You might not be aware, but paying and receiving interest is considered haram, or impermissible, for Muslims.
While it’s possible to find Islamic-compliant ways to do banking (i.e getting a mortgage from an Islamic bank, or starting an account with one), there are some roadblocks that are affecting Muslims navigating university loans.
Currently, the Student Loans Company, which most students use to pay their tuition fees, does not offer interest-free funding.
Interest, or ri’ba as it’s known, is prohibited as it’s income that isn’t earned justly - it is collateral that often doesn’t help the poor. This prohibition means some Muslims are either delaying their studies until they have enough saved up to pay the fees upfront, or they are eschewing uni altogether.
Which is why various Muslim charities, including Muslim Census, MP Stephen Timms, and Lord John Sharkey, are calling on the government to provide alternative student finance by September 2022.
This comes after former prime minister David Cameron made promises in 2013 to introduce Shariah-compliant loans, but after initial frameworks were introduced, plans were abandoned.
Now, new research by Muslim Census has found that almost 100,000 students have abandoned or self-funded their studies due to a lack of alternatives.
The research found that 71% of Muslims found the current system to be discriminatory against their faith.
But the Islamic-backed loans system they propose doesn’t mean that Muslim students get cheaper fees to their peers. In fact, their proposed plans would offer a mutual aid system that benefits all students.
Asha Hassan, a lead campaigner with Muslim Census, explains that instead of paying interest to the loans company, Muslim students would pay into a fund that is recirculated among future and current students.
“The government has already scoped out a viable solution available to all students that is not interest based. This does not mean we get special treatment and pay less,” Hassan explains.
“Instead, students will borrow from a ring-fenced fund that will be used only to support students. Before borrowing, they make a unilateral commitment to support that fund by contributing a pre-agreed amount.
“Once they graduate and earn over the threshold, they pay what they owe and they also pay back into the fund that is only for students. In that way the model is more ethical and of mutual benefit for students.”
It is a system that is encouraged by 26-year-old Annesa Mariyam who, in 2014, decided against university strictly due to the interest-bearing student loan. She feels the choice has impinged negatively on her career.
Now working as an apprentice in the civil service, Mariyam explains: “When university fees tripled, I knew I couldn’t afford to fund it myself and neither could I take out an interest-based loan, which I believe to be completely prohibited according to many leading scholars in Islam.
“I could not compromise my faith by going to university. I had to endure the consequences by working as an unqualified teacher at an underfunded private school – getting paid considerably less due to not being qualified, but expected to put in the same work and have the same subject knowledge.
“It’s almost a decade on – there has been no movement from the government on this serious issue many Muslims in this country are facing. Hopefully the work of Muslim Census will be that final push. Whether university is for everyone is questionable, but access to university for everyone is certainly not. Young people, no matter their background cannot be discriminated against.”
Mariyam’s sentiments are shared by Umayr Tanveer from Newham, London, who obtained excellent A-level results but didn’t apply for university as he knew there was no Islamic-friendly funding.
He tells Huffpost: “Despite being a high achiever academically and being encouraged to apply to top universities, I made the decision not to apply for university because me and my parents were unable to afford paying the fees upfront and the student loan is something I am unable to use due to it being interest-based.
“As a result, I felt left out and to an extent, hopeless as I was unable to pursue university as an option beyond my sixth-form education. During this time, I was unsure of the career I wanted to pursue and it would have been extremely helpful if I had the option of pursuing a subject at university that I knew I would enjoy. I also worried about what I would be doing beyond sixth-form since my fellow peers had already confirmed offers from various universities whilst I had no opportunity available to me then.”
Thankfully Tanveer was able to secure a Digital & Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship offer with BT, where he is currently based. But still, he laments not having the option of university.
Muslim Census is urging people to write to their MPs to encourage an alternative student finance. HuffPost UK has contacted the Student Loans Company about the concerns raised and will update this article if we receive a response.