UK to encourage Islamic mortgages

Mortgage application

Leading banks prepare to launch special home-loans

Andrew Verity

The BBC has learned of moves by the Treasury and the Bank of England to encourage Islamic mortgages, investments and current accounts in Britain.

With the number of well-to-do British Muslims growing, many are avoiding buying homes.

Mortgage application

Many Muslims are renting their homes

That is because it is against Islamic law to borrow or lend at a rate of interest.

Now it has emerged that at least three leading banks are preparing to launch special home loans that get round the problem by avoiding charging interest.

But they need the Treasury to change the rules to make their plans viable.


Gathering at the Ar-Rum social club in the City of London are successful British Muslims who want to enjoy the fruits of their work without ditching their beliefs.

They have got the resources for a conventional mortgage, but they would not do that because it does not comply with their religious beliefs

Aftab Siddiqui

Here the drinks are soft, the food is halal and the entertainment is clean.

But when it comes to finance, British Muslims are in a constant dilemma.

Under Islamic law - Sharia - you cannot lend or borrow at a rate of interest.

Either you break the law, or you do not get a mortgage.

"If you follow the strict law of Islam, you should not be giving interest and you should not be receiving interest," said one.

"Living in the Western society, it becomes extremely, extremely difficult to avoid."

"It's a necessary evil," said another.

Growing market

Market research from Datamonitor shows the number of wealthy British Muslims is growing.

Led by HSBC, British banks are now trying to devise mortgages for them that avoid charging interest.

Aftab Siddiqui is the British head of iHilal, a Dubai-based finance house that helps banks market home loans that comply with the Sharia.

"There is this problem that they have got the resources available to get a conventional mortgage, but they would not do that because that does not comply with their religious beliefs or Islamic lifestyle," he said.

"That has been an issue of concern for them and they are still living in a rented property."

How does it work?

With Islamic mortgages, the bank might buy a 90% share of the home while the homebuyer buys 10%.

The homebuyer borrows nothing, but pays a rent instead, only some of which will go straight to the bank.

The rest goes towards gradually buying the bank out of its share of the property.

These home loans do comply with the Sharia, said the Islamic scholar, Dr Zaki Badawi of the Muslim college in Ealing, west London.

"You may say; 'but that's very much like the other companies', [but] there is one difference which is very important," he said.

"Supposing he failed to pay and we're going to sell the house. If I am a bank, a Muslim bank, lending to a Muslim, sharing with him, I am not going to sell the house in the way that it is sold now, by putting it in an auction and selling it at the easiest and the fastest price."


The question these new financial services will raise is whether or not ordinary Muslims will be interested.

Amer al-Ali, who runs a halal takeaway at a west London market, was sceptical about Islamic mortgages.

"Here in Europe - England, France, anywhere in Europe - you must deal with all these things the same way as other people," he said.

For now, Islamic mortgages are only for the wealthy.

Because the bank takes ownership of the property before the homebuyer does, two sets of stamp duty are paid.

On his own initiative, the Bank of England governor, Sir Edward George, has met Islamic bankers and the Treasury has set up a working party to look at whether that can be changed.

The hope is that by next year, affordable Islamic mortgages will be a reality.





Monday, 28 January, 2002, 12:52 GMT

University's Islamic research tie-up

Banner exchange after singing ceremony

Prof El-Awaisi (right) heads the institute

A Scottish university is aiming to boost UK understanding of Islamic affairs and to research the role of Muslims in Scotland.

Now, at a time of heightened international tension, it is more important than ever for Abertay to do what it can to foster greater understanding between the world's major faiths

Abertay Dundee's principal, Bernard King

Under a five-year deal the Al-Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Dundee is becoming a division of the University of Abertay Dundee's school of social and health sciences.

The institute has been given financial backing by Shaikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai and minister of industry and finance in the United Arab Emirates.

It is converting a former school and college building in the centre of Dundee into premises for research and postgraduate teaching in the culture and history of Islam.

Abertay's principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Bernard King, said: "Not only is the Al-Maktoum Institute the first academic initiative of its kind in Scotland, it is also a uniquely important development for Britain.


