Home / Featured / A Muslim’s Guide to Student Loans in the U.S.

A Muslim’s Guide to Student Loans in the U.S.

A Muslim’s Guide to Student Loans in the U.S.

By Uzair Sarmast

After recently attending the Pure Paisa: Fiqh of Money & Transactions seminar at Qabeelat Durbah, I imparted some ideas about minimizing/eliminating interest in financing one's education with the volunteers.  Alḥamdulillāh, some people found it to be beneficial, so I am sharing it here on MuslimMatters, where I hope it will benefit others and serve as an impetus for further discussion.

Getting an interest-free education has always been and continues to be challenging, especially in light of increasing tuition costs.  I just wanted to take a moment to share some of my thoughts that may help you (or your friends/children) get a quality education without compromising your values. And even if one feels interest is a necessity in getting an education, one can still make an effort to minimize it along with the overall costs of education.

My thoughts come from knowing a few people who have completed undergraduate studies and medical/dental school without dealing with interest, walhamdulillah.

I should also point out that I'm unable to provide a one-stop surefire solution (because currently there is none as far as I know), but rather just a few meager thoughts that might help.  And by no means is anything guaranteed or easy; to the contrary I think being able to finance graduate studies without interest is the rare exception (and an immense blessing), rather than the rule.  Undergraduate studies may be easier due to lower costs and greater availability of scholarships and financial aid.

PREPARE THE SOIL & PLANT THE SEEDS

Intention

Intention is emphasized in everything we do, and pursuing an education is no different.  If one is absolutely committed to staying interest-free, then I think it's paramount for the person to make an intention along the lines of: “If I can't get this education interest-free, then I will delay it/won't do it.”  I believe such an intention (if serious & sincere; not just lip service) will bring Divine Help for the person.

Du'ā'

Ask the only One Who Can Help You; the only One Who is Capable of all things; the only One Who Knows what is best for you.

Integrity

With Allāh: A person may say “I want to enter such and such a profession so that I can earn money, and give it in charity to help others.”  Put your money where your mouth is from the get go.  If you are not charitable now (however little it may be), then how can you be entrusted to give in the future?

With People:  People aren't looking to lend money, especially large sums, to people who aren't reliable: reliable enough to pay them back, as well as reliable enough to successfully complete their education and obtain quality employment.

Excel in School

Since many scholarships are based wholly or partially upon academic merit, if you don't have the grades, then you may be severely limiting potential sources of funding.  If you plan ahead, then you'll appreciate the need to excel academically as early as high school and can hopefully lock in scholarships for your entire undergraduate education.  If you're already in college and haven't received any scholarships thus far, then you can still do well now and apply for scholarships going forward since many scholarships are offered on a per-semester basis.

Community Service & Extracurricular Activities

In addition to academic performance, many scholarships take your contributions outside the classroom into consideration.  Some organizations you can volunteer with offer their own scholarships. Furthermore, a friend or member of the community is more apt to help out someone who is a contributor to society.

Be Realistic

Realize that staying interest-free isn't going to be easy and you may have to sacrifice some things.  For example, living in an apartment at an expensive out-of-state school might not be the most reasonable expectation (see “Living at Home” below)

START FARMING

Interest-Free Loans

Family & Friends: This is going to be a key (I'm inclined to say necessary) resource.  Hopefully someone you know has been blessed with surplus wealth, and is willing to help you out.  Ideally, you know someone who has wealth and holds the same beliefs as you.  The limitation is that many practicing people think that interest for educational loans is not a problem.  To find someone willing to help you avoid interest for school will be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Don't lose hope completely because the opportunity arises when someone who may not have an issue with interest personally, but respects you as a person and is willing to help you so that you don't have to compromise your values.  Or you might have someone who is involved with interest, but is regretful about it, and they may see it as an opportunity to attain the Mercy of Allāh 

(“I have my shortcomings & regret them, so perhaps if I protect someone from interest, then hopefully Allāh will Protect me”).

For example, I know someone who was able to borrow $50,000 and another person was able to borrow $60,000 over the course of 4 years.

Organizations
: There are a couple of charitable organizations that provide interest-free loans for undergraduate & graduates studies.  You can search for them on the internet, and apply.  Using this technique, someone I know received $50,000 over 4 years.

Scholarships

There are several scholarships that come in all different shapes and sizes based on field of study, financial need, ethnicity, academic merit, extracurricular involvement, etc.  Most will require effort in terms of applications and essays, but remember that if you're serious about avoiding interest, you'll need to put in the effort.  The great thing about scholarships is that you don't need to pay them back.  I know someone who got about $45,000 over 4 years for graduate studies, and several others who had 60-100% of their undergraduate tuition covered.

How to find scholarships

1. There are numerous books and websites which you can look up
2. Ask your parents to find out if their employer offers scholarships because many companies do
3. Find out if your town/county/state offers scholarships for your field of study, academic merit, or volunteer work
4. Check with local organizations (ie. Rotary Clubs) for scholarships
5. And of course, check with your school for what scholarships they have that you may potentially qualify for.  If you're a double-major, check with both departments for scholarships that may be uniquely offered for each major

Mountains are made of pebbles

While a scholarship for $500 or $2,000 may not seem like a lot compared to the total tuition, realize that receiving a few of these can add up quickly.  Additionally, you will probably incur other expenses such a books, and equipment, so any amount of money you can get counts.

Buy used books (unless absolutely impossible).  Email your professor before the class begins and find out what books are required; then search for used copies on campus or on the internet.  Also find out if an older edition of the book will suffice.  There is no need to pay out the nose to have a brand-new copy of the latest edition from the school bookstore if you don't have to. Thus far, I think overall I've either broken even or made a profit on textbooks.

OTHER PRACTICAL TIPS

Live at Home

Attending an in-state public institution usually offers significant savings on tuition.  Combine that with a school that is within commuting distance (save on rent, utilities, food), and now you're talking major cost reductions.

Work During School

Depending on the difficulty and quantity of your coursework, a part-time job can be a very realistic option for many.  Sure it'll reduce the amount of time you can spend hanging out in the MSA lobby, but it'll be a worthwhile sacrifice.

Evaluate the importance of your undergraduate program

Especially if you're planning on pursuing graduate education.

For someone planning on attending medical school, my humble personal opinion is that going to a solid state school (ie. the equivalent of Rutgers in NJ) is an excellent choice.  I don't think going to a brand-name, private school adds much to your medical career because what is most important in the long-run is the quality of your residency and fellowship training (which depend upon your performance and activities in medical school) as well as other factors not related to where you received your undergraduate education.

Furthermore, getting into medical school isn't so much about where you went for college, as it is how well you did there.  There are plenty of people who went to an expensive college ($40-50k/year), but didn't do well enough to get into a US medical  school, so ended up going to an outside medical school (which is increasingly a major limiting factor for future career options).  And even if someone from an expensive undergraduate institution does stay in the US for medical school, chances are they will be in the same school as you, taking the same classes and tests.  So now it's a level playing field and your future opportunities depend on your performance in medical school. The only difference is that they already have pre-existing loans of $200,000.

I am not diminishing the prestige or intangible benefits of attending an elite undergraduate institution; I am simply offering a practical suggestion to minimize costs of education which I believe in general does not detract from your future success in the grand scheme of things for a career in medicine. 

Additionally, if you apply from high school, some state institutions have combined undergraduate-MD programs with local medical schools.

For those who may be pursuing a career in another field (ie. business), then it is possible that your undergraduate education may hold more weight because that will be your highest level of training when you apply for jobs (versus medicine where you have residency and fellowship beyond medical school, let alone undergrad).  Even within the business field, this may vary depending on the specific field (ie. finance, accounting).

I have a friend who went to a state undergraduate institution and now works in a highly sought after position for top-notch financial firm.  He told me that while he was able to “make it,” he had to put in much greater effort (working for practically free at times) to work his way up, in contrast to someone who came from a school with a better reputation in his field.

I have other friends who went to state schools for accounting and are now working for “big four” firms.  They said these firms have internships and a history of hiring graduates of these schools so they were confident they would do well.

Utilizing Subsidized Loans

A subsidized loan is one for which you are not charged interest while you are in school.

In most cases, it is highly unlikely that someone will be able to earn enough while attending school full-time to pay off a subsidized loan to avoid the interest (unless you borrow a small amounts and/or will be earning a high salary).

Strategy 1 Use the subsidized loan to give you & your interest-free lenders (ie. friend) some buffer time.  For example, if you start school in the year 2000, will graduate in 2004 and expect that it will take 5 years to be able to earn enough to pay back the loan (ie. by 2009):

A) You can borrow the $ from a friend in 2000 and have them wait until 2009 to get all of their money back.  In this case, your friend's money is locked up for 9 years (2000-2009)

B) You take a subsidized loan in 2000, then in 2004 you borrow money  from a friend to pay off the subsidized loan within 6 months of graduating.  Then you pay back the friend by 2009.  In this case, your friend's money is locked up for 5 years (2004-2009); this strategy reduces the time your friend's money is locked up.  The caveat is that you must be absolutely certain that you have a friend who will loan you the money when you graduate so you can pay off the subsidized loan; or else you will be unable to pay off the loan and will have to pay the interest.

Strategy 2 One brother mentioned that he went to school part-time and worked at the same time.  Therefore, although he took 1.5 years longer to finish school, he was able to: A) Earn and save up money while going to school   B) Delay his graduation so that he had more time until his subsidized loans became due.  So when he did graduate, he had enough money to pay off the subsidized loan and avoid interest.

Unfortunately beginning July 2012, the government is no longer offering the $8,500/year in subsidized loans to graduate students, but  I believe undergraduate will still be eligible. Confirm with FAFSA at the time you apply because policies are often changing.

Loan Repayment for Working on Under-served Areas

There are programs in medicine/dentistry/nursing where if you commit to doing primary care and working in under-served areas, the government will pay all or part of your loans. (http://www.hrsa.gov/loanscholarships/index.html). The downside is that you limit your career options (ie. primary care only), and you must work/live in a potentially undesirable location. However, if you want to do primary care and are regionally flexible, then this might be an option to consider.  I'd recommend talking to someone who has participated in these programs to get an idea of what it's like and what are the limitations, etc. There might be similar programs for other professionals (ie. lawyers) who commit to work in the public sector.

Job or Internship Tuition-Reimbursement

When considering potential job or internship opportunities, check if the company offers a tuition-reimbursement program.  Many companies will wholly or partially reimburse you for further education, often with the stipulation that you commit to work for them for a certain number of years.  I know a few people who have taken advantage of such programs for graduate business school. I also know two brothers who work for a college full-time (one in business, another as a police officer), and their graduate tuition (MPH, MBA) is free of charge. (Any full-time employee at this school is entitled to free education for their entire family; that is a pretty sweet deal!)

Take a Year “Off”, Save Up Money

“Off” doesn't mean sitting at home watching TV or perpetually vacationing; rather what I'm referring to is taking time away from full-time school so that you can work in a setting that will improve your financial situation while simultaneously maintaining or even enhancing your qualifications for your ultimate career plans.

The part in italics is important because in the future you will be asked about what you did in your time away from school.  You want to be able to provide an answer that demonstrates that the time away was an asset for you and your career.  Hence the reason why spending a year watching TV probably isn't a good idea (aside from the fact that you're probably not saving up any money watching TV).

If you're planning on a career in medicine, consider taking a year or two “off” in between undergrad and medical school so you can work and save up a decent chunk of change.  $30,000 in savings will give you a nice cushion to help pay for tuition or other expenses when your other sources of funding (ie. friends) fall short.  Don't worry about “getting too old,” especially if you haven't had any gaps in your education thus far.  When you start medical school you'll find that a good portion of people in your class are older than you because they're coming from another career, took time to do research or for personal reasons.  If you're planning for a career in business, many graduate programs might actually prefer that you have work experience before getting further education because you will be better prepared to appreciate the real-world applicability of what you learn in the classroom.  You can utilize this opportunity take advantage of tuition-reimbursement  programs your employer may offer.

This was just a brief outline of some of my thoughts; by no means was this intended to be a comprehensive guide to financing your education or choosing your career.  I hope that this article will encourage others to share their thoughts and experiences in the comments, so that we can learn different ideas from each other. You may have already known some of what was said, but I hope that hearing about people who have utilized these resources to earn significant sums in scholarships and interest-free loans, and go as far as completing medical school without paying interest will inspire you to put in the effort and seek out similar fruits (despite the tediousness of filling out application forms, writing essays, and the discomfort of having to ask people to borrow money).  Perhaps you can use this outline as a checklist to go through and see if you've exhausted all possible resources. And I recognize that with increasing tuition rates, avoiding interest for even basic education has become very challenging, and unfortunately there isn't any one, great solution that I'm aware of.  So we put forth our best effort, and leave the rest to the Mercy of Allāh, as He [SWT] is Aware of our individual needs and situations.

Disclaimer: Please consult a religious scholar, career counselor, and financial expert before considering any of the above ideas.  I am not liable in this world or in the Hereafter for any actions you do or do not take based upon the above thoughts.


About Guests

47 comments

  1. Fantastic article, masha’Allah! Wish I knew who wrote this so I can give proper thanks, but to whoever it was- jazakAllahu khair for sharing this.

    While I can’t speak for other career choices, the realities for financing education in the medical field are laid out really well here. For American graduates, it’s almost expected that all medical students will graduate with levels of debt hovering around $175,000 – $200,000. When you take into consideration the debt that students already bring in from their undergraduate years and then factor in the massive cost of medical school on top of that, you quickly realize how sad a doctor’s life becomes when you graduate medical school with debt the size of entire home mortgages, and interest rates that keep you buried in that debt for a significant chunk of your medical career.

    Muslims especially need to be extremely careful and cautious with their choice of colleges and graduate schools- personally speaking, the article is absolutely right that once you’re in medical school, no one cares what undergraduate school you went to, and your future patients certainly won’t ever care either, so slapping down ridiculous tuition costs and incurring debt for undergrad just seems like wasteful extravagance in the long run for medicine. If interest can be avoided through careful selection of programs and cost-effective schools, then by all means go for it.

    Do your best to apply (or encourage your kids to apply) to state-funded medical schools which have significantly cheaper tuition costs, and also save up money if you’re absolutely sure that medicine is the career path for you- it’s going to be a very long, arduous, and extremely expensive endeavor that will give you very little in returns until you hit your mid-30s.

    Sorry for the really long comment- the only other thing I’d mention is that as of this year, they’re officially removing subsidized loans due to federal budget cuts, and all Department-of-Education loans will become unsubsidized. That means there’s no longer an “interest-free” loan option for students anymore starting this Fall semester.

    I wish all the students and the parents of students reading this the very best, insha’Allah- may Allah (swt) ease your financial burdens and make the path to seeking knowledge and professional careers easy upon you, and may He save you from crushing debt and the shackles of interest.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    •  
      As salaamu Alaikum Dr. O,

      I’m glad you found the article beneficial, and jazakallah khair for your added insight; much appreciated!

      I just want to clarify the subsidized loan situation because there are changes that will be taking place for the next school year.  I just spoke to a FAFSA representative to make sure  I understood things properly:

      1. Subsidized loans will still be available for undergraduate students; meaning you do not accrue interest while you are in school.  The change is that there will NO longer be a 6-month grace period after a person graduates during which the person does not accure interest.  Basically: If you pay off your subsidized loan the day before your graduate, then you have no interest.  If you pay the subsidized loans after you graduate (ie. 1 month later), then there will be 1 month of interest.

      2. There are NO subsidized loans for graduate students anymore.  Yes, this makes things more difficult (but not impossible, iA) for those looking to pursue graduate studies without taking interest-bearing loans.

      Details can be found on Fafsa.gov, and for details about the recent changes one should read: http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/recentChangesSA.jsp

      Take Care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Masha’Allah, you are the MAN, Uzair. Thank you so much for the clarification! I thought the cuts were universally applied, but I didn’t know that they still kept the interest-free option available at the ugrad level (its a shame about the grace period being removed, though).

        JazakAllahu khair for writing this, it’s an excellent article!

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Umm Amber Asiyah

    This is great, mashaAllah…but we also need to discuss having more Muslim Americans graduate with all kinds of degrees. We need more people in the humanities. It’s great to be a doctor, lawyer, business person but we need to have top people in all fields. German language, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Psychology!!!!, Sociology, Social Work, Environmental studies, Political Science.  I know where this article is coming from, and I know people in the fields mentioned have huge student loans and of course it’s not haram to take those jobs or even to make lots of money in life but if we want and even, well developed society we need to diversify ourselves for sure. Just my two cents.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    •  As salaamu Alaikum Umm Amber,

      Jazakallah Khair for taking the time to read the article, and continue the discussion.  I agree with you wholeheartedly that the only fields are not medicine, law, and business; rather, people should pursue whatever field interests them because when people do what they enjoy, they’re more apt to work with ihsaan and exude passion in their life.

      I’m glad to see a lot of brothers and sisters pursuing creative fields such as graphics, film, etc and being able to benefit the ummah.  May Allah (SWT) Bless those people’s efforts who step outside of the box; I know it’s hard with parental and community pressures.

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. As a current college student I found these tips very helpful, Mashallah!

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. It was narrated from ‘Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him) that a mukaatib (slave who had entered into a contract of manumission) came to him and said: “I am unable to pay off my manumission; help me.” He said:

     “Shall I not tell you some words which the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught me? And if you have debt like the mountain of Seer, Allaah will pay it off for you. 

    He said: ‘Say: Allaahumma akfini bi halaalika ‘an haraamika wa aghnini bi fadlika ‘amman siwaaka (O Allaah, suffice me with what You have permitted so that that I have no need of that which You have forbidden, and make me independent of means by Your bounty so that I have no need of anyone besides You).’”

    Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2563) who said: This is a hasan ghareeb hadeeth. It was also classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi. 

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. Awesome Article.. This really helps. 

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. You could always study in Canada! Even as an international (US) student, programs in Canada are quite cheap (compared to US), the quality of education is quite high (Canadian universities rank favourably against US universities in world and North American rankings), and for many fields (such as Engineering, Computer Science, Business etc.) it ultimately does not matter what university you go to as long as you have a Western degree. 

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7.  As salaamu Alaikum,

    Jazakallah khair for taking the time to read the article; I’m thankful that people are finding it beneficial.  Hopefully you can share it with your friends and
    family so more people can benefit.

    Take care,

    Uzair

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. May Allah bless and have mercy on my parents.  They were bearer of the brunt of my college expenses.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Jazak Allah Khair for taking the time to share what you learned at a seminar as well as adding so many nice ideas from your sources. I am a licensed Financial Services Professional in the Bay Area, mother of six kids with three in college and three in elementary schools (Happily married  AlhamdAllah) As someone who was a perpetual student for 9 yrs while raising 5 kids, I was very disturbed by the amount of burden my fellow students had in not just pursuing a career but also supporting them selves financially for housing and food. I felt guilty to see my husband pay for my studies but one thing I asked at time of marriage was education and I got one! 
    I followed many tips mentioned here,
     Buying used books, 
    selling them via internet, 
    attending community college for as many classes that I could, 
    taking maximum units (upto 21) for a flat fee per semester, etc.
    Besides reducing tuition, many kids utilized campus job qualifications to reduce housing fee. 
    Many students would get hired and attend business school and pay their way through college utilizing tax deductions or corporate level assistance in fees for college.
    Selecting unique majors where a scholarship is already tied in….for eg for science major, taking biotech management may add a stipend of $10,000 for 2yrs so why not grab it, it will still qualify a student to pursue medical field. 
    Selecting overseas qualified fast track programs like med school abroad (which my two kids decided to do, May Allah fulfill their academic dreams)
    When in Highschool , take on AP courses and do a middle college which saves time and money specially if one is pursuing a career in medicine or law.
     
