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Seattle wants to help Muslims buy homes
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Seattle is taking strides to make homeownership possible for more Muslim families.

In a plan announced earlier this month, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray outlined the ways his administration expects to triple overall availability of affordable housing and combat skyrocketing prices, ColorLines reported. One part of that strategy, three short sentences within the comprehensive plan, is aimed at some of the citys most underserved residents Muslims.

Muslims who follow Islams unofficial code of ethics, called Sharia Law, are barred from applying for conventional loans because collecting interest is prohibited under Sharia. This situation leaves Muslims who are looking to finance a home with few options.

More than 30,000 Muslims live in Seattle, Arsalan Bukhari of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the Puget Sound Business Journal, but likely only several hundred choose not to borrow money for religious reasons. An advisory board of community leaders, lenders and housing nonprofits is working toward an interest-less workaround for the few who have.

In order to be Sharia-compliant, payment must be tied to a physical asset. As USA Today explained, Instead of interest, investors are being rewarded with a share of the profit derived from the asset. In the case of an Islamic mortgage, a bank buys the property itself. The customer then buys the property back from the bank at a higher price.

Since the 1980s, the Sharia loan industry, on the back of the rapidly growing Muslim population in the west, has ballooned to over $1.6 trillion in assets worldwide. While Sharia-compliant financing is common, it's unusual for city governments to become directly involved.

Faith-based lending isnt unique to Islam, either. As the Wall Street Journal (paywall) reported, some Christian funds avoid investments in companies involved with pornography and abortion. Amana Mutual Funds, tailored to Muslim customers, steer clear of companies in the alcohol, gambling and pork industries.

Still, Seattle residents and national pundits are worried that the measure to help Muslim homeowners is a direct challenge to the separation of church and state. An unofficial poll in PSBJ asked readers what they thought of Seattles plan to help Muslim homeowners. Ninety-two percent selected the choice This is absolutely ridiculous. Doesn't the city have more pressing matters to worry about?

Days later, the popular morning news "Fox & Friends" covered the story with the headline Funding Terror. A critic on the program expressed fear that the initiative would give unfair advantages to Muslims, a sentiment echoed in PSBJs comment sections. Good Magazine countered the criticism, calling the "novel plan" a way to positively impact "not only Muslims, but other low- and moderate-income residents, who are disproportionately people of color."

Murray is pressing forward. His director of the Office of Housing, Steve Walker, told PSBJ that officials will keep working alongside the local Muslim community to find a solution.
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