Fees scheme against Islamic law?

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies has said that the increased interest rates to be charged on student loans are contrary to Islamic rules on finance.

President of the FSIS, Nabil Ahmed, said “By adopting market interest-rates the government has shown the same insensitivity and disregard to Muslim students as the Lord Browne Review.

“Many Muslim students are averse to interest due to teachings in the Islamic faith – such interest derails accessibility to higher education”.

But the Oxford University Islamic Society dismissed the claims as “bonkers”.

Media representative for the Society Myriam Francois-Cerrah said of the BBC article reporting the claims that “it is just the latest bonkers article singling out Muslims for differential treatment”.

She added: “Due to the primacy placed on education in Islam, OUISoc believes in an equal access to education and as such, will be joining our fellow students to protest against the rise in tuition fees and any other measures which could render our universities enclaves of the wealthy.”

Not all students were so dismissive. Kamaluddin Ahmed, currently doing a DPhil in oriental studies on Islamic law said that “both charging or paying interest is contrary to Islamic law and to put interest on education loans is one of the most offensive things to Islamic law”.

Ahmed said this is an important policy consideration and the government should assess the new scheme’s impact of all of its citizens.

Dr Maria Jaschok, director of the International Gender Studies Centre and doctoral student at the Department of International Development said that “whereas interest rates are haram [forbidden] in Islam, there is no religious rule objecting to university fees”.

It is clear that this is a debatable issue, as devout Muslim students may well be deterred from applying to higher education in the UK if their financial situation is such that they would need to turn to a loan with a high level of interest in order to go to a UK university.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills said: “The Government heavily subsidise the student support system and will continue to do so – it does not make a profit from student support. Student loans are not commercial loans. Contributions are based on income – rather than being a fixed amount over a fixed period of time – and any outstanding balance is written off. These qualities mean that some Muslim students are prepared to consider taking out student loans.

“In circumstances where students feel that loans offered by Government is against their law, students can take out a Shariah compliant loan offered by one of the commercial banks, such as the Islamic Bank of England, Lloyds and HSBC.”