     One thing I made sure of was praying never to borrow to study and AlhamdAllah did not have to as Allah increased rizq for my husband. Got my degrees in BS in Finance and minor in Accounting with honors then went off to starting two charities. Both of them social ones (Domestic violence and College mentoring) hence I learned that,
    Having a control on finances was a key responsibility on parents first and it should start early on when kids are in KG…..give 10 yr investment time and kids have a great start.
    Second thing is to address the financial burdens at a community level to come up with doable solutions and act upon them at any intial level and continue it even if you do nto have kids of your own in college anymore.
    We are not the first Muslims to be conscious of debt, there were methods used to reduce debt in historic times when interest was seriously high at above 30% and Muslims created  Waqfs for such needs. Waqfs or endowments help reduce financial burdens and are sustainable solutions but need initial seed investments.
     Another thing I noticed was a serious lack of effort from our Masajids in offering scholarships at High School levels to students so they not only get some support but also qualify for top school admissions grants after earning such scholarships.
    Another thing I see and still keep seeing and forgive me for being blunt, lack of knowledge on finance and debt issues amongst Islamic leaders. As a female, I have faced lack of respect from our Muslim Community men in trusting a Muslimah than a brother in the same field despite industry statistics reports on how 87% of financial decisions at home are done by women and women are generally better at planning and saving than men yet when the time comes to seek professional help, families prefer meeting a man vs a woman.
    I know I have written a lot here but another thing that is seriously troublesome is within our community is heresay……one brother/sister says something and it gets set in stone and goes viral without anyone taking the time to go research on their own to see if such a thing exists like interest free loans, subsidized education loans, employer provided educational assistance, studying abroad, middle college, liabilities of taking on big loans on families if one was to go through a tragedy like disability or death. I’d leave you all with a recent article on the student loan industry at this site:
    http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/student-loans-could-next-housing-bubble-robert-reich-144742652.html 

    Jazak Allah khair for bringing up this topic and asking for our feedback.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    •  As salaamu Alaikum Sr Reshma,

      Jazakallah Khair for taking the time to read the article, and for adding a great deal of insight from your experience as well; greatly appreciated!

      “…research on their own to see if such a thing exists like interest free
      loans, subsidized education loans, employer provided educational
      assistance, studying abroad, middle college, liabilities of taking on
      big loans on families.”

      I can assure you programs like interest-free loans, subsidized education loans, and employer tuition reimbursement exist.  That’s why I actually mentioned that I know people who have utilized these means (including myself), and have even mentioned the approximate amounts which these people were able to borrow.  Without a doubt interest-free loans are not common, which is why in the
      article I wrote that there are a “couple of organizations.”  And as mentioned in the article, while not every employer offers tuition reimbursement, there are many that do.  Furthermore, subsidized loans also exist and in my comments to Dr. O’s post above, I provided some details regarding recent changes.

      Your point is well taken that one would be wise to consider the potential liabilities and burdens associated with borrowing large amounts of money from friends or family; surely this is not something to be taken lightly.  It would be best to borrow from someone who would not be placed into financial hardship if you were late in repaying them, and hopefully you as the borrower have contingency plans in place.

      It’s great that we’re able to briefly share various ideas here on this forum, but most definitely many of these ideas require further research for anyone considering them.

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Good. I like the first 3 headings like Du’a, integrity and excel in school. These are essential for everyone and then things may vary from person to person. I will try to tell my personal story which may be complimentary to the article and in real sense, prepare a student for the worst but still must not lose hope.

    I had a dream of doing Masters after my Bachelors Degree but the question was who will finance it?Believe me, it took me 20 years to wait for somebody to finance my Masters Degree.
    I finished my professional Bachelors degree in 1989-90, with  my family support. Since there was no financial support to do Masters, I started working. 6 months of teaching, 18 months of professional job outside my place of residence, 6 months of teaching back in my city, 3 years of academic administration/teaching after initiating my own entrepreneurial venture, then 3 years of professional consultancy and more than 10 years of government service. 
    This Masters degree kept me haunting because I believed that Muslims need to pursue higher education to compete with different communities/societies in order to be self-sufficient in all matters of modern scientific education. I had  a desire to study though it was not necessary for the job purpose.
    I started looking for fellowships from 2006 to study outside the country to gain new knowledge/experience and skills in new environment. Simulatneously I enrolled for Distance education courses so that before I leave the country, I should be prepared for university education after a long time. I was able to complete 2 certificate courses and 2 P.G.Diploma courses.
    I could not get selected for the first fellowship, I kept on trying. ultimately in 2010, I was selected for a prestigious international fellowship.
    Now the question is that if I go to a foreign country, who will bear the expenses of my family? This question was bothering me. I requested government/my organization but in vain. They allowed me to study but without salary. I applied for educational loan so that the loan money will be used for family expenses. The loan was sanctioned but the last moment my close friend refused to act as a guarantor (although earlier he had signed the form).
    I left the country in the hope that God will help me, even if no body comes to my help. The loan could not be disbursed despite being sanctioned because of short of one guarantor. The guarantor ditched me after I left the country.
    Now I was in a fix. But believe me, without availing that sanctioned loan, I tried to save money on rent, food, and fare and that is how, I was able to accommodate my family within my fellowship expenses.
    This saving saved me from the loan and also I got a real experience of how friends can ditch you at the last moment.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. A great useful article on a topic that’s become really relevant to prospective students in the UK too ( gone are the days when the government would subsidise a university education for the least financially able!).

    Aside from mainstream scholarships – have the Muslim community in the US developed any specific schemes/scholarship programmes for young Muslims? Also are mosques/community organisations educating young Muslims & their families about the financial pitfalls of higher education? 

