UK government urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

Special UK government urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
Muslim Census found that of its survey’s 36,000 respondents, roughly 10 percent missed out on higher education entirely because of a lack of alternative financing options. (Getty Images)
Short Url
Updated 19 October 2021

UK government urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK government urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
  • Survey: Thousands of Muslims miss out on university every year because they cannot access Shariah-compliant finance
  • Implementation of Islamic loan system a ‘question of political priority,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: MPs, campaigners and Islamic finance professionals will deliver a letter to UK 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 survey by the Muslim Census, published on Monday, found that thousands of young British Muslims choose not to go to university every year because the loans they rely upon to fund their studies bear interest.

“There is a genuine and widespread need for ASF (alternative student financing), and its absence is leading to unequal access to university,” reads the letter signed by Lord Sharkey, MP David Timms, Islamic Finance Guru CEO Ibrahim Khan, Rizwan Yusoof of the National Zakat Foundation and Asha Hassan, a student finance campaigner.

It is religiously prohibited for Muslims to borrow or lend money upon which interest is paid. This means British-Muslim students are forced to pay up to £9,000 ($12,361) per year upfront for their education, as well as cover all their own living expenses.

Muslim Census found that of its survey’s 36,000 respondents, roughly 10 percent missed out on higher education entirely because of a lack of alternative financing options.

A further one in six self-financed their education, which “resulted in severe restrictions with regards to which course and university they decide to attend,” it said.

Extrapolated to the UK’s Muslim population as a whole, these results mean that more than 4,000 potential students are forgoing a university education every year, while close to 6,000 are forced to self-fund.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to deal with the inequity in access to education for Muslims, saying: “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.”

But nearly 10 years since that promise was first made, Muslims are still being forced to choose whether to pursue an education or stick to the principles of their religion, Hassan told Arab News.

“This is really important to our community, but we’ve so far felt like we have no voice. This letter is hopefully a chance for the prime minister to see that this is a big issue,” she said.

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

“Four out of five Muslims who do take out loans feel conflicted by it, but they’re in a position where they feel like they can’t do anything else about it.”

Omar Shaikh, managing director of the UK Islamic Finance Council, told Arab News that the creation of a financing system for British Muslims is “workable” and that its creation is a matter of politics, not practicality.

“UKIFC was appointed by the Department of Education to put together a detailed product that’s efficiently implementable and works at parity with the existing student loans system,” he said. 

“Following various workshops and input from the Student Loans Co., Shariah scholars, the Department for Education and lawyers, we were successfully able to create a workable pragmatic structure. We know it can be done and isn’t onerous to do so,” he added.

“It’s now a question of political priority. We look forward to the government progressing matters, and commend the Department for Education for driving this inclusive policy.”


Ex-US envoy Richardson ‘optimistic’ Griner will be freed

Ex-US envoy Richardson ‘optimistic’ Griner will be freed
Updated 11 sec ago

Ex-US envoy Richardson ‘optimistic’ Griner will be freed

Ex-US envoy Richardson ‘optimistic’ Griner will be freed
  • Bill Richardson: ‘I think she’s going to be freed, I think she has the right strategy of contrition, there’s going to be a prisoner swap — though I think it will be two for two, involving Paul Whelan’
  • Some Americans have asked why Marc Fogel, a US citizen serving a 14-year sentence in Russia on marijuana charges — which he said he had for medicinal purposes — has not been mentioned

