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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora