Source: The New York Times
Until a stranger without an appointment showed up one day in late 2001, Stephen L. Ranzini was feeling rather pleased with himself. University Bank here, which he led as president, had just won a national award for community service. The honor attested to Mr. Ranzini’s success in working with local black ministers and a nonprofit agency to increase home-ownership in African-American neighborhoods.
Then, disturbing the aura of satisfaction, a well-dressed man arrived and insisted on seeing the president. “If your bank is so outstanding for community service,” the visitor said, as Mr. Ranzini recently recalled, “how come you’re not servicing my community?”
What community, the banker asked, would that be?
“I’m a Muslim,” the man responded.
Mr. Ranzini started to explain that University Bank already had plenty of Muslim customers, hardly a surprise in a college town in the area of southeast Michigan with the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States.
That answer did not satisfy the visitor. Those Muslims, he said, were paying or earning interest.
“So what?” Mr. Ranzini said. Wasn’t interest sort of the whole point of what banks did?
Over the next 10 minutes, Mr. Ranzini, a Roman Catholic executive who had grown up in the vanilla suburbs of New Jersey, started an education that would ultimately transform an otherwise conventional hometown bank into a national leader in the growing specialty of Islamic finance. This year, the bank won an award from the American Bankers Association largely for its service to Muslim clients.
University Bank now has an entire subsidiary devoted to financial products that comply with Muslim religious law, or Shariah. It has done nearly $80 million in Islamically approvable “mortgage-alternative” financing for residential and commercial real estate in 15 states.