Riba, Women, and the Western Education System

I know two young women who have exorbitant amounts of college loans with no way to pay them back. There are lots and lots of people like this in the US (that’s why it’s called the college debt crisis), but these two particular people are in my own life.

One woman finished her undergrad, then went on to medical school, and also got her MBA by doing a dual MD-MBA program. Then she went on to do her residency, the final grueling step before finally becoming a practicing licensed doctor.

But she never finished it–she completed only two of her three-year residency program before the immense pressure and prolonged stress gave her a psychological disorder that got her kicked out of the program.

“You are not keeping up,” the head of the residency program told her gravely. “You are not seeing as many patients an hour as you need to be. We have to let you go.”

She was ground up by the system, chewed up, and spit out.

She can’t find a job as a doctor. Completing four-fifths of the medical training is not enough for employers. She is a woman in her mid-thirties with an MD and an MBA but no job. There are too few jobs and too many applicants competing fiercely for them.

And even if there were enough jobs to go around and competition was not cutthroat, she is now too sick to work. Her mental health is in tatters, along with her physical health. She had been healthy before and attributes her illness directly to the unrelenting rigors and unbelievable pressure of medical school. It’s a broken system designed to break people, depriving them of sleep (with regular all-night “graveyard shifts” and forcing med students to eat junk food from vending machines in the hallways of the hospital). It eventually took its toll on her mind and body.

And it took her most youthful years, the best and most carefree time of her life: her late teens, early twenties, into her late twenties and early thirties. The time of peak energy and fertility. Gone. No way to get those precious years back.

But the saddest thing of all is the debt. She has $285,000 of loans to pay back. That’s the cost of a house. But she doesn’t have a house, or a degree either. She is in dire financial straits and in deep depression, with crying episodes and even feelings of impotent rage almost daily.

The loan amount started off closer to $250,000 but keeps increasing daily–to this day– with the accruing interest. Riba is how college loans work. She is sinking deeper and deeper into a huge pit, with no job. She is unemployable but mired in mounting debt. A nightmare.

The other young woman is 30 years old, with a bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts university in New England. She has been struggling to find a job in her field for years and finally found a basic low-paying job as an administrative assistant at the college she attended, in one of their graduate offices. She has about $190,000 in loans to pay back.

We recently had a conversation that was eye-opening, where she told me, “I know a girl who works in the same university office with me. She is one year younger than me (29 years old), and has finished paying off all her college loans and just bought herself a house!”

Surprised, I asked, “What did she major in? What kind of job did she get with that kind of money?”

She said, “Well…she took a different route.”

“Only Fans?” I guessed.

“Close. She went on one of those sugar-daddy websites! There are basically these websites that match women who need money with men who have money but need company and female attention. A woman signs up to be a sugar baby and get with a rich sugar daddy, and they specify the terms of their relationship: what she is and isn’t willing to do, what he will pay, etc. So she made an account there and started seeing these rich men! She was like an escort, always being flown to accompany these men on trips to Paris, London, Milan, etc. She made enough money to pay back all her college loans that way, and more on top of it. She has her own house now.”

This is the western higher-education system.

This is how it works, how it’s designed. It forces people to acquire exorbitant amounts of debt to get a basic four-year bachelor’s degree, and much much more for an advanced degree like an MD, JD, Ph.D., or MBA.
You may or may not finish your degree, but either way, you are stuck with the loans. Trapped with no way out.
Then as soon as you graduate, you race to find a job, anything that pays enough to begin to cover the shocking amounts of money you owe. If you’re lucky, you land a job with a salary that can slowly start to make a dent in the massive mountain of debt you’re carrying.

But–oh no! You have to race against time! There is riba, usury, that is involved. You are forced to pay back as much as you can as quickly as you can, because every day, the interest adds more money to your loans. You end up being forced to pay back three or four times the amount of money you actually received from the lenders. There is a reason why riba is haram; these predatory lending practices and the ever-growing interest system ensure that a person can never really get out of debt. It creates a form of debt slavery which is difficult to escape from.
The worst case scenario is what I started this post with: having the massive loans from an advanced degree that you couldn’t finish due to the stress so you end up totally unemployable but STILL having daily-increasing loans. You are trapped in quicksand, every day sinking more and more deeply into it until you are fully submerged and suffocated.

This college education model is so unforgiving that it has pushed women into literally prostituting themselves. These are the “creative solutions” that some women resort to, faced with the grim reality of debt for the college education they received.

College girls resort to being “aerial dancers” (strippers) in “gentleman’s clubs” and “escorts” (prostitutes) for rich older men if it means paying back their school loans. This is why things like Only Fans are booming: internet prostitution.

This is the real face of western education and its tragic consequences. Not the glamorous sanitized facade of “you need to broaden your horizons and learn critical thinking!” No.