WASHINGTON: Former US diplomat Bill Richardson said Sunday that he was “optimistic” about efforts to negotiate a “two for two” prisoner swap with Russia that would free US basketball star Brittney Griner and another American.
Richardson, a former ambassador to the UN, has negotiated the release of several Americans held in other countries. Reports last month said he was expected to travel to Russia for talks over Griner, who on Thursday was sentenced to nine years in prison on a drug charge.
While insisting Sunday that he is only a “catalyst” in any negotiations, Richardson’s mention of a “two-for-two” swap including Griner suggested inside knowledge.
“My view is, I’m optimistic,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
“I think she’s going to be freed, I think she has the right strategy of contrition, there’s going to be a prisoner swap — though I think it will be two for two, involving Paul Whelan.”
Whelan is a former US Marine who was convicted of espionage in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He has insisted on his innocence.
His case and Griner’s have been enmeshed in the deep US-Russia tensions since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February.
But recent comments from both sides — including from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov — have suggested signs of movement, and US President Joe Biden has faced repeated calls to arrange a deal.
Reports suggested that Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” might be freed in exchange for Griner and Whelan. The Kremlin has long sought his release.
But Richardson’s mention of a “two for two” swap raises questions about who the second Russian in the equation might be.
And some Americans have asked why Marc Fogel, a US citizen serving a 14-year sentence in Russia on marijuana charges — which he said he had for medicinal purposes — has not been mentioned.
Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony and ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) for smuggling narcotics.
She was arrested at a Moscow airport for possessing vape cartridges with a small amount of cannabis oil.
The 31-year-old, who was in Russia to play for the professional Yekaterinburg team during her off-season from the Phoenix Mercury, said the substance was prescribed by a US doctor to relieve pain.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women’s NBA champion pleaded guilty but said she did not intend to break the law.
Richardson is a prominent Democrat, having served in the US Congress, as governor of New Mexico, and both as UN envoy and energy secretary in the Bill Clinton administration.
Since then, he has worked as a discreet go-between in several sensitive hostage talks with foreign countries, including North Korea. In November 2021 he helped secure the release of US journalist Danny Fenster from a prison in Myanmar.


UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria
Updated 59 min 44 sec ago

UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria
  • The decision comes following a consultation with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and the U.K

LONDON: A London museum agreed Sunday to return a collection of Benin Bronzes looted in the late 19th century from what is now Nigeria as cultural institutions throughout Britain come under pressure to repatriate artifacts acquired during the colonial era.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in southeast London said that it would transfer a collection of 72 items to the Nigerian government. The decision comes after Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments formally asked for the artifacts to be returned earlier this year and following a consultation with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and the UK, the museum said.
“The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,’’ Eve Salomon, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer term care for these precious artifacts.’’
The Horniman’s collection is a small part of the 3,000 to 5,000 artifacts taken from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 when British soldiers attacked and occupied Benin City as Britain expanded its political and commercial influence in West Africa. The British Museum alone holds more than 900 objects from Benin, and National Museums Scotland has another 74. Others were distributed to museums around the world.
The artifacts include plaques, animal and human figures, and items of royal regalia made from brass and bronze by artists working for the royal court of Benin. The general term Benin Bronzes is sometimes applied to items made from ivory, coral, wood and other materials as well as the metal sculptures.
Countries including Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, as well indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, are increasingly demanding the return of artifacts and human remains amid a global reassessment of colonialism and the exploitation of local populations.
Nigeria and Germany recently signed a deal for the return of hundreds of Benin Bronzes. That followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision last year to sign over 26 pieces known as the Abomey Treasures, priceless artworks of the 19th century Dahomey kingdom in present-day Benin, a small country that sits just west of Nigeria.
But British institutions have been slower to respond.
Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture formally asked the British Museum to return its Benin Bronzes in October of last year.
The museum said Sunday that it is working with a number of partners in Nigeria and it is committed to a “thorough and open investigation” of the history of the Benin artifacts and the looting of Benin City.
“The museum is committed to active engagement with Nigerian institutions concerning the Benin Bronzes, including pursuing and supporting new initiatives developed in collaboration with Nigerian partners and colleagues,” the British Museum says on its website.
The Horniman Museum also traces its roots to the Age of Empire.
The museum opened in 1890, when tea merchant Frederick Horniman opened his collection of artifacts from around the world for public viewing.
Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the museum embarked on a “reset agenda,’’ that sought to “address long-standing issues of racism and discrimination within our history and collections, and a determination to set ourselves on a more sustainable course for the future.’’
The museum’s website acknowledges that Frederick Horniman’s involvement in the Chinese tea trade meant he benefitted from low prices due to Britain’s sale of opium in China and the use of poorly compensated and sometimes forced labor.
The Horniman also recognizes that it holds items “obtained through colonial violence.”
These include the Horniman’s collection of Benin Bronzes, comprising 12 brass plaques, as well as a brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells and a key to the king’s palace. The bronzes are currently displayed along with information acknowledging their forced removal from Benin City and their contested status.
“We recognize that we are at the beginning of a journey to be more inclusive in our stories and our practices, and there is much more we need to do,” the museum says on its website. “This includes reviewing the future of collections that were taken by force or in unequal transactions.”


Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees
Updated 07 August 2022

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees
  • One refugee says he is ‘heartbroken and ashamed’ at schemes’ failure
  • Poor mental health and lack of permanent homes among issues faced

LONDON: The failure of two UK schemes to resettle refugees from Afghanistan has forced many to take dangerous routes to try to reach safety, according to a new report.

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme were meant to help tens of thousands of people reach the UK after Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban a year ago.

But a briefing to Parliament featuring remarks from nine human rights groups described both as “unjustifiably restrictive,” which, it added, had left many stranded and led to an increase in people trying to enter Britain illegally.

The briefing, put together by groups including Human Rights Watch, said that interpreters and teachers were among those betrayed by the failure of the schemes.

“A year since the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the (ARAP) scheme is still not functioning properly and is marred by ongoing substantive and procedural problems,” the briefing said.

Adam Smith International had 250 staff in Afghanistan, helping implement aid projects, who applied through the ARAP scheme to relocate to the UK. Just 24 have received clearance — something the group’s director, Daniel Pimlott, said was “shameful.”

A group of 109 teachers who worked for the British Council in Afghanistan is still trapped in the country, despite being granted permission to apply for resettlement, with no way of escaping.

Joseph Seaton, former English manager and deputy director of the British Council Afghanistan, said: “The failure of the British Council and UK government to ensure the safety of their teachers has massively tarnished its great work in (the) country.”

One of the teachers, Mahmoud, said he had been sent death threats by the Taliban even before the takeover, adding: “I have moved 11 times. The Taliban whipped my then eight-year-old daughter to get her to say where I was.”

The briefing also highlighted the plight of many Afghans who had successfully made it to the UK but were now left in states of limbo, with around 10,500 currently being put up in hotels across the country, and many suffering serious mental health issues as a result.

One told the Observer newspaper: “We have been completely forgotten about.

“Having worked for many years for the British government in Afghanistan, I’m heartbroken and ashamed (that) their flagship resettlement policies have failed so badly.

“One year on, we have received no communications from the government on what happens next, and remain in a hotel. I often ask myself whether I would have been better off remaining in Afghanistan, and facing my destiny at the hands of the Taliban.”

A spokesperson for the UK Home Office told the Observer: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it and, through the new ACRS, up to 20,000 people in need will be welcomed to the UK.

The British Council said in a statement: “We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances. We are incredibly concerned for them and for their families’ welfare and we continue to be in direct touch with them on a regular basis.

“The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former contractors’ relocation applications.”


Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant
Updated 07 August 2022

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Sunday for a stronger international response to what he described as Russian “nuclear terror” after shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe.
During a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel, Zelensky called for sanctions to be imposed on the Russian nuclear industry and nuclear fuel, the Ukrainian leader wrote on Twitter.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power company said earlier that a worker had been wounded when Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Saturday evening.


Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence
Updated 07 August 2022

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence
  • Blinken will hold talks with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make an announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy

JOHANNESBURG: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in South Africa on Sunday to kick off a three-nation visit aimed at countering Russian influence on the continent.
The visit came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov undertook an extensive tour of Africa late last month.
South Africa, a leader in the developing world, has remained neutral in the Ukraine war, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow, which had opposed apartheid before the end of white minority rule in 1994.
Blinken will hold talks on Monday with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make an announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy, Pretoria said in a statement.
They will “discuss ongoing and recent developments relating to the global geopolitical situation,” it said.
The State Department last month called African countries “geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day, from promoting an open and stable international system, to tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics to shaping our technological and economic futures.”
Blinken who is on his second trip to Africa since his appointment early last year, is due to proceed to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda later this week.
His visit to DR Congo is aimed at boosting support for sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country which battling to turn the page on decades of conflict.
He winds up the tour in Rwanda, which has seen a flare-up in tensions with DR Congo after it accused its neighbor to the east of backing M23 rebels, a charge Kigali denies.