America’s student loan system can be tough for Muslims – here’s why


  • Tasmiha Khan is a Career Development Fellow from the American Association of University Women, has an MA in Social Impact from Claremont Lincoln University, and is an American Muslim.
  • Although she was accepted into graduate programs at Yale, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins, Khan was forced to turn down these offers due to a mandate in her faith that forbids accepting interest-bearing loans.
  • The exorbitant price of student loans – Khan says Johns Hopkins told him to withdraw $ 90,000 for a year of study – makes higher education inaccessible to many students, especially Muslim Americans.
  • Khan says there are several ways to solve this problem, the first being to train financial aid counselors in the religious requirements of different faiths.
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As students from across the country recently started their new semesters, I couldn’t help but think back to a time when I was at a crossroads in choosing my next degree program after graduating. undergraduate degree. Whether I was staying close to home or moving across the country, one thing I knew at the time was that pursuing a higher education wouldn’t be cheap.

For those who cannot afford to pay out of pocket to attend college or college, there is the popular option of working with a financial aid officer to secure a financial aid program. But this “help” can be misleading for students. You are often offered an interest-bearing loan package, which negatively affects long-term students – and contributes significantly to the alarming amount of student debt in the United States.

Worse, this financial model does not address the religious restrictions that may prevent some students from using it. As a Muslim, I cannot take out interest loans because I follow the religious mandate of the Quran to stay away from interest. So like many other Muslims, when it came to paying for school, I had few options to choose from. That didn’t stop me from pursuing higher education and I had some help along the way. But not all Muslim Americans have access to the support I’ve had – and more importantly, the education system shouldn’t force them to do so.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, Behavior, and Psychology from Wesleyan University in 2012. When I went to my freshman orientation, I remember meeting the school’s financial aid counselor, Sean Martin. , and explained to her that I was the daughter of a single immigrant mother and would be the first in my family to attend college in the United States. I remember at first feeling like the only visibly Muslim Hijabi student on campus, and it was scary to say the least.

But in the end, recognizing my religious identity and personal background allowed me to have one of the best educational experiences I could imagine. Sean was a kind soul and saw my fight and acknowledged it – he told me he would do his best to make sure I could attend Wesleyan. Every year before the financial aid was awarded, I anxiously logged into my student portal to see what to expect. Like clockwork, Sean allowed me to attend the four years at Wesleyan, and I was fortunate enough to graduate without any interest-bearing loans – thanks in addition to outside scholarships and the completion of ‘a work-study.

After I graduated from Wesleyan, I decided I wanted to continue my education – and naively, I thought there would be people like Sean who would find ways to accommodate me. I applied rigorously to the programs and ended up with acceptances in hand from Yale, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins graduate schools, but unfortunately had to turn them down all because the only financial aid option included interest-bearing loans. . For Johns Hopkins, I even postponed my admission in hopes that the following year I would get a better package with more scholarships. But even then, I was asked to take out $ 90,000 in federal loans, for a one-year program. Like the others, I declined the offer.

Education is not the only area that many Muslims find themselves stuck in when it comes to the American loan system – for example, Muslims face similar problems in the housing market, reported the New York Times in 2005, because of the interest that comes with traditional mortgage deals. Therefore, according to the NYT, Islamic financing has opened up as an option for those who wish to purchase an interest-free home, although it may require higher costs in other areas.

The American loan system needs to be more Muslim-friendly – and I hope that as a nation we can move forward to include the needs of Muslims.

Looking back on my own example, I am grateful that I was able to secure a generous scholarship and outside grants from external organizations such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) which enabled me to complete my Masters. in social impact of Claremont. Lincoln University.

Other organizations – like A Continuous Charity (ACC), a nonprofit designed to help Muslims get interest-free loans, and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which provides interest-free loans. for higher education – also help provide alternative options for restricted Muslims to deal with interest.

But more efforts need to be made to support such an endeavor, preferably within the education system itself. Training financial aid counselors and counselors in the religious dispositions that many of us hold is a great place to start.

When I tried talking to financial aid officers in the past, especially before I graduated from graduate school, it sounded like a black hole. In Claremont, I realized that I am my best lawyer. If I can’t defend myself, no one will. Change has to come from within, and I am grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me.

Tasmiha Khan holds an MA in Social Impact from Claremont Lincoln University and is the American Association of University Women Career Development Fellow. Follow Khan @CraftOurStory to learn more.

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