US Scholars Planning Islamic College

American Islamic scholars plan Muslim US college in tradition of Brandeis, Notre Dame
The Associated Press


A group of American Muslims, led by two prominent scholars, is moving closer to fulfilling a vision of founding the first four-year accredited Islamic college in the United States, what some are calling a “Muslim Georgetown.”

Advisers to the project have scheduled a June vote to decide whether the proposed Zaytuna College can open in the fall of next year, a major step toward developing the faith in America.

Imam Zaid Shakir and Sheik Hamza Yusuf of California have spent years planning the school, which will offer a liberal arts education and training in Islamic scholarship. Shakir, a California native, sees the school in the tradition of other religious groups that formed universities to educate leaders and carve a space in the mainstream of American life.

“As a faith community our needs aren’t any different than the needs of any other faith community,” Shakir told the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals, as he sought donations at a recent conference near Princeton, N.J. “As Muslims, we need to develop institutions to allow us to perpetuate our values.”

Others have tried to start Muslim colleges around New York and Chicago, but those schools remained obscure or quickly folded.

Shakir and Yusuf are believed to have a better chance than most to succeed.

Shakir, an African-American Air Force veteran, and Yusuf, a native of Washington state, are converts who spent years studying with Islamic scholars in North Africa and the Mideast. They speak flawless Arabic and have become widely respected teachers. Yusuf draws thousands of people to his talks and tens of thousands of viewers to his online lectures.

In 1996, Yusuf founded Zaytuna Institute, now based in Berkeley, Calif., which is dedicated to classical Muslim scholarship. Zaytuna means “olive tree” in Arabic.

The institute expanded to provide distance learning, workshops in multiple cities and conferences with prominent scholars. Shakir, a Zaytuna teacher for six years, ran a pilot seminary program from 2004-2008, partly to test the viability of a school. An intensive Arabic language summer course, in its second year, has doubled its enrollment.

“It is far and away the single most influential institution that’s shaping American Muslim thought,” said Omid Safi, an Islamic studies professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “On the one hand they speak so much about being American. On the other hand, they have also plugged these American Muslim students into the global Muslim curriculum, that has all the rigor of traditional Islamic scholarship.”

In earlier years, Shakir and Yusuf had made some anti-American statements, but that rhetoric is not part of their teaching. Zaytuna Institute has clips on its Web site of a lecture by the two scholars called “Curing Extremism.” Following a White House meeting with President George W. Bush soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Yusuf made the now widely repeated comment that “Islam was hijacked” by the terrorists and he has condemned the attackers as “mass murderers.”

A working motto for the school: “Where Islam Meets America.”

Zaytuna College will start with two majors: Arabic language, and Islamic legal and theological studies.

It will not be a seminary, although some graduates could become prayer leaders, or imams. Most U.S. mosques are led by imams from overseas, considered an obstacle to Islam’s development in America.

Other students could go on to start American Muslim nonprofits, or become Islamic scholars through advanced study at other schools, said Hatem Bazian, a Zaytuna adviser who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley and Saint Mary’s College of California.

But administrators aim to teach analytical skills, along with ethics and theology, that can prepare students for many professional careers.

Zaytuna will start in rented space in Berkeley and will seek accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. All faiths will be welcome, academic freedom will be protected, and there will be no separation of men and women, Bazian said.

“It is a daunting task, there is no question about it,” Bazian said. “But I’m completely confident and comforted that almost every major private university began with one classroom and possibly one building and sometimes it was a rented facility to begin with.”

The college needs $2 million to $4 million to launch, a fundraising goal Bazian says organizers will comfortably meet by next year. Zaytuna will soon start raising the tens of millions of dollars needed for an endowment and a capital fund to build a campus in the Bay Area years from now, Bazian said.

Mahmoud Ayoub, a retired professor of Islamic studies Temple University, is among those who don’t support the idea of a U.S. Muslim college, not only because of the enormous expense and risk involved, but also because he believes Muslims are better off attending established American schools. He said U.S. Muslims badly need a seminary since there are none in the country.

“I don’t know that I would send my child to go to a college where they can only learn tradition. Young people have to live,” said Ayoub who has worked with the U.S. State Department, representing America in the Muslim world. “I like mixing people. I don’t like ghettos.”

But Zaytuna considers the state of Muslim scholarship in the West so “anemic” that a crisis is looming. The Muslim community in North America and Europe, now in the millions, is growing, and has few properly trained leaders to guide them.

“Who will talk for the religion?” Shakir asked. “We have to train a generation.”


24 Replies to “US Scholars Planning Islamic College”

  1. may allah make it easy for them but that seems like quite a lot of money…why so much?

    Here in Minnesota we have an Islamic University check it out but by no means is it accredited or is going to be anytime soon

  2. After several hundred years of intellectual bankruptcy in Islamic academic circles, a light emerges, Alhamdulillah.

  3. “I like mixing people. I don’t like ghettos.” what is that suppose to mean. I’ll go out on a limb here and say it was probably taken out of context

    anyways ,sign me up I’m on board

  4. I’m really happy to see Zaytuna make a school. Inshallah this will inspire a school from AlMaghrib as well – heck we can start a muslim sports league with these two schools ;).

  5. “All faiths will be welcome, academic freedom will be protected, and there will be no separation of men and women,” Bazian said.
    Free-mixing is haram in Islam, how could you call it a islamic college.

  6. “and there will be no separation of men and women”

    whoa! – completely missed that. I guess my opinions are different then. Yikes!

