Religion prohibits Muslim students from paying interest

Nathan Halverson

For some financially strapped students, finding money for school isn’t as easy as signing up for student loans. Because Islam prohibits Muslims from paying interest, they have to find other ways to pay.

This prohibition prevents some Muslims from attending college, and neither the government nor the University can provide loans with an alternative to paying interest.

“It has been stated clearly in the Quran: Interest is forbidden,” said Dr. Hamdy El-Sawaf, executive director of the Islamic Center of Minnesota.

So some Muslims are stuck choosing between their religious principles and their education.

“It’s a disadvantage,” said Mohamed-Karim Ezzat, a senior bio-science major and vice president for the Muslim Student Association.

Ezzat said he struggled to find money to pay for college because he wasn’t willing to pay interest.

“I took it on myself to find a way through it,” he said, adding he even considered joining the Army to help pay for tuition.

“You do what it takes,” he said.

But instead Ezzat chose to accept subsidized loans because they don’t begin accruing interest until six months after graduation. He said he’ll be forced to ask relatives for money if he can’t repay the loans within six months of graduating.

But not all students can afford to accept only the small amount offered in subsidized loans to pay for school.

Abdi Samatar, a University geography professor and adviser to the Somali Student Association, said some Muslims don’t attend the University because refusing to pay interest leaves them unable to afford tuition.

Samatar said last semester a Somali woman, who had recently graduated from high school, came to him because she needed an alternative to interest.

She had tried to secure financial aid but discovered she would be charged interest, he said.

She chose not to attend the University because getting the necessary funding would have conflicted with Islam. Samatar said hers was not an isolated case.

More Somalis would attend college if there was an alternative to paying interest, he said, adding this would lead to greater diversity at the University.

He said the University could provide interest-averse students the opportunity to work for the school rather than make interest payments.

Their interest charges could be converted into labor hours that they would work off. Islamic Center of Minnesota director El-Sawaf said this is a “wonderful idea.”

The University’s interim director of student finance, Kris Wright, said this alternative “sounds very intriguing.” She said such a solution was possible, but it would not happen quickly.

First, the University must determine the need for an interest-averse solution, she said. Then the University must determine how to adjust its current program to meet the demand.

She said the University’s Board of Regents decides the school’s loan policy, and any changes will come from them.

Wright said she did not know the current loan policy was a problem with Muslim students.

“This would give peace of mind to the Muslim students,” El-Sawaf said.