Religion or an education? How British Muslims are forced to decide

Lord Sharkey slammed a “shameful” disregard for British Muslims, who are systematically deprived of university education because of a refusal to introduce a student loan system that Muslims can access he said. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Lord Sharkey slammed a “shameful” disregard for British Muslims, who are systematically deprived of university education because of a refusal to introduce a student loan system that Muslims can access he said. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
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Updated 12 March 2021

Religion or an education? How British Muslims are forced to decide

Lord Sharkey slammed a “shameful” disregard for British Muslims, who are systematically deprived of university education because of a refusal to introduce a student loan system that Muslims can access he said. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • Politicians, campaigners concerned that the British approach to student finance systematically excludes Muslims
  • Thousands of Muslim students are forced to either pay upfront for university, or take interest-bearing loans, considered non-permissible in Islam

LONDON: A member of the UK’s House of Lords has challenged the government over its “shameful” disregard for British Muslims, who he said are being systematically deprived of a university education because of a refusal to introduce a student loan system that Muslims can access. 

In a debate this week, Lord Sharkey highlighted a seven-year-old promise made by former UK Prime Minister David Cameron: “Never again should a Muslim in Britain feel unable to go to university because they cannot get a student loan — simply because of their religion,” which he told a World Economic Forum conference in Davos in 2013.

But Lord Sharkey said this promise has gone unfulfilled, and the government’s failure to act is excluding British Muslims.

“Lords will know that Islam forbids interest-bearing loans. This prohibition can be and is a barrier to Muslim students going on to attend our universities,” Lord Sharkey said.

The UK provides interest-bearing loans to help students pay for university. In 2014, the government committed to providing an alternative that would allow Muslims to take loans that do not compromise their religion. Specifically, they pledged “the introduction of a Sharia-compliant Takaful Alternative Finance product” available to everyone.

“That was six years ago … there is still no Sharia compliant student product available,” Lord Sharkey said.

“It is shameful that the government have allowed so much time to elapse and that they display such a casual neglect of and disregard for our Muslim community.” 

A senior British politician with direct knowledge of the issue told Arab News that the government’s failure to introduce an alternative financing system was, in his view, inexplicable. 

“I genuinely do not understand why the government has taken seven years to do something about this. Six years ago the government not only recognized a problem, but recognized a solution: Takaful,” they said.

Takaful is a common Islamic finance mechanism that allows lenders to provide credit in a Sharia-compliant manner. 

The government, the politician told Arab News, has already introduced a Takaful system to assist with buying houses — and that was rolled out in under a year. 

“I have no idea how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place — it’s obviously discrimination. I remain very unhappy, but also completely bewildered as to why they would choose to treat the Muslim communtiy in this way.”

Estelle Clarke, a student finance campaigner, told Arab News that she attributes the government’s failure to it being “indifferent” to the plight of students.

“Further, and unfortunately, their inaction does suggest a systemic discrimination against certain students on the grounds of their religion, and that the government is indifferent to this discrimination,” she added.

As it stands, Clarke explained, the astronomical price of university education in the UK means that British Muslims have no good options when it comes to deciding their future after finishing school. 

“When you look at the cost of a university education, as a rough figure, every year costs you around £20,000 ($27,800) — which student can afford to come up with £60,000 upfront to pay for their degree without taking loans?  

“On the assumption that you will not compromise your religion — and nobody should be forced to — a Muslim student has the choice between paying for the entirety of their education up front, or not going to university.” 

She added: “That’s no choice at all.”

This is the predicament that thousands of young and ambitious Muslims have suddenly been confronted with, with teenagers across the UK preparing their university applications,.

Four years ago Ayesha Dar was one of those students. She told Arab News: “I knew I had to fund university in some way, and that the standard method is to take a loan.

“For our non-Muslim peers there’s no other implications of taking those loans for them,” Dar said. “That was a big eye-opener as to how stark the difference might be for me growing up in the UK, as opposed to a Muslim country. That was a turning point for me.

“I knew that in order to succeed in this country I needed a degree — but the loan presented a huge obstacle to my progress if I didn’t go for it.” 

In the end Dar decided to take the loan, but explained that she is now committed to paying it off in full as soon as possible.

“For myself and most of my Muslim friends, getting rid of that debt is the number one priority — we want to get rid of it as quickly as we can,” she said. “We’re very focused on getting rid of that debt, put simply: We find it sinful. It’s horrible, to be honest.”


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.


Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry
Updated 14 June 2021

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry
  • SMG Europe, Showsec both criticized in terror attack report, set to be published Thursday
  • Greater Manchester Police, British Transport Police also set for severe criticism in report

LONDON: The owners of Manchester Arena are set to be hit with a series of multimillion-pound lawsuits by victims of the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert at the venue in 2017, with an inquiry report on the attack set to be released this week.

Twenty-two people, mainly young women and girls, were killed when Salman Abedi detonated a bomb in the arena’s foyer, injuring hundreds of others.

His brother Hashem was later jailed for a minimum of 55 years for his role in organizing the attack.

SMG Europe, the owner of the arena, is set to be heavily criticized in the report, due to be published on Thursday, along with the British Transport Police, Greater Manchester Police and Showsec, the company that provided security for the concert.

