Gulf African Bank is the first bank in Kenya to be fully compliant with Sharia -- Islamic law. The bank's products and services are based on Islamic principles, especially the ban on charging interest. The bank is gaining popularity among Muslims, said to be 10 percent of Kenya's 37 million people. Non-Muslims like it too. Cathy Majtenyi files this report for VOA from Kenya's capital.

This branch of Gulf African Bank is in a neighborhood of Nairobi known as Eastleigh.

Abdi Sahal is withdrawing money from his account.

Many of Eastleigh's residents are Muslims who moved here from Somalia.

Sahal says he and his neighbors are happy they no longer have to do business at conventional banks or hide their money in their homes. 

"Really, Eastleigh has not had an Islamic bank before," Sahal said. "We are a Muslim community in Eastleigh. We did not like to have business transactions with other banks because they have interest. When this bank came, we felt great."

Gulf African Bank is fully Sharia compliant, the first bank in Kenya to qualify. That means the bank does not charge interest. Its products and services comply with Islamic law.

Islamic banks do not lend cash to their customers. Rather they supply customers with the assets they need.  

"Instead of giving you a lending, the bank would say, 'Fine, you want to buy a house, we could do a partnership with you, we will become your partner (to) buy a house'," explains Najmul Hassan, the CEO of Gulf African Bank. "You want to buy some raw materials for your factory, we would buy that and sell it to you on a deferred payment."

Hassan says that the house, car, or other assets are co-owned by the bank and the customer until the customer repays the loan.  Built into the price of an asset is a small percentage that the Islamic bank refers to as profit, not interest.

Customers with accounts at the bank receive a share of the bank's profits according to a pre-arranged formula.  Gulf African Bank and other Islamic banks do not finance goods or services considered immoral, including consumption of alcohol and gambling.

Scholars representing different Islamic schools of thought sit on the bank's Sharia board.

Islamic banks are gaining a foothold in Kenya, with non-Muslims too.  

Fathia Mahbub works at the Eastleigh branch. 

"Without us even advertising, at times they just come," Mahbub said. "We open almost 10, 15, 20 accounts in a day. They just feel like, 'We belong here'. "

For CEO Hassan, banking any other way is not an option.

"Be conscious of God. If you are conscious of Him, you will always not try and see, what is my gain in it, what is in it for me every time? Maybe there is nothing in it for me. But what is in it for me is the fact that I am conscious, that I personally am trying to do something good and God is looking at me," Hassan stated.