What happens after you do that?

At best, you jump into a hamster wheel of racing against time to pay off your massive loans, delaying marriage, family, and children. Delaying your own happiness as a woman.

At worst…you lose your very iman, your dignity, your honor as a woman.

For men, providing for a wife and kids is an *obligation,* but even men must be careful to steer clear of riba. But for women– who do NOT have an obligation to provide financially– why take such a dangerous risk?
As a Muslim community, we need to be aware of this unsavory underside of education, and pause to reflect before we blindly push *all* our girls and young women into colleges and universities in the name of “championing women’s education!” and “women’s rights!”

We have to mature as a community and move the discussion past the tired cliche of “But the first word of the Quran was Iqra!”

Before you get riled up and the accusations come flying that I am pushing women’s illiteracy (smh) and enabling domestic violence (!!), I invite you to just pause and think:

Are we doing young Muslimas any favors by uncritically, reflexively, blindly pushing them into college and higher education?

Have we critically examined the weight of the hefty riba-based college loans and the impact this predatory debt might have on the trajectory of a Muslima’s life in this dunya and Akhira?

Can we envision or aspire to a better system as Muslims?

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6 COMMENTS

  1. So painful to read subhana Allah. I do not know how can anyone say that muslim women are submissive. I am a muslim woman who has been honored, cherished, protected and looked after by my family and particularly by my father and my husband may Allah grant them jannah. I can’ t believe what the sisters are going through. Allahuma guide us to the right path.

  2. This is amazing.

    I know many sisters who are in large amounts of debt (minimum $160K by graduation) not to mention the interest they will have to pay. Many Muslimahs’ parents heavily emphasized becoming doctors. Once they graduate they have the debt which forces them to focus on career for another 5 to 10 years at least. Many try to marry at this time. Many do get married but it leaves large marital rifts. Wife usually avoids getting pregnant due to career, wife needs to live next to hospital which may be in an undesirable location in terms of family, and is not available for husband. Once kids come along it becomes a bigger problem. I have seen this result in huge rifts in the marriage.

    Some pursue Law too, which can also be very expensive. Here in NYC, most of the schools near by break the bank like NYU and Columbia. I know one sister who declares she is too ugly so she is not interested in marriage, graduated from law school, and I think this could be a non-problem if she spent less time on her career and more on marriage and herself. Of course, very strong feminist especially because private universities are extremely feminist and liberal.

    I know a brother who got into medical school here in NYC, did 2 years, didn’t like it, and transferred to a very lucrative private tutoring business. InshAllah he is paying off his debt, but if someone didn’t have such a great alternative it could’ve gone terrible.

    Parents play off riba. They shouldn’t be allowing children to take interest based loans. I have had conversations with parents and many of them thing the benefits (most of these benefits are dunyah related) of a medical degree far outweighs the evil of riba.

    Interestingly, many more Muslimahs than the brothers are being doctors, here in NYC. Maybe a 2:1 ratio. This is off as the brothers are required more out of their wealth and the sisters should be concerned about marriage and cultivating children. It seems quite the opposite, the men are more excited and in a hurry to make money and get married while the women seeing less pressure to make money focus on graduate level degrees.

    Again, graduating from medical school is just the start. Then she has to pay off the debt. This can take another 10 years of dedication. Furthermore sisters who’ve dedicated this many years of their lives to their career are extremely unlikely to let go of it for any reason whatsoever.

    I know of one occasion where finishing med school was more important than getting married.

  3. Every day I see those same muslim women working in the American hospitals. They are either deeply broken by the cruel and exploitative medical training system, or adapt to the constant conflict of the hospital environment by losing all their feminine qualities.

    I see the careerist women who have abandoned their modesty many years ago, drinking booze, eating pork pizza, flirting openly. They often exceed the American women in shamelessness.

    I see unmarried hijabis hugging their male colleagues, spending the entire day working and chatting with men in dim rooms. Every day their scarves get looser.

    I see the married young muslim girls wearing traditional clothing come in as medical students; but taking commands from disbelievers, unable to keep physical distance from the men, being bossed around all day, and losing their inhibitions when they see tall handsome kuffar in positions of authority.

    Why are we pushing our most delicate and vulnerable dependents into this evil environment?

    —————

    Women are married for their wealth, lineage, beauty, and religion. What high-status man would marry a girl who has -285,000$ debt, estranged from her family, deep into her 30s, and barely clinging onto her religion?

      • Generally it’s women who are from broken homes and/or have little respect for their father. Women who come from healthy Muslim homes do not feel the desire to seek acceptance form kuffaar nor do they desire high powered careers.

        Women who have a strong healthy connection to their father simply carry themselves totally different. They are more relaxed and content with life.

        The women you’re talking about do not like, or even love, their father. It’s a form of rebellion.

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