LONDON, England (CNN) — Western Europe’s first retail bank built around Islamic law, or Sharia, has opened for business in London.
The Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB), which does not permit the paying or charging of interest fees, began operation Wednesday with the goal of attracting Muslims and non-Muslim alike.
The IBB says three-quarters British Muslims practice their faith, giving the new bank more than one million ready-made customers.
Kolsum Bukhari-Butt is the type of customer the new bank is looking for.
Like many Muslims, Bukhari-Butt wants to run a business and follow her faith.
She believes her westernized Muslim Hijabs, or head scarves, could be a big seller in Britain — if only she could get a start-up loan from a bank that will not change interest.
“I’ve had huge interest from the Muslim community. They want to buy the scarves. The only problem is, I do need to borrow some money,” she said.
Still, the IBB admits its savings accounts and mortgage products will have to be competitive to catch on.
“We just want to make sure the product is competitive in terms of pricing, whether is a deposit product or whether its a financing product,” said IBB spokesman Waheed Qaiser.
“Because the customer will only come to us if we are able to offer a product which is not only Sharia compliant, but also competitive.”
Instead of giving interest on savings accounts, Sharia banks buy and sell properties and commodities and shares any profits with investors.
Sharia banks will not do business with companies like weapons manufacturers and tobacco makers.
“This is not a bank solely for Muslims,” Michael Hanlon, the IBB’s managing director. “The proposition we are putting onto the market is going to be marketed out there as an alternative to conventional banking.”
The IBB plans to open another dozens branches in Britain over the next year and hopes to soon expand through Europe.
And if that proves successful, the IBB could open branches in the Middle East.