Showsec is also likely to face lawsuits from survivors and families of the victims for substantial damages.

Sources told the Daily Telegraph that the companies and police forces had all received letters detailing criticisms of them from Sir John Saunders, the inquiry’s chairman, ahead of publication to allow them to respond.

Letters have also been sent to two men — Kyle Lawler and Mohammed Agha — both of whom worked for Showsec at the arena on the night and were alerted to Abedi’s presence by members of the public. 

Another source said: “The actions will be levelled against SMG primarily because ultimately they were the ones legally responsible for protecting the audience.”

The lawsuits against SMG and Showsec could run to tens of millions of pounds, with many survivors of the attack experiencing physical injury as well as long-term mental health issues.

Showsec, the inquiry heard, employed a large and predominantly casual labor force who were poorly trained and on minimum wage.

The company said blame for not stopping the attack predominantly lay with the police and SMG, with whom there had been a “breakdown in communication” over checking the area of the venue, a mezzanine level and CCTV blindspot in which Abedi hid for almost an hour. Both SMG Europe and Showsec declined to comment.

Thursday’s report, focusing on security arrangements at the venue, is the first of three set to be released following the inquiry.

The second will examine the emergency response to the attack, and the third will assess whether it was preventable.

The UK Home Office, meanwhile, is considering proposals for a new law — named after one of the victims, Martyn Hett — to require large hospitality and public venues to put in place protection and protocols to prevent terrorist attacks in future.


Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island
Updated 14 June 2021

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island
  • Good weather encouraging more crossings to Europe, says mayor of Lampedusa
  • More than 500 have died trying to reach Italy, Malta this year, according to UN

ROME: Nearly 1,300 migrants landed during the weekend on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. Most of them were rescued by Italian fishermen from the dinghies they used to make the trip from North Africa.

“The good summer weather is encouraging migrants to attempt the perilous trip to Lampedusa and Europe. One boat is landing here nearly every hour, and the situation is getting worse,” Salvatore Martello, the mayor of Lampedusa, told Arab News.

He said that the identification center on the island is overcrowded, with sanitary measures at risk of being compromised as a result.

“The situation may turn explosive there, so the Coast Guard is moving some of the center’s guests to one of the quarantine ships moored in the waters of Lampedusa,” Martello added.

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, 42 migrants, including four minors and 11 women, landed in Lampedusa.

A spokesman for the Coast Guard in Palermo told Arab News that 60 more people, who were rescued offshore by Italian fishermen, are now on their way to the Island.

Once they arrive, they will have to be dispatched elsewhere, probably to Calabria, as the local center for migrants is full.

“We spotted the boat in the sea while we were fishing. It was a very old one, and it was not stable at all. We decided to stop our work and reach them. You cannot leave people at sea, especially on board those rickety crafts they use to make the trip. A strong wave would be enough to capsize them,” Giovanni Curatolo, captain of the Italian sailing ship Ettore III, told Arab news. 

Another 410 migrants were rescued from seven different boats during the weekend in the Channel of Sicily by the Geo Barents vessel, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières.

The Geo Barents is the only NGO ship still operating off the Libyan coast. In recent days, four more ships — Sea Watch 3, Sea Watch 4, Open Arms and Sea Eye — were subject by the Italian Coast Guard to administrative detention related to bureaucratic issues.

The massive presence of children, most of them unaccompanied, worries the NGOs.

“Their parents entrust them to other migrants in the hope that they will be able to escape persecution and misery. This is the most dramatic aspect of this infinite emergency that has now become ordinary,” Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, archbishop of Agrigento, told Arab News.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said that the Mediterranean had become the “biggest cemetery in Europe,” as he remembered the migrants who died trying to reach the continent.

More than 500 people have died crossing the sea to Italy and Malta between January and mid-May this year, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.


Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election
Updated 14 June 2021

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election
  • Poll: Support has fallen by a tenth under Keir Starmer’s leadership
  • His stance on Kashmir cited as one of the reasons for decline in popularity

LONDON: The UK’s main opposition Labour Party is losing support among British Muslims, a new poll has revealed, amid party fears that it will lose a crucial by-election in northern England next month.

The poll found that support from Muslims has fallen by a tenth under Keir Starmer’s leadership.

With the Batley & Spen by-election looming on the horizon, alarm bells are ringing for Labour strategists, with Starmer’s popularity dropping far behind that of his party among Muslim voters following his stances on Kashmir, Palestine, and a report on internal Islamophobia, The Times reported on Monday.

He was criticized heavily soon after taking the leadership in 2020 when he suggested that Jammu and Kashmir was a constitutional issue to be resolved by India and Pakistan. This was a reversal of Labour’s stance that the region had a right to self-determination.

Starmer is enduring a favorability rating of minus 7 percent among Muslim voters, compared to a 42 percent rating for the party.

His decline in popularity matches a fall in support from Muslims for Labour, which fell by 11 percent between 2019 and 2021. 

The findings of the poll, carried out among 504 voters by Survation for the Labour Muslim Network, will stoke fears among Labour activists that the party faces losing Batley & Spen, where the population is estimated to be 20 percent Muslim.

The party’s fears have been worsened by the presence on the Batley & Spen poll of former Labour MP George Galloway, who has been campaigning heavily in the constituency.