It was the last semester before graduation. Hasan* thought is had done everything right: a great GPA, scholarships, worked 3 jobs to help the family after Baba lost his. Now $8000 stood between him and his civil engineering degree. With a prestigious internship awaiting him after graduation, he wondered what he should do.
With rising college tuition costs, many Muslims students and their families struggle with the notion of taking interest-based student loans. Education is a need, but there are very few mechanisms for interest-free relief for students. A Continuous Charity (ACC) is a new organization that gives loans to students in the United States.
Based in St. Louis, the organization started with an experiment—the goal of helping one student. They wanted to test the waters and see if the process was viable. Wanting to keep it simple, they raised money through donations to help fund secular education for those who are Islamicly oriented. “Many times we find that Interest (riba) is a barrier for them to get secular knowledge,” says Dr. Athar Haq, ACC President.
Haq, a young medical resident, lives in Detroit. He relays how a brother in his community was having difficulty running his life, “a legitimate, credible person, who wanted to pursue Islamic knowledge, continue community service and finance a higher education.” Advised by experts in Islamic finance Dr. Main Al-Qudah and Shaykh Ibrahim Zidan, not only did they raise the money, but they also proved to their local community that the ACC model was possible.
In 2012, a 27-year-old youth group coordinator was awarded a $28,000 loan to study automotive technology. Last year, loans were given to 7 students, with amounts ranging from $650 to $12,000.
To apply the student must be a Muslim who is actively engaged in his or her respective community, attending or attended a junior college or four-year university/college, and—this is the clincher— actively advancing their Islamic education.
Two letters of recommendation (written by either a local imam, a community leader, or a teacher), a personal statement and financial statements are part of the application. An interview with the board is a requirement. If approved for a loan, then the educational institution is paid directly.
Dr. Haq says the goal is to raise $50,000 in 2014 and to create an endowment fund. At a recent fundraiser keynoted by Wissam Sharieff, ACC raised $30,000. The program can be replicated in any community across the country by building a local chapter of ACC for regional recipients. This is what ACC calls ‘local investing with local rewards.’ The central office will provide the guidelines.
Seventy-five percent of the applicants this year were traditional students, and the rest were non-traditional students who were going back to school later in life.
An interesting stipulation to the program is the continuing Islamic education and community development requirement. Within one year of receiving the loan, recipients are expected to begin their projects under the supervision of the ACC and the local masaajid. These projects can include Muslim youth programs, tutoring, adult education, Quran memorization classes, MSA participation, and other dawah projects.
Recipients are also required to continue their Islamic studies. Curricula may include online classes, Quran memorization, studying Arabic, and/or attending seminars and conferences. Curricula are specialized for each recipient.
Once chosen by the selection committee, the recipient signs a legally binding agreement with ACC, that outlines their loan repayment strategy, community development projects, and advancement of their Islamic education.
The loan repayment schedule varies per individual recipient based upon their field of study, amount of loan awarded, and financial status. With loan repayment, the donor’s initial dollars are ‘re-circulated, re-used, and re-invested in more and more students for decades.’
With the $8000 loan repaid, Hasan now is on ACC’s monthly donor roster because he knows that some other student out there may have to leave school because of financial need.
To learn more about A Continuous Charity or to apply for a student loan visit http://continuouscharity.org [*Name changed for privacy]