    Would be great to share good practice and highlight areas where we could do more to help future generations. 

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    •  As salaamu Alaikum

      With a doubt resources are lacking in this realm, but I think the community has acknowledged this and is starting to offer programs.  In our community there is a small organization that has been offering awards and scholarships for the past few years.  I’ve heard of a few others as well in other places.

      I guess the way I see things, now that mosques have been built in many places, communities are able to use funds for other projects such as these.

      Also, as many of us are finishing our schooling, we’re looking to see how we can use the knowledge and skills we’ve been given to help the next generation of students.  For example, a nearby masjid recently had a networking fair.  Similarly, we’re going to have a pre-med discussion panel geared towards high school & undergraduate students and their parents to help shed some light on important aspects of getting into medical school.  Hopefully people from other fields will do the same.

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • “Aside from mainstream scholarships – have the Muslim community in the US
      developed any specific schemes/scholarship programmes for young
      Muslims?”

      Yes, Alhamdulillah. Though there is still much work to be done, here is an excellent organization which offers Muslim students scholarships in the fields of social sciences, humanities, liberal arts or law: http://www.islamicscholarshipfund.org/  This is for undergraduate and graduate students…please encourage people you know to apply!

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Nice article, Uzair. One of the key ways I have found to avoid interest is plan from day one to limit the unsubsidized loan and then with subsidized loans (stafford, perkins, school specific) to stay a half time student online.

    This concept is never emphasized. But if you are taking 6 credits every other semester, subsidized loans stay in student deferment meaning no interest accrues. The cost of these credits can be minimized by taking online classes at cheap state community colleges. Cost is about $550-600 for six credits. 20% of that you will get back on taxes. This way you will save $2000+ just on the Federal Stafford Loans alone not to mention other subsidize loans. With these loans in deferment one can focus on unsubsidized loans as quickly as possible.

    Alhamdulillah, I have done this for 1.5 yrs and saved thousands in interest. We had a lecture on this topic at Rutgers as part of Ladders Initiative. Attached is an example how this will breakdown. It is important to highlight in student deferment unsubsidized loan interest doesn’t capitalize as well. There are other creative ways to avoid interest as well. The key is to plan early.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. I’d like to mention that we are too quick to give up these days. “I don’t think it’s not possible to go to school without taking riba”. This is unfortunate.

    We take fatwa’s out of context. We assume that bcs a scholar mentions that Education is a *necessity*, this immediately implies that we should go for the riba loan!! How odd is this? 

    People must examine/re-examine countless avenues(as Br. Uzair mentioned in this article) before turning to a interest based loans. 

    p.s.
    I personally think that the Imams/Ulemaa’ of North America should do a better job of conveying this. I hear the “Students loans are permissible” fatwa too often without clarification or even smart financial advice. Why not advise students to at least look for the lowest interest loans? 

    Just because a _____(inset any item commonly bought on interest) is considered a necessity doesn’t mean that there is no other option other then interest loans for it. 

    p.p.s
    If we haven’t learned from the housing bubble in America, (ex. McDonals employee buying a 300k house on mortgage), we should really take some financial planning courses

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    •  As salaamu Alaikum,

      Jazakallah khair for your input.  Like a lot of things, we tend to settle for taking the “necessity” route without putting in adequate effort.

      I found the following effort inspirational, and I hope others will too.  I was talking to someone a
      few days ago and he told me that his father received a very well put
      together package at his office from an aspiring medical student
      requesting to borrow money for tuition so that they can get their
      education without interest. The package contained the person’s academic
      & extracurricular records, a contract for the loan, etc. This is an
      example of someone who is putting forth a genuine effort, and I pray
      that Allah (SWT) Blesses this person with the means to pursue their
      education without dealing with interest. Have we put forth this level of
      effort?

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • alaikum asalam,

        Imagine that? Putting together a loan proposal. May Allah bless individuals like this with halal rizq!

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Well said.

      Some Muslims prefer to send heir children to public school because it is free of charge, so they say. But they buy a one million mansion on full-time riba.

      I mean, we have set our priorities wrong in the first place.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. The definition of subsidized loan is not technically correct in this article. The author mentions:

    “A subsidized loan is one for which you are not charged interest while you are in school.”

    The It is actually a loan in which the government pays off the interest for you within the grace period. I don’t know if this changes the ruling  or not, but I thought I would throw it out there.

    Excellent article mA.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    •  As salaamu Alaikum Sami,

      Good catch.  I meant to write “A subsidized loan is one for which you do not pay interest while you are in school.”

      From the literature I’ve read and the people I’ve spoken to, subsidized loans are okay inshallah.  **As stated at the end of the article, I’d recommend everyone consult a scholar they are comfortable with to discuss their individual situation, as things may vary from person to person. **

      As far as online resources, I’ve found AMJA to be helpful for financial matters (http://amjaonline.org/).  Additionally, they have a Fatwa hotline which you can call and
      speak to a scholar (http://amjaonline.org/services/fatwa-services/).

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Jazak Allah Khair Uzair for your thoughts.

