The Islamic World wants to be friends with Russia
In the beginning of October, Russia held the World Halal Day for the first time. It took place on the banks of the Volga River, in Samara, alongside the international Volga Investment Summit. Over 200 experts from 20 countries took part in the events – Persian Gulf states, Southeast Asian and African countries, and EU countries. The International Association of Islamic Business was one of the co-organizers for the forum. The association’s president Marat KABAEV talked to Editor-in-Chief of Capital Ideas Sergo Kukhianidze about the IAIB’s goals.
Marat Kabaev, the 58-year-old President of the International Association of Islamic Business, is tall and in great shape. This comes as no surprise – he was a professional football player in the past. Before our interview, my welcoming host treats me to fruit and tea in a display of Eastern hospitality.
Mr. Kabaev, when was your association established and for what purpose?
It was established on February 17, 2017, and for a good reason. It came about as an extention of the Association of Muslim Entrepreneurs of Tatarstan. The thing is that I worked in Kazan from 2012 to 2015 – I was one of the coaches for the Rubin football team. One day, the Mufti of Tatarstan invited me to do charity work with the Association of Muslim Entrepreneurs, which he wanted me to head up. This was something totally new for me, and I had no idea where to start. The Mufti recommended that I start with something small that benefits people. For example, help those who need it during the fast, feed them during iftar, then hold a conference for business people. So that’s what we did. Step by step, I got into the swing of things. I liked my new position. You know, after the Soviet Union fell apart, I often dreamed of becoming an ambassador of friendship between different nations. The new job provided me with this opportunity. We soon understood that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just Tatarstan, that we need to grow. I moved to Moscow, where we established the International Association of Islamic Business.
A lot of my friends had doubts about whether or not it’s a good idea to stress that we’re about Islamic business in particular. But I explained that we have nothing to be embarrassed about. After all, there are similar associations of Christian or Jewish business. And generally, we’re not a religious organization. We don’t want to separate ourselves from anyone, and we’re open to people of all faiths. Anybody whose life and activities aren’t in conflict with our ethical principles, is welcome in our association.
What are these principles, how do they work in business?
Generally speaking, if halal is what’s allowed in Islam, haram is what’s forbidden. From the Muslim point of view, it’s forbidden to loan money that is to be paid back with interest, so you can’t engage in usury, you can only engage in trade with real producrs and services, you have to take part in charity and socially significant projects, and we have a ban on gambling, tobacco, alcohol… What’s bad about this? It’s no wonder that today, our universities are offering more courses and departments of Islamic business. By the way, one of our organization’s key areas of focus is the environment. “Cleanliness is half of faith,” Hadith of the Prophet says. Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Everything I’m saying is not empty talk for us. This is why anybody who wants to be part of the International Association of Islamic Business needs to provide letters of recommendation. Plus, we have the opportunity to make sure that candidate is a decent person who has integrity.
How many members does the association have?
The association currently has over a thousand companies, and the number is always growing. There are small, medium-sized, and large enterprises that represent just about every sphere of business – construction, agriculture, medicine, the automotive industry, the heavy equipment and oil industries. It’s no exaggeration to say that Islamic business plays a big role in both Moscow’s economy and the Russian economy in general. Suffice it to say that, according to official data, there are 25 million Muslims currently living in Russia. The association’s members aren’t only business people, but also representatives from spheres like culture, sports, and medicine. One of our members is Albert Sufyanov, MD, who is the Head Doctor at the Tyumen Center of Neurosurgery and is one of the top hundred surgeons in the world.
The International Association of Islamic Business has its headquarters in Moscow. Are there also representative offices in other regions or countries?
Yes, of course. We already have a presence in over forty Russian federal subjects, as well as in 20 countries abroad – Turkey, Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, Bosnia, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, the United States… I’ll note that all of our representatives in these locations aren’t Russian citizens, but locals, since they know their countries better than we do. Overall, my goal is to open IAIB offices all over the world. This is important, because our association is not only about doing business, it’s also about showcasing Islam as a religion that brings peace and progress. Unfortunately, unscrupulous politicians have corrupted Islam. Explosions and acts of terrorism aren’t carried out by Muslims. These people are subhuman. Islam is really about harmony and peace. We want to unify the people of the world under this idea, so what we can move forward in the right direction together.
Moscow turns to the East more often, now that there are Western sanctions. But how do people there feel about Moscow?
I’ll say for a fact: the East is very interested in Russia. Muslim countries want to be friends with Russia. And we understand that the right conditions need to be created here in order for a serious investor from the East to come to Russia. Otherwise they won’t come. Last year, for example, we discussed these issues at an international forum on Islamic finance in Moscow, which we held jointly with Sberbank and the Islamic Development Bank – we have strong ties to them. During the discussions, high-ranking foreign delegations expressed their sincere desire to comprehensively develop mutually beneficial trade and economic relations with Russia.