"Now, at a time of heightened international tension, it is more important than ever for Abertay to do what it can to foster greater understanding between the world's major faiths."

The Al-Maktoum Institute, under the leadership of Professor Abd al-Fattah El-Awaisi, was "the perfect vehicle" for this.

Such cross-cultural developments were essential to meet Scotland's global business aspirations, he added.

Although this has been given added impetus since 11 September, talks have been going on for about a year.

The institute intends to offer a masters degree and postgraduate diploma course in Islamic studies and "Islamic Jerusalem" studies.

It hopes to recruit about 20 students for courses beginning this autumn.

The university will validate the courses.


In the future, research degrees are planned in a range of specialist fields related to Islamic studies.

Abertay's courses will be taught in English by specialist staff of the institute, who will be appointed to honorary positions at the university.

Professor El-Awaisi himself has been made an Honorary professor in Arabic and Islamic studies.

"We are very excited about the potential offered by our close relationship with Abertay," he said.

"The university has a proud track record of multi-cultural recruitment both in Scotland and in its overseas activities, and I am convinced that this partnership will be of great benefit to both institutions and to Scottish and Muslim society at large."

Other universities already offer Islamic studies, usually combined with another subject.

Little-known community

Professor El-Awaisi also wants to investigate Scotland's Muslims, and says links with the local community will be very important.

"This will be a completely new area of research," he says.

"For instance, no-one knows the exact number of Muslims there are in Scotland, and the history of the community has never been studied."

The separate focus on "Islamic Jerusalem" is designed, according to Abertay, to contribute to better international understanding of the background to one of the world's longest-running areas of tension.

MP's backing

The MP for Dundee West, Ernie Ross, went to school in what is now the institute's base.

He has been closely involved in the discussions which led to its being set up.

"I think it's a very exciting development," he said, "and to my knowledge its the first time a British university has established such close links with the modern Arabic world.

"Here in Dundee we now have Christianity and Islam working side by side, and this institute has a key role to play in teaching students about the history and culture of Islam."








High Street bank offers Islamic mortgage

A house with a sold sign outside

Some Muslims choose to pay for houses in cash

HSBC has become the first major UK bank to offer mortgages that comply with Islamic law.

Under Islamic law, the receipt and payment of interest is forbidden.

As a result some of Britain's two million Muslims have chosen not to take out conventional mortgages or open bank accounts.

This can leave them having to pay in cash for large purchases, such as houses.

Lease back

Under the HSBC scheme, the bank buys the property and leases it back to the customer over an agreed term.

It would make a real difference if there were more products on the market ... then there would be more choice for Muslims

Waseem Taj

Find out more about Islamic mortgages

The customer makes monthly payments made up of rent and contributions towards the purchase price.

HSBC owns the property until customers have made their final payment.

Crucially, at no stage is the customer paying interest - the paying of 'rent' is seen as a fair payment for use of the property rather than a charge for borrowing money.

In addition, HSBC is launching an Islamic law-compliant current account, which has no overdraft or credit card facility.

Money paid into the current account will be administered in accordance with Islamic law and not used for generating interest.

The current account and mortgage products are to be introduced in selected HSBC branches from 14 July.

Huge market

Previously only relatively small institutions such as the National Bank of Kuwait and the West Bromwich Building Society have offered tailored Islamic financial products for UK customers.

Some (Muslims) are wracked with guilt because they have broken Islamic law

Iqbal Asaria, Muslim Council of Great Britain

Last year a report from market analyst Datamonitor estimated that demand for Islamic mortgages in the UK was so strong that gross advances could reach 4.5bn ($7bn) in 2006.

According to Iqbal Asaria, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Great Britain, HSBC's move is long overdue.

"Some (Muslims) are wracked with guilt because they have broken Islamic law. While others' values are beyond question, they are more pragmatic in order to keep a roof over their family's head.

"HSBC's initiative frees them from this dilemma and is the first step to delivering a level playing field for Muslims seeking financial solutions in the UK."