It was 10 am, which meant that the time for transactions had officially begun. On a weekday morning in mid June, Anjum, a 42-year-old jewellery seller, arrived at the Al-Khair Cooperative Credit Society’s Delhi branch, in a tall building in Okhla. Clothes-lines ran through the small office, which doubles as a makeshift guest house for visitors from far-off places who need a place to stay.
With 13 branches across India, Al-Khair is an Islamic-finance organisation; it operates according to an ethical framework inspired by Islamic texts and values. Anjum had arrived at the Delhi branch in search of a small loan of Rs 15,000, to purchase raw materials for her jewellery business. She chose to approach Al-Khair instead of a conventional bank, she told me, because conventional banks “take much longer to hand out loans,” and “demand all sorts of written files from poor people.”
Reyaz Ahmad, the branch manager at Al-Khair’s Delhi office, sat down with Anjum to discuss her request. Throughout their conversation, Ahmad highlighted the fact that Al-Khair, like nearly all Islamic-finance outfits, does not charge interest. “Normally, in the case of interest, bankers try to reap benefits—which we don’t do,” Ahmad told me. “Sharia law encourages us to minimise monetary benefits.”