  7. Who said anything about “free-mixing,” as if there is going to be some institutional-backed happy hour or dating? The ignorance on these boards is astounding, but not surprising. More reason why Zaytuna College must and will flourish insha’Allah. We need to check our history to really get our minds around the current ignorance on Islam which is cast as “mainstream” today. Do you think the administrators of the Islamic Universities of Cordoba and Baghdad – where the greatest scholars known to mankind at the time, both Muslim and Non-Muslim, men and women, studied Islam along with other academic subject – asked such irrelevant questions as to whether there would be separation of men and women? Much work needs to be done with Allah’s tawfiq, insha’Allah.

  8. Not to insult MR, but you seem to be really slow in uupdating your blog… this story came out two days ago.
    On another note, the “free-mixing” should not be a issue. Its not as if both genders are going to have constant physical contact due to some space limitation… i dont see any reason for awkwardness.

  9. I wish those who are turned off by free mixing classes would seriously get laid already, then you will realize the world is more than just sex.


    “that description refers to the mosque (which doubles as classroom space) in the Zaytuna Institute, and not to the proposed college or its classrooms. When asked about this topic, Bazian said there would be no barriers separating the genders at Zaytuna College but that men and women typically would sit on opposite sides of a classroom because of cultural norms.”

  11. “The ignorance on these boards is astounding, but not surprising.”

    Ahhhhhh… Anonymouse – it’s always nice to hear a friendly remark from you. 😀

  12. “Do you think the administrators of the Islamic Universities of Cordoba and Baghdad – where the greatest scholars known to mankind at the time, both Muslim and Non-Muslim, men and women, studied Islam along with other academic subject – asked such irrelevant questions as to whether there would be separation of men and women?”

    Uhhhh – I’m going to take a wild guess…….YEEEEEAHHHH!!!!!

  13. As for the free mixing claim/ ‘argument’, every party has a pooper, that’s why we invited you.

    Why would anyone build a school– or anything worthy of marketing without considering the market? Why even go so far as establishing an islamically driven institute if free-mixing and matrimonial was the goal? I mean being haram doesn’t cost money, or knowledge.

    In the end I hope to see this day come, and I wish all involved the best. Next Muslim boarding schools perhaps 🙂

  14. GC: if you can’t after having communicated with me a number of times , distinguish between my writing and “anonymouse” a.k.a. zaynab from Muslim Matters (a person whom i share little in common with vis-a-vis political views) then I question your reading comprehension skills. As for your “Yeeeah” response, clearly your moniker suits you.

  15. lol – I’m sorry, I meant AnonyMuslim, but i wrote anonymouse cause i was just on muslimmatters – honest mistake – but anyways, on the more serious issue, I really have a hard time believing that those great schools didn’t care about separation between men and women. I’ve never heard of an islamic school that didn’t have some kind of separation.

    I didn’t mean to be rude, I was just a little jaw-dropped from your comment, that schools didn’t really care about this separation – maybe i misread your comment. I’ve always been raised with this kind of separation, as a child, when people were invited to my house the men and the women sat at opposite sides of the house, and had their own gatherings. The weddings of my family members also had separation between men and women – so i thought that in an environment of islamic education, it would be ironic if there wasn’t any separation. And I’m not implying in anyway that Zaytuna promotes “dating” or a “happy hour” as you put it – I’m actually excited that we are going to have an islamic school, i just want it to be done in an islamic way.

    Anyways, can you refer me to some websites or some links that show how Cordoba or baghdad didn’t implement some sort of separation, i’d be interested in reading up further on this.

    And as for my moniker – haha – I’m glad you like it, i recognize that no matter how much knowledge i will ever accumulate in my lifetime there will always be people who are wiser than me, and there will always be people I can learn from. For example, in your last comment i learned to double-check my work, and that includes names! Emerson said : Every man is my superior, in that I learn something from him. Archimedes said: “The man who does not learn the history of that which has happened before him, will remain a Child forever.”

    I adopt the philosophy that I know nothing, and never will know anything in comparison to the greats of the world, and it keeps my mind open and liberated from a restricting arrogance, so i can learn more and more, and I have no shame in calling myself a Child – better yet a Green Child.

  16. @AnonyMouseMuslim

    “After several hundred years of intellectual bankruptcy in Islamic academic circles, a light emerges, Alhamdulillah.”

    That’s sheer nonsense.

  17. GC: if those sentiments you expressed are sincere, then mA, we have more in common than not…i’ll see what i can dig up for you when time permits, iA

  18. i have a feeling that most muslims who talk mindlessly and argue unnecessarily in this forum, mind you, without scholarly knowledge of the issues concerned, are probably pornography addicts. it’s just a feeling i have, that’s all. i mean, you spend all this time on these boards talking back to one another, you must linger off to other websites in your free time but to make yourself feel better, you get on to this board and criticize muslims doing positive things–things you probably could never do. and you criticize scholars with knowledge far superior than yourself. it’s one thing to disagree with somebody, it’s another to disagree with educated scholars of 25 years and more. i highly recommend you all read al-ghazzaali’s basic etiquettes before scholars before commenting again. and stop wasting your time online….go and help your community and read some quran or something and keep your mouth shut unless it’s positive. peace to all.

  19. “Both fear that the proposed school, which could open as soon as next fall, would promote the idea of the Islamic state.”

    hahaha – lol – i’m so using this when people use the RAND label on Hamza Yusuf.

    The guy they reference in the article is a doctor, who is a “reformist” muslim, like Irshad Manji, and is writing for the Christian post. He says:

    “Certainly, an attempt at the formation of an accredited college by Muslim academics can be a good thing if it is founded in the ideas of freedom and liberty and against Islamism (political Islam).”

    So basically, muslims can learn all they want about religion, as long as it doesn’t give them the reason to have any political power in the world.

    While there are some Muslims who will criticize Zaytuna’s school for not being strict enough, the worse crime is criticisms from “reformist” muslims like this dude.



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    Akorede Idriss

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