The mortgage industry may be in meltdown, but at least one class of lender appears to be flourishing: Islamic finance companies that offer Muslim home buyers alternative arrangements such as lease-to-own deals so they can avoid making the sort of interest payments that many believe their religion forbids.
Officials at Guidance Residential, a Reston company that has financed more than 5,000 home purchases since it began in 2002, said the company is having its best year yet, with business up 7 percent in the first quarter of 2008 from the first quarter of 2007.
At University Islamic Financial, which began in Ann Arbor, Mich., and expanded its operations to Maryland, Virginia and five other states last year, officials said the number of home-financing applications quadrupled from last March to this March.
Representatives of the four major Islamic home-finance institutions in the United States said they do not track the reasons customers choose them over conventional mortgage brokers. Several speculated that it was due to the natural growth of what is still a fledgling retail industry, as well as two side effects of the mortgage crisis: The drop in prices in many regions has brought homes back within reach of first-time buyers, who make up a sizable chunk of Islamic financiers' customers. And the drumbeat of negative publicity about the practices of subprime mortgage lenders has amplified the distrust and discomfort the conventional mortgage industry already inspired in many Muslims.
"Folks have to be questioning the methods used by conventional mortgage companies over the last three or four years based on what's happening today," said Hussam A. Qutub, a spokesman for Guidance. "And I think that makes more people think, 'Well what about the emergence of this [Islamic-] compliant financing industry? Let me give it a look and educate myself about it to see if it could perhaps be more beneficial to me.' "
That was the prevailing sentiment among potential customers who approached an advertising booth staffed by Guidance representatives at the annual spring fair held by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling on a recent weekend. . .
Rizwan Jaka, 35, president of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and one of the first to buy a home with Islamic financing in the Washington area, also said the emergence of such arrangements constitutes an important milestone in the integration of Muslims in the American mainstream.
"It definitely marks a coming of age for us. . . . It's part of the whole process of being a part of this country while being able to have our faith accommodated," he said. "The American dream is to purchase a house, and the American Muslim dream is to be able to do so in an Islamic manner." (MORE)