Da Hsuan Feng
I am sure most would agree with me that if by visiting Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, I cannot gain a deeper understanding of the Arab world, it would indeed be a pity of the highest order!
From March 16-24 of 2018, I was in Dubai. In the first several days, I was warmly welcome by the American University of Sharjah where I had the distinct honor of delivering a lecture as well as meeting many local Chinese entrepreneurs in Dubai. I also had the pleasure of meeting a Chinese who was an alumnus of Peking University of Foreign Languages and who is utterly fluent in Arabic, including the various accents in different parts of the Arabic world. Yet due to the fact that these entrepreneurs whose businesses focus primarily on the market created by the 300,000 Chinese living in UAE or the thousands upon thousands of Chinese tourists, the amount of knowledge I could gain from them about the Arab world was limited.
For this reason, when Haiming Liang, the Chairman of China Silk Road iValley Research Institute asked me on the day before I departed from Dubai whether I would be interested to meet with the two founders of the so-called Halal Chain (http://www.HLC.com), I of course gleefully agreed. The Halal Chain is one of the largest, if not the largest multinational Islamic "block chain" corporations. The two founders are young entrepreneurs, the so-called "post-80's"and their names are Abdulla Guang Yu Han and Suleiman Jiu Jiang Liu. I have to admit that was truly intrigued by their names. For all the Chinese I know until I met them, it is not unusual to have "Christian names," such as John or David. The fact that their names are Arabic already tells me that they would be palpably different.
On the day we decided to meet, Abdulla and a colleague of his Yong-Qiang Liang came to pick me up around noon at my hotel. On our way to lunch at a spectacular Iranian restaurant, which took 40 minutes of car ride to reach it, Abdulla and I engaged in an intense conversation about China and the Arabic world. By listening to him carefully, I could surmise already that Abdulla is absolutely fluent in the Arabic language (many terms he first rolled out in Arabic and then followed with Chinese translation,) he is a Moslem, and he is well versed with Chinese history, especially the many Chinese dynastical interactions in the "Western part of China!"
After lunch, Abdulla invited me to visit their office. There I had the pleasure of meeting Suleiman Jiu Jiang Liu. I have to admit that in discussing with Suleiman, I discovered with great fondness his very unusual background. As someone who grew up in Singapore, I was intrigued by the fact that after he graduated from high school in China, Suleiman further his education by studying at International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There he completed his Bachelor, Master and Doctorate degrees from the International Institute of Islamic Banking & Finance of IIUM. With that education under his belt, he is now an expert in the Islamic Finance. I learned about the complexities of Islamic Finance a year ago in Malaysia.
from my good friend Belal Baaquie of the International Center for Education in Islamic Finance in Kuala Lumpur. Also, during my visit to the American University at Sharjah, I noticed there is an institute whose mission is to carry out research in this direction.
I was especially intrigued by the fact that Suleiman is fluent in the Malay language and had a profound understanding of the Malay culture and ways and means. He is the first Chinese (from China) that I have the pleasure of meeting that has such skillsets. I have said often that I regretted very much to this day that growing up in Singapore, I was probably too much influenced by "Chinese Chauvinism" to make an effort to learn this language.
The moment I walked into the spacious office of Halal Chain, which is located in the Free Trade Zone near Dubai's airport, I could tell that this is a globally minded corporation. There I was greeted by employees of the company from all corners of the world. There were Syrians, Pakistanis, Indians, British, Australians, and a small number of Chinese.
During my more than 2 hours of discussion with Abdulla and Suleiman, I came to the realization that the two of them on the one hand have profound feelings toward China, and on the other toward the Moslem religion and culture. What truly impressed me was that they also displayed deep interest in the overlap between the traditional Chinese and Islamic cultures. In a way, both Abdulla and Suleiman can appreciate and understand Islamic ways and means by leveraging their profound understanding of the Islamic culture and not with Chinese culture. These are indeed precious skillsets in China's promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative.
I often end in my reports of many places with the phrase "I left the place wiser." This visit is no exception!
From left to right: Liang, Abdulla Han, me and Suleiman Liu.