Androscoggin Bank's Portland location. Credit: Courtesy of Androscoggin Bank

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set news policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.

Following government regulatory reform, a business is offering a new product tailored to its local community and customer base. That should be cheered by conservatives.

It shouldn’t change because the word “Islam” appears in the press reports.

Like all faiths, Islam has certain beliefs and tenets. How those get applied to the real, modern world likely depends on the specifics of your denomination, sect, tradition or what have you.  

All three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — have teachings about the charging or payment of interest on loans. The specifics are complex.

However, some Islamic schools of thought hold that payment of any interest whatsoever is sinful.  

Enter Androscoggin Savings Bank.  

It is not secret that there is a significant Muslim community in Lewiston, the bank’s hometown. And it is no secret that the modern United States is built upon financial foundations. From home ownership to starting a business to credit cards, loans are part of everyday life.

So, if your faith makes it impossible to take out conventional loans, your American Dream will remain out of reach. Right?

Not exactly.

Androscoggin Bank began offering “no-interest” loans that are compliant with some schools of Islamic thought. But there is a distinction between “no-interest” and “no-cost.” These loan products have other amounts — fees and the like — baked in so that the bank can earn a return on its investment.

As long as these alternative financial products are open to non-Muslims — and they are — this should be another milestone in the tradition of the American market meeting the needs of those with deeply held religious beliefs.

If you look at your refrigerator’s instruction manual, you will probably find a way to set it to “Sabbath mode.” American business found a way to meet religious requirements followed by some observant Jews.

Catholics (and some others) are supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays. If your business is selling hamburgers, that presents a market problem. So one enterprising entrepreneur — a McDonald’s franchisee — found a way to answer the challenge. We now know it as the Filet-O-Fish.  

The interplay between religious belief and economics leads to creative outcomes. The interplay between faith and politics is even more complex. The recent Bangor Daily News reporting on the “inside baseball” required to enact the controversial abortion bill highlights the tension.

The bishop of the Diocese of Portland was unyielding in his opposition to the proposal. That is a tenet of Catholic faith.

Some Democrats with more rural backgrounds challenged the progressive wing of their party on the policy. They were derided as “older white guys.” Nevermind that several of them happened to be Catholic.

Meanwhile, two House Democrats are Muslim women. Democratic leaders made a point to acknowledge that abortion is a “difficult issue” in Islam. It appears as if their faith was treated more tenderly than that of those “older white guys.”

Yet two wrongs don’t make a right.

Where it is wrong for Democrats to seemingly dismiss sincerely held articles of faith of “older white guys” while accommodating Muslim women, so too is it wrong to attack a Maine business for finding a creative way to offer their products to a religious, immigrant community.

One of the greatest attributes of the United States is the freedom to believe as you will. One of the ingredients in our national prosperity is the creativity that comes from trying to give people products and services they want.

Meeting people of faith — whatever it might be — where they are is a good strategy in business. You can heat up your Filet-O-Fish in an oven set to Sabbath mode if you don’t believe me.

And meeting people of faith where they are, with respect and without “difficult issues,” is a good strategy to win at the ballot box.

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.