College Loans Without Interest

ACC Helps Students Achieve Higher Education Goals

By Hamza Mohammed

Jan/Feb 2024

According to the Common Application, more than 1.2 million students in the U.S. applied to four-year colleges for the 2023 academic year. To pay tuition, many of them turn to student loans, which often come with high interest rates. As a result, many Muslim students struggle to find a way to pay for higher education while avoiding riba. Unfortunately, some find themselves forced to forgo their pursuit.

According to a March 2023 Forbes report, each year it’s common to see students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds applying to college. About 54% of applicants hailed from the most affluent 20% of ZIP codes, compared to just 7% from the bottom quintile.

The Texas-based A Continuous Charity (ACC; seeks to solve this problem by providing interest-free loans. The organization, which receives funds directly from donors as well as through local fundraisers, helps Muslim college students achieve their goals of higher education. 

Founded by a Community

Dr. Athar Haq founded ACC in 2013. Having received a loan from his parents to cover his costs while pursuing his medical school degree, he wondered why this process couldn’t be replicated on the community level. Thus, he and a group of friends began to lend money to Muslim students in need of loans. As the loans were repaid, they would lend the received money to the next student in line. 

Seeking to support more Muslim students through halal interest-free loans, they formalized their model and registered ACC as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Over their almost 10-year existence, ACC has gone nationwide and has branches in Illinois, California, Florida, Ohio and other states.

This year, ACC is celebrating its 10th anniversary. As of this date, it has prevented over $3 million from being paid in interest and provided over $5.5 million in educational support to 400 students nationwide.

Local Benefits with Local Rewards 

ACC loans are available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents attending a college or a four-year institution, working on a master’s or doctorate program or enrolled in a professional doctorate program in the U.S. They are also open to students who are starting their higher education, those who require more financial support to complete their degree, as well as those who have completed their higher education but have an outstanding amount of interest-based loans.

In the last application cycle, ACC received about 250 applicants — this number increases each year. Recipients are chosen based on many factors, among them merit, quest for Islamic knowledge, need for the loan and community involvement. 

“We envision that ACC awardees are attached to the Muslim community and are highly likely to re-invest their time and talent back to enriching the community,” stated Hakeemah Cummings (outreach and partnerships specialist, ACC).

As part of the application process, interviews are conducted over the phone or by video conferencing. The loan amount given to each student is based on the strength of his or her application, the amount requested and the amount of funds raised by ACC during that calendar year. Once awarded, the loan is paid directly to the applicant’s financial or educational institutions. Priority is given to those students who apply in an area where local fundraising takes place. ACC calls this “local benefits with local rewards” and seeks to reward the community’s generosity by prioritizing this benefit.

The Structure of Loans and Refinancing

ACC works to ensure that paying back the loan doesn’t become a burden by creating a personalized repayment plan for each successful applicant.

“We aim to make it easier on students,” said Cummings. “The maximum length of a loan from ACC is four years. Loan amounts are calculated based on the amount that a student will be able to pay back over the term considering their income and field of study. ACC works with every student to create an individual timeline and repayment schedule that works with these and other factors.”

ACC works with students who are unable to pay their loans due to extenuating circumstances by reassessing their loan payment schedule. If they cannot repay their loans due to becoming eligible for zakat, ACC has a limited capacity to forgive their loans with the zakat donations they receive. In addition to providing loans to students seeking a higher education, ACC also offers options to refinance existing student loans during their application cycle. 

The Legacy Fund

For those seeking a continuous donation opportunity, a sadaqa jariya (ongoing charity), ACC created the Legacy Fund. 

When the organization receives the donation, it loans that money to a student seeking higher education. As the money is paid back, it is then recycled to provide a loan for another student. Thus, the donation becomes a continuous source of reward for the donor, for it continues to be given over and over as each student benefits from it. ACC requires a minimum of $10,000 to start a legacy fund and sets up the fund once it receives the money. A legacy fund can also be started in honor of another person.

ACC believes not only in helping current students achieve their higher education goals through interest-free loans, but also in being prepared to help the next generation of students. As a result, the organization is establishing an endowment: the ACC Waqf . 

To achieve this as well as its other goals, ACC’s members hope to convince 100,000 individuals to donate $10 a month. They believe in the “power of numbers” and that receiving this small donation from supporters will enable them to reach their $10 million endowment fund goal quickly. 

Student Reflections

Ismael Gad, a student at the University of Ohio’s Knowlton School of Architecture, is working on his master’s in landscape architecture. He first found out about ACC at its booth during the MAS-ICNA Convention in Chicago. While pursuing his degree, Gad was one of only a few students selected to receive an Architectural Research Travel Award through his school. This award allowed him to research the landscape and culture, as well as to meet with the residents of Battir village in Palestine during the summer of 2023.

The ARTA grant is structured to reimburse a student only after the trip has been completed. The ACC loan thus helped alleviate Gad’s burden of paying for the trip until the university reimbursed him so he could focus on the experience.

“The application was relatively easy, compared to other applications I have filled out,” Gad said. “It didn’t feel painful at all. I would definitely recommend ACC to other students in need of an interest-free loan.”

Christopher Azdar, a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent School of Law pursuing a Juris Doctor degree, found out about ACC in late 2020 while searching for scholarships and grants to help cover the cost of law school. He considered ACC to be unique in terms of why applicants are trying to avoid riba and how their quest for Islamic knowledge can help them pursue higher education. 

“The application was very easy to navigate, and the ACC team was very responsive when I had questions,” he remarked. “The loan has been an additional push for me to continue to excel inside and outside of the classroom.”

After submitting all the necessary documents and completing the interview, Azdar received the loan, as well as loans throughout the last three years of his education. 

Azdar stated that this loan has been very important to him, because as an undocumented person (DACA) he is ineligible for many scholarship opportunities. These loans helped him attend law school while avoiding unwanted debt and interest. In addition, he didn’t have to delay his education to raise the money himself.

“Their approach to support the next generations is very forward-thinking. In order to have a strong ummah, we need Muslims in all areas and that means we need to support them in every step to get there. ACC provides the support needed to allow many students to pursue their education in a halal way,” said Azdar. “ACC has created the infrastructure to help support students, but it is up to the community to help support ACC however we can. Even with small donations and raising awareness, we can help build future leaders in all areas.“

Hamza Mohammed, an avid reader who attends Farragut High School in Tennessee, enjoys writing in his free time.

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