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WIEF PREVIEW: Creating a democratic knowledge economy

25OctFrom Maslah
By Natalia Chan

9th WORLD ISLAMIC ECONOMIC FORUM: LONDON, 29th - 31st October

Raheel Mohammed, Director of Maslaha, will join a panel (including the Rt Hon Alan Duncan MP, Minister of State for International Development) to discuss 'Exploring Microfinance in Social Enterprise' on Thursday 31st October. The panel will discuss the potentials and limitations of microfinancing and how it can support social enterprises in the future.

Some thoughts from Raheel ahead of the big event next week:

There has been a constant conversation between Islam and Muslim communities and Europe and its communities. It is a mutual history woven together through the trade in goods and ideas. This knowledge economy has been vital in the progress of societies across the world and new insights into science, arts, theology, architecture and finance. 

Our Book of Travels exhibition (www.thebookoftravels.org) explores this exchange. We illustrate how the Ottoman Empire socially, culturally, and financially touched the lives of English people directly in the 17th century. This 17th century thriving ecosystem of diverse perspectives, skills and and talents is a heritage we continue. 

Maslaha translates from the Arabic as for the common good and this is the driving force behind all our work. We tackle practically the social issues affecting Muslim communities as well as creating a greater understanding of Islam from a cultural and historical perspective. We combine religious and cultural understanding with social enterprise to work in areas of health, education, and aspiration.

Central to the success of our work is our diverse network. Professor Michael Sandel, a leading thinker on political philosophy and a professor at a Harvard university, in a lecture at the London School of Economics, explained how true democracy happened when we learned to live with each others differences and learned to bump up against one another. Historically, this country has been adept at this often messy “bumping” for centuries with the constant flow of migration of people and ideas.

This kind of rich diversity, this mix of communities, leads to unexpected innovation and new ways of addressing long-standing problems. During our projects which straddle a number of sectors, the mix of people are our most valuable asset and lead to new networks of collaboration.

Our online health resources which tackle conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy, and depression (www.caringforyourheart.org www.talkingfromtheheart.org ) have included the participation of GPs, patients, Islamic scholars, therapists, dieticians, film-makers, Sure Start centres, supermarkets, and schools. We have been fortunate enough to win awards as examples of good practice and endorsed by national organisations such as the Royal College of General 

Practitioners, Diabetes UK, and MIND. We have also been approached by organisations and government agencies in other European countries, US, Canada, India, the Gulf, who are also interested in using our health resources for their own context. 

This approach of creating knowledge locally with relevant communities to tackle a particular social issue, whether this is in London, Birmingham, Paris, or Marseille, and then diffusing this through online and off-line networks is a strategy we are looking to expand.

Financing these projects is vital, otherwise they would not happen. But what is also important is an investment of knowledge and skills into communities so that they are able to lead change in their societies. These appear to be members of voiceless communities because they do not have a significant public profile but they are potentially far more innovative and useful in tackling social issues than the more established or “creative hubs of the moment”. In fact they have a huge voice in the cities they work in through the impact of their beliefs and actions. Less well-connected organisations need to learn how to leverage social, political, financial and cultural capital in order to help create systemic change.

The endlessly evolving DNA of our public imagination needs to be fed by the images and stories of the past and the present and this is above all an open invitation. Our communal imagination contains timeless messages to be used and reused, not to be shelved in a dusty corner of our collective memory. 

Historically, religion and the imaginative arts have a heavy presence in this global and timeless archive and we all have a right to access this rich collection. It will lead to a more profound understanding of the world.

As the poet Seamus Heaney writes in his collection of essays entitled, The Government of the Tongue:

“Art is not an inferior reflection of some ordained heavenly system but a rehearsal of it in earthly terms; art does not trace the given map of a better reality but improvises an inspired sketch of it.”