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.”


Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
Updated 34 min 1 sec ago

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
  • Deby said he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling “terrorists”
  • Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders

N’DJAMENA: Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the frontline of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a presidential election.
Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders.
His campaign said on Monday he was joining troops battling what he called extremists after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of km (miles) south toward the capital N’Djamena.
The cause of death was not yet clear.

A four-star general who is a son of Chad’s slain president Idriss Deby Itno will replace him at the head of a military council, the army announced Tuesday.
“A military council has been set up headed by his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno,” the army’s spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, said on state radio.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna announced his death in a broadcast on state television, surrounded by a group of military officers he referred to as the National Council of Transition.
“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” he said.
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
Western countries have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in the Sahel.
Deby was also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
His election victory had given him a sixth term in office but the April 11 vote was boycotted by opposition leaders.


Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
Updated 20 April 2021

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
  • The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia reported 8,164 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,996 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,718,854.
The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its total death toll to 106,307.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has reported a much higher toll of more than 225,000 from April 2020 to February.

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
Updated 20 April 2021

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
  • $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million

GENEVA: More than 260 non-governmental organizations signed an open letter on Tuesday calling on governments to donate $5.5 billion to prevent famine in 2021 in countries that include Yemen and South Sudan.

The sum has been called for by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately,” the open letter said.

The letter was penned by NGOs working with an estimated 270 million people “facing hunger, starvation or famine all over the world.”

They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children and Care International

“In Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can to simply get through one more day,” the letter said.

“These people are not starving, they are being starved.”

“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the NGOs insisted.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”


EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
Updated 20 April 2021

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.


US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations
Updated 20 April 2021

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations
  • Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions

MOSCOW: Washington’s envoy to Moscow will return to the United States for consultations, the US embassy said on Tuesday, after Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions.
“Ambassador Sullivan is returning to the United States for consultations this week,” the US diplomatic mission in Moscow said in a statement sent to AFP, quoting the envoy as saying he needed to “speak directly” with senior officials on the state of US-Russia relations.