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Young Muslims have to pick between faith and education under current student loan system

Asha was set to leave college, armed with three strong A-Levels and an ambition to go to medical school. But there was a problem. I remember in 2013 speaking to my chemistry teacher and literally holding back the tears as I tried to explain to him why I couldn’t go to uni that year, she tells me. Asha is one of many young Muslims who decided not to take out a student loan on account of their religious ideals.

In Islam, paying interest or riba- is not permitted, leaving many Muslim students with just three uncomfortable options: go to uni despite having deeply-held religious beliefs, somehow find the money to self-fund ?9,2500-a-year tuition fees as well as living costs, or don’t go to uni at all.

It’s no wonder that, according to the Muslim Census, 10,000 Muslim students opt out of uni or self-fund their tuition every year due to a lack of alternative student finance.

Way back in 2013, then Prime Minister David Cameron said: 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. He seemed to commit to making space within the student finance system to accommodate Muslim students, but since then, very little progress has been made.

With a review into the student finance system expected in the coming months, The Tab spoke to three Muslim students whose lives have been affected dramatically by the current student loan system.

University was never something I could really do. It made me feel hopeless’

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Us of going to Oxford and was encouraged by teachers at his state sixth form in Whitechapel to apply for an Arabic course at the uni. He certainly had the grades to back up this ambition, but while his peers were revelling in the success of getting offers from Russell Group universities, the reality set in that university wasn’t an option for him.

Umayr didn’t want to take out a student loan and certainly couldn’t stump up the cash to self-fund his tuition. I made the decision early on that university was never something I could do, Umayr tells me.I didn’t know what I had in store for the following year. It made me feel hopeless, left out and frustrated.

If you can’t use the student loan for religious reasons, you simply can’t go to university. That was something that was tough for me at the time.

I literally felt like I was having to chose between getting an education and my religion’

Hana was also successful academically and like Umayr, was never going to take out a student loan. That’s why she dropped out of college. Hana didn’t see the point. When I started [at college], within the first 12 months they started talking about university and UCAS.

I was doing psychology business and applied science. As soon as they started talking about uni, I started looking into it and I realised there was no way I was going to be able to afford it. The loan just wasn’t an option, she says.

Hana’s parents weren’t to0 fussed, as long as she kept busy, but the pressure from other members of her family was intense. From their perspective, Hana was squandering her education unnecessarily, when instead she should forsake her religious principles and take out the loan. There was a lot of backlash from other people. They just didn’t understand. I literally felt like I was having to choose between getting an education and my religion, Hana says.