    I am a Muslim medical student a little over halfway done with school now insha Allah. From that perspective, this article provides lots of ideas about how students in professional schools can find ways to finance their education in a fiscally and Islamically responsible fashion. I think, however, that in the same breath, we have to stress the necessity for our communities to take this issue of financing our youth very seriously, and bring it off of the back burners.

    When speaking with the Dean of Research at my medical school, he was surprised when I discussed Muslims aversion of debt, especially debt with interest. He told me that Hasidic Jews have very similar beliefs, but they just go to their rabbi, and an interest-free repayment plan is set up for them.

    I would love that a Muslim would have to go no farther than his mosque to make his dreams a reality. I don’t mind living at home or going to a state school to drive down my costs, as a couple of you have mentioned. But if our children have to think that way 20-30 years from now, because there is no organization nearby that is interested in fostering their excellence and investing in them, we have failed our communities.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • As salaamu Alaikum Ameer,

      I agree with you completely that we need to provide solutions.  As mentioned in an earlier comment, I think going forward inshallah we will see more development in these areas because now that institutions like masajid have been taken care of in many places, our resources can be used for other initiatives. This is something that I’ve personally looked into starting, and hope to do so in the near future.  Keep us in your duas.

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. JazakAllah khair for the article brother Uzair! I know someone that was at the class and found it very beneficial.

    Just like you mentioned, it’s important to purify your intention and have taqwa of Allah, because he is the one that provides. Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out, And will provide for him
    from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah -
    then He is sufficient for him… (65:2-3)I also wanted clarification about the loan forgiveness programs. From what I understand, based on talking to a representative for the program in my state, these programs provide you with money to pay for loans that have been accruing interest over time. Thus, although you can pay back your loan with money they give you, you’ll still need to take out a loan and have it accrue interest. Is this how it works elsewhere?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    •  As salaamu Alaikum Asim,

      Jazakallah Khair for taking the time to read the article.

      From my understanding the various tuition/loan repayment/forgiveness options vary program to program.

      There are definitely options where you do not take out a loan first; rather, the sponsoring organization makes the payment directly to your school at the beginning of the semester, and therefore there is no loan and subsequent interest. 

      For example: http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/scholarships/index.html
      The National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program.  Tuition payment in exchange for a commitment to serve in limited-access areas for 2-4 years after completing training.

      From their FAQ:
      “When do the tuition and stipend payments start?
       
      The NHSC Scholarship Program notifies schools when
      their students are selected to receive an NHSC Scholarship. The school
      is required to submit an invoice to the NHSC for payment of tuition and
      fees each term.”

      So NHSC pays the tuition for you.

      On the flip-side, there are probably other programs like you mentioned, which entail you taking the loan first and its associated interest, and then they pay you back. 

      I’d recommend researching the different options and inshallah you find something that works for you.  I know a brother who is doing one of these programs, so if this is something you are seriously considering, give me your email address and I’ll put you in touch with him.

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Wa Alaikum assalam brother Uzair,

        Wa iyyakum. Thank you for the clarification and thorough response. I would actually love to hear more about these programs. I sent you a message through fb. InshaAllah we can get in touch through there.

        JazakAllah khair,

        - Asim

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. I think pple like me, who are living in developing countries are more deserving than devoped countries citizens. Sometime I think there is also some kind of cartel who support a specific breed to come forward and ruled on others while remaining will ruled by them. There is some kinda hypocracy, double standard we have in our so called equal system.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Salaam, My only negative feedback on this article is that it would have been a lot more useful if the author had researched the items he refers to and linked to them, rather than vague references like “There are charitable organizations that provide interest-free loans….”  ”There are numerous books and websites which you can look up…”   OK, where are they? Referring me to google is not that helpful; I may not find the items you are referencing.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Good article, especially like the bit about fiscal responsibility. I think more than anything, that can make the biggest difference in terms of how many loans with interest are required. I do disagree with the choice of undergraduate school – maybe that works in medical school, just get in somewhere and you’re ok. And the author did allude to business, accounting schools.. But if you’re considering a pure sciences, engineering – STEM field. It absolutely does matter.. And these are the fields where you can usually get your graduate degreees paid on fellowship.. Would have liked to have seen some discussions on paid felloeships, TA’s, graduate researchers, etc. the trade off is if you’re looking to work in a technical lab, technical job – you need a top -10 level education. As my brother who graduated from UM – Ann arbor put it to me.. I’m locked out of jobs that go to graduates from MIT, CalTech, Harvard. But glad to see the author has the discussion started.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • As salaamu Alaikum,

      Jazakallah Khair for taking the time to read the article, and providing feedback.

      I did mention:
      “For those who may be pursuing a career in another field (ie. business),
      then it is possible that your undergraduate education may hold more
      weight because that will be your highest level of training when you
      apply for jobs”

      While I only listed “business” as an example of a field where the undergraduate institution can play a role in future career success, the reader can plug in any other field where this applies; I simply couldn’t list every possibility.

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Masha Allah, there are a lot of nice points here.  But, do you have a reference to support that subsidized loans are halaal?  They almost always include a clause that states, in effect, that if the loan is not paid back in a fixed amount of time (i.e. 6 months) that you agree to pay interest on it.  To sign a contract, agreeing to commit haram, is haram itself.  It doesn’t matter if you never commit that deed (in this case, paying interest). 

