News / USA

America's First Muslim College Opens This Fall

US institution hopes to cultivate native-born Islamic scholars

Teacher Souhad Zendah leads students through a lesson at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California.
Teacher Souhad Zendah leads students through a lesson at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California.

Multimedia

Audio
Lonny Shavelson

A new college started classes this summer in Berkeley, California.

Zaytuna College's motto is, "Where Islam meets America." It's the first Muslim college in the United States.

College campus

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).
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
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 community.

(From left to right) Linda Amrou and Amirah Al-Gaheem study at Zaytuna College in California.
(From left to right) Linda Amrou and Amirah Al-Gaheem study at Zaytuna College in California.

"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."

Proving themselves

Holding that ball right now are Zaytuna's incoming students, who find themselves not only studying at Zaytuna, but also defending it.

"Islamaphobia's so entrenched at this point in this country, that for Muslims to do anything at this point there's some level of defense that has to take place. That's not to say that we should have to defend ourselves," says     Dustin Craun, 30, a  convert to Islam. He's already earned a bachelor's degree but feels his traditional college education missed something fundamental.

"The beauty of Islamic knowledge is that it balances between the mind and the heart and the soul," he says.

At the end of the day's classes, Shakir prays for the success of the students who will be the first graduates from the first American Islamic college.

He says Islam has never become rooted in any land until that land had its own Islamic scholars. And that, he says, is precisely the goal of Zaytuna College.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid