Muslim College opens in America
Why not? There are Christian colleges and many Jewish colleges.
Not being an advocate of any religion and strongly advocating a society in which people can believe as they wish, the opening of the first Muslim college in America is surely news.
It allows for a campus environment that is supportive of student beliefs. The trouble with Islam, as we see in the world today, there are radical believers and the faith is based on practices that discriminate against women. Further, the faith contains ideas that may be interpreted as being intolerant of others.
The jury is out on whether or not Islam can evolve as an acceptable partner in society. Frankly, I am hoping that all society evolves beyond mythology and gets down to the business of addressing human needs here on earth.
“America's First Muslim College Opens This Fall
US institution hopes to cultivate native-born Islamic scholars
Lonny Shavelson | Berkeley, California 03 August 2010
A visit to the campus reveals a pretty standard California college scene.
Students walk across a sunny courtyard into classrooms, pick seats next to friends. But on this campus, the women sit on opposite sides of the auditorium from the men, who are mostly heavily bearded, heads covered in skull caps. Only one woman's hair is visible. The rest wear modest Islamic scarves.
Students (from left to right) Waqas Ahmed, Sifat Reazi and Armaan Siddiqi consult with teacher Souhad Zendah (standing).
The language in this classroom is Arabic. Zaytuna College is offering summer language classes in preparation for its official fall opening. The college emphasizes a rigorous general education in American history, anthropology, philosophy, literature, political science, but a major portion of its required curriculum is devoted to the study of Islam and the Koran.
"We want to manifest Islam in a way that's compatible with America," says Imam Zaid Shakir, who founded Zaytuna and is also a professor.
Homegrown Muslim scholars
He says that most teachers of Islam in America come from other countries - like Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt. So, even though there are millions of American Muslims, the religion can seem foreign here. But teachers at Zaytuna, says the imam, will be like him.
Zaytuna College is offering summer language classes in preparation for its official fall opening. (left to right) David Burkhart and Shahid Bhuihan
"People who are trained and educated right here, who understand the nuances and complexities of our society. And who also are comfortable with their Americanness on the one hand and comfortable with Islam on the other hand."
Zaytuna follows a historic tradition of religion-based American colleges.
"Harvard and Princeton and Yale. The universities founded here have been founded by religious denominations," says Dr. Michael Higgins, who studies the relationship between religion and higher education.
Bracing for opposition
Although religion-based colleges are common in the U.S., Higgins fears potential protests against an Islamic college in the post-911 era, where there is growing public perception that Islam is a religion that condones, and teaches, violence and intolerance.
"I think there will be a lot of fear or apprehension around the establishment of a college that adheres to Islam. If it becomes a madrasa or a college of inculcation only, that could be hugely problematic."
But Shakir says voices of opposition to the college reflect a minority opinion in the United States and are a response to a highly visible, but very small, fringe group within the Islamic
"Because you see these foiled bomb plots, a lunatic fringe," says Shakir. "And I think this is why Zaytuna College is so important. If we prove ourselves, even those more vocal critics will be silenced. It's up to us. The ball is in our court."”
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