    One of the problems, though, with the loan proposals and borrowing from others is that there is no way to enforce getting paid back.  I have seen and experienced people wanting loans to avoid interest, but then when the time comes to pay, they are unwilling to fulfill their commitment.  Yes, sometimes there may be a genuine reason, but sometimes there are not.  I think it would help if people were willing to offer some sort of collateral so that the creditor is not the one who is taking the financial risk.  That said, what kind of collateral would a college age student have?  There are just so many hoops to jump through…

     

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    •  As salaamu Alaikum Umm Noor,

      “To sign a contract, agreeing to commit haram, is haram itself.  It
      doesn’t matter if you never commit that deed (in this case, paying
      interest).”

      Like many things, I’m sure there will be differences of opinion on the permissibility of subsidized loans.  I guess those who are of the opinion that they are not based on the principle reflected in quotes above would also hold the opinion that having a credit card is impermissible since it’s essentially the same concept. Or do you see a difference?

      If no difference, then I would say: Every major Islamic organization I know of accepts credit cards as a method of payment for their courses/conferences, donations, etc.

      Additionally, some of the answers on AMJAonline.org, indicate subsidized loans as an option for education (I would post links, but site is currently down).  Furthermore, I’ve spoken to people with knowledge whom I personally trust.  As always, please consult a shaykh who you are comfortable with, and may Allah make things easy for everyone in pursuing the means which they believe to be correct, yet practical.

      Without a doubt borrowing large amounts of money, as well as lending it is not an easy task; surely there is risk involved.  It definitely requires homework to be done by both parties.  Some sort of collateral would help add some security; perhaps the parents could get involved in this regard.  The people I know who borrowed money for school actually did not give any collateral, but they had a close relationship with the lender (ie. relative, close family friend), and very importantly they were known to be mature, responsible, and trustworthy people.  And the sad reality is that many youth, while they may be religious-minded, unfortunately aren’t the most reliable, professional people and haven’t demonstrated sufficient responsibility (and may have actually shown the opposite).  So for those considering this as an option, it would be wise to make oneself worthy of such a Blessing and responsibility.

      Take care,

      Uzair

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Wa alaikumus Salaam,

        I was asking about a reference because I, personally, would like to see the perspective of scholars saying that the subsidized loans were OK.  I have always been taught that a commitment to commit haram was forbidden, and I’m curious to see how/when that might be compromised.  Some people might call it necessity, but then others say the loan itself is necessity, so where does anyone draw the line?  If you do have a reference that you trust, it would be nice to get a documented opinion that others could read and use for their own benefit.

        The real reason I brought it up is that if people are reading your article with the hope of implementing some or all of your suggestions, they should know as much as possible so they can make the best informed decisions that they can.

        I don’t want to get into an interest debate or anything, but ,no, I don’t believe a credit card contract is halal, for the very same reason.  On the consumer end, one can get a bank card that works the same way.  I don’t know how things work on the business end,  so I can’t comment on that.  Of course, indirectly the whole system supports interest, but that is beyond the scope of both your article and our discussion.

        And I guess when you talked about the loan proposal, I was imagining a youth seeking help from the community. When family and other close relationships are involved, there is a degree of oversight that would reduce or eliminate the need for collateral.  But those without a support system are still with very limited options.  The chances of them getting an interest-free loan, no strings attached, is almost nil.  Most people with the financial means to help have been burned enough times to not want to take yet another risk.  If some collateral could be worked out (and I’m doubtful that this would be a common scenario) it would increase the chances of getting a loan for those who otherwise might not.

        I really liked your comment about intention.  My personal experience has been that my resolve was always tested before Allah opened His abundant gates of mercy.  I hope He gives us all the strength to do what is right.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        •  As salaamu Alaikum Umm Noor,

          I apologize about the delayed response; I hope you come back to read this.

          Here is the fatwa from AMJA (which is an organization I personally trust; they seem to be in the know about financial matters).

          http://amjaonline.com/00en_f1_details.php?fid=85455

          “The chances of them getting an interest-free loan, no strings attached, is almost nil. ”
          I agree with you 100%.  So if one even eliminates subsidized loan as an option then what are we left with? And alhamdulillah it appears that’s what the people of knowledge also share the same sentiment.

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Asalamu Alikum,

    Jazakum Allahu Khiran for the beneficial advice and feedback from other readers.
    I am currently an undergrad student at an in-state private school. Alhamdulillah, with the grace of Allah swt I have nearly a full ride scholarship for the first four years. The program I am in will take five years to complete. After asking around and talking to my financial adviser, my only choice in paying the last year is loans, and since that would count is being in the “professional” phase, the loans are unsubsidized. I know that there are Islamic financing options for house mortgages and business, I have been looking to see if there are any for student loans. If you know of any such organization please let me know.

    Jazakum Allahu Khiran

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Salaam brother Uzair

    In Australia, the gov has the HECS-HELP, which is an interest free loan to help students study. I wanted to ask, even though it is interest free according to their standards, would it be riba free, with the issue of inflation?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

Leave a Reply

Scroll To Top