is the second largest investor in London’s real estate market behind the United States. “The task force has just started and its aim is to make it easier for banks in London to have Islamic products, which is still quite a new concept to any of them,” Lister said. “Only now people are beginning to understand what the products actually mean and how they comply … What you will see is a lot of companies introducing those products.” Maybank Islamic, an arm of Malaysia’s largest bank Malayan Banking Bhd, has launched a sterling-denominated and sharia-compliant mortgage product for high net-worth Malaysians looking to invest in London’s real estate market.