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.”