UK government urged to keep Sharia-compliant loan pledge

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LONDON: MPs, activists and Islamic finance professionals will deliver a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday urging him to take action that would end the annual exclusion of thousands of British Muslims from higher education.

A Muslim Census survey released on Monday found that thousands of young British Muslims choose not to go to college each year because the loans they rely on to finance their education bear interest.

“There is a real and widespread need for ASF (Alternative Student Funding), and its absence leads to unequal access to university,” reads the letter signed by Lord Sharkey, MP David Timms, the CEO by Islamic finance guru Ibrahim Khan, Rizwan Yusoof of the National Zakat Foundation and Asha Hassan, student finance activist.

Muslims are religiously prohibited from borrowing or lending money on which interest is paid. This means UK Muslim students are required to pay up to £ 9,000 ($ 12,361) per year for their studies, as well as cover all of their living expenses.

Muslim Census found that of the 36,000 respondents in its survey, about 10 percent had no higher education due to a lack of alternative funding options.

Another in six is ​​self-funded, which “has resulted in severe restrictions on which courses and which university they choose to attend,” he said.

Extrapolated to the entire Muslim population of the UK, these results mean that more than 4,000 potential students forgo university studies each year, while nearly 6,000 are forced to become self-financing.

In 2013, then Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to tackle unequal access to education for Muslims, saying: “Never again should a Muslim in Britain feel unable to go to college because he cannot get a student loan simply because of his religion. . “

But nearly 10 years since that promise was first made, Muslims are still forced to choose between furthering their education or sticking to the tenets of their religion, Hassan told Arab News.

“It’s really important to our community, but so far we feel like we have no voice. This letter is hopefully a chance for the Prime Minister to see that this is a big problem, ”she said.

“There are thousands and thousands of students who have the grades, the ambition, the aspiration, but because they don’t feel they can compromise on their religious beliefs, they have no option, ”she added.

“Four in five Muslims who take out loans feel in conflict with this, but they find themselves in a position where they feel like there is nothing else they can do about it. “

Omar Shaikh, chief executive of the UK Islamic Finance Council, told Arab News that creating a finance system for British Muslims is “doable” and that its creation is a matter of policy, not practice.

“UKIFC has been appointed by the Ministry of Education to develop a comprehensive product that is effectively implementable and works on par with the existing student loan system,” he said.

“As a result of various workshops and contributions from the Student Loans Co., Sharia scholars, the Ministry of Education and lawyers, we have succeeded in creating a viable pragmatic structure. We know that it can be done and that it is not expensive, ”he added.

“It is now a question of political priority. We look forward to the government moving things forward and commend the Department of Education for leading this inclusive policy. “


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