Guest Post: Sh. Mohamed Hussein
Sh. Mohamed Hussein is a community leader in the greater DC metro area. A Hafiz of the Quran, he is also a graduate of the Islamic University of Medina in Hadith, George Mason University in Biology, and is a classically trained student of the Shafi’ school of Islamic law. Actively involved in youth outreach and community education, he currently serves as the youth director at Dar al Noor (MAV) in Manassas, Virginia. This article and the advice here hold a lot of weight due to Sh. Mohamed having both dealt with this issue personally and advised many of his siblings and peers on the subject matter.
Ten Tips for Muslims with Student Debt
As freshman commence their journeys, sophomores return for another year, juniors pray they can make it to senior year and seniors struggle with senioritis, it’s time for all of us to take a step back and learn so that gaining education doesn’t cost us the rest of our lives.
We must ask ourselves a few questions:
- How do I avoid debt in general?
- As a Muslim, how do you avoid incurring student loan debts?
- Isn’t it too late? Shouldn’t I have been saving for the past 20 years?
These are all legitimate questions that we should genuinely be asking ourselves. For decades, Muslim students have been graduating and earning degrees from institutions of higher education and during this time they have witnessed the cost of education increase exponentially. Just speak to your parents. When they hear how much school is going to cost this upcoming year, they are baffled.
Most of us don’t have a college fund waiting for us (hopefully our children will, so start planning now). So how are we as Muslims supposed to deal with the immense burden of college tuition? How do we ensure that in the process of gaining an education, we don’t dig a hole that requires 20-30 years to climb out of? Here are some tips from someone who has been able to graduate debt free in 2014 from an American University:
1- Understand the reality of Debt and Islam’s position on it.
Abu Hurairah (RAA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah said, “A believer‘s soul remains suspended according to his debt until it is settled or paid off on his behalf”. Related by Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi.
Before you go into debt, do some research on it. Find out what types of debts you may incur as a student. Read stories about how it’s destroyed the lives of so many people. Next, take some time to focus on the Qur’an and the Sunnah and study the verses and Hadiths pertaining to debt. Do you really want to be that person referred to in the hadith above? If you are a junior or senior, start planning from now to schedule your payments and save during your grace period so that you your debt doesn’t grow. Make a plan, stick to it.
2- Ask Allah to protect you from debt as the Prophet used to ask:
“O Allah I seek refuge in You from worry and grief, I seek refuge in You from hopelessness and laziness, I seek refuge in You from miserliness and cowardice and I seek refuge in You from overwhelming debt and from the force of men”
– Related by Abu Dawud
“O Allah, save me from haram and make the halal sufficient and by your boon/favor make me independent from others”
-Related by Tirmidhi
Remember to make these supplications as often as possible, preferably every morning and evening.
3- Start with discussing options with your family
During your junior year of high school and even earlier if possible, sit down with your parents to discuss your future. Shura (consultation) is a major concept encouraged in the Quran. Be sure to get advice and recommendations from your parents, guidance counselors, and peers.
Before you take your SATs, Pre-SATs, ACTs or set your sights and become attached to any college in particular have all your bases covered. Discuss in-state/out-of state options, accommodations, textbooks, transportation etc. Most people will realize that going to an out-of-state school is just not worth it unless you have a full-ride scholarship or are a hedge-fund baby. As eager as you are to go out on our own, living with your parents is always the cheaper option (even if they make you pay rent!) Moving out may be a nice way to acquire responsibility, but considering what you’re already paying in tuition, you may want to find other ways to achieve this.
4- Make a list of people who are willing to help
In your pursuit of education, you’ll need help along the way. Write down the names of ten people that are willing to help, but won’t press you for the money until you have graduated and find a stable job. These people should also be willing to forgive you if you can never pay it back (Read what Islam says about this too).
5- Get a Job!
The notion that you can’t work and go to school is a myth! You just need to manage your time better, sleep a little less and your social life might be required to take a backseat but the knowledge that your first check is actually yours once you’ve graduated will make it worthwhile. Always look for on campus jobs, preferably through the university. They will be more considerate of your class schedule and study needs around test time.
6- Pack your lunch!
This may sound cliché but you can save yourself hundreds of dollars and calories every semester by doing this. This will undoubtedly add up throughout the course of your study and give you a surplus to pay for the essentials.
7- Arrange transportation
Carpool as often as possible and split costs with your friends. This will likely save you money on gas, parking permits, time by using the HOV lanes and most likely get you a reserved spot. Additionally, you’ll be reducing your ecological footprint! Live close enough? Ride a bike. Walk. Get out and move. You’ll be healthier, happier, and richer because of it.
8- Avoid campus bookstores!
Never buy a textbook from there unless you absolutely have to! Don’t purchase a book just because the professor outlined it in the syllabus and bolded required or recommended next to it. Attend classes for the first few weeks to gauge the course and the instructor to determine if the book is requisite. Better yet, ask a friend who took the course if it’s necessary. If you can’t wait this long then try borrowing the book from a friend, downloading the PDF version, buying the book online, or purchasing an older edition of the textbook.
9- Scholarships and grants
Apply for as many scholarships and grants as humanly possible! This entails keeping your grades up and focusing on what really matters. There are tons of websites that are regularly updated with accurate information that you can use to search for scholarships and grants. Collegeboard.com, fastweb.com and scholarshipmonkey.com are just some of several examples. This search should begin midway through high school and should carry this practice through your four years in college. Continue to fine tune your essays and have your teachers, professors and financial aid advisors at your schools, colleges and universities look over them for you. Never belittle or overlook any amount. Approach a $250 grant with the same attitude as you would approach the $5000 grant. Personalize your search and look for niche scholarships that you may qualify for. As a Muslim you may want to check out the Islamic Scholarship Fund, Dr. AbdulMumin A. Shakir scholarship or one of CAIR’s many scholarships. Speak with friends, family member and anyone else who will give you any useful information. Be strategic, be smart and plan ahead because searching for a scholarship is about as tedious as searching for a job and guess what? Both pay!
10- Take a break!
If school is still too expensive, consider taking some time off to work to save up. It’ll give you a renewed purpose and students tend to focus a little better when they are paying for classes out-of-pocket.
Graduating debt free requires considerable amounts of sacrifice on your part and support from those around you. Obtaining an education equivalent to your peers (who are buried in debt) without incurring debt yourself will require you to work much more diligently than they do. May Allah provide for us all and protect us from the horror of debt.