When choosing the right college to attend, not many people think of an Islamic college. That’s about to change. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, two prominent Muslim scholars, are planning to create the first accredited Islamic college in the United States, to be called Zaytuna College. The goal of the college is to teach Arabic and Islamic studies in the context of American culture. The founders argue that the Muslim American community is in need of scholars who not only are familiar with American culture, but actually come out of it and thus will be much more in tune with the needs of the community.
The seeds of the college were already in the works with Zaytuna Institute, an educational nonprofit organization started by Yusuf in 1996. The institute offers classes on Islamic studies and this past summer offered an immersion Arabic program that drew Muslim and non-Muslim students from all over the United States. Yusuf and Shakir (who joined the institute in 2003) argue that the time has come to have an institution that establishes a place for Islam and religion in general on the American landscape.
Zaytuna College, which will encourage interfaith understanding by opening its doors to anyone regardless of religion, faces a number of obstacles, the most critical of which is raising enough money. Beyond the current world economic crisis and the challenges of college fundraising in general, the US government crackdown on some Muslim organizations has made many Muslims wary of donating money. Yusuf and Shakir seek accreditation for the college, a process that will require examining the college funds. They believe that this process will alleviate the fears of Muslims and show the non-Muslim community the true intent of the college.
For many Muslims, an accredited Islamic college is the next step for the Muslim American community because education and intellectual pursuit are necessary to dispel stereotypes and build bridges.
What do you think of religious colleges? Do they create more tolerance or not? Would you consider attending an Islamic college? Why or why not? Should all religious groups have this option? Please leave your comments.