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First Muslim college in the U.S. hopes to become a leading religious institution

Founded in 2009 by Imam Zaid Shakir, Hamza Yusuf and Dr. Hatem Bazian, Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., is the first Muslim college in the U.S. The new school has 31 students and rents space from a Baptist seminary; it is not yet accredited.

Zaytuna aims to combine traditional Islamic teachings with a contemporary perspective.

According to its website, “there are no accredited academic institutions capable of training students in the varied sciences of Islam, while also instilling in them a sophisticated understanding of the intellectual history and culture of the West. Clearly, there is an essential need for Muslim institutions that can wed Islam’s classical texts with the contemporary context.”

With regards to U.S.-Islamic relations, the idea of this school elicits mixed reactions.

Natalie Louis Charles, a freshman at Queens College, believes there is nothing wrong with a Muslim college.

“There are plenty of religious colleges out there, even colleges for different races, like Spelman College,” she said.

However, Charles also expressed that the college may be wrongly perceived as having an anti-American agenda. This viewpoint is not unprecedented. Constant debate surrounded Park 51 — a Muslim community center located two blocks from the World Trade Center site — when it opened in 2011. Critics referred to it as a celebration of militant Islamic victory and a mockery of the lives lost to the 9/11 tragedy.

Hasibullah Mir, a biology and political science major, voiced that the college was beneficial to Muslims, adding that Western schools push an “anti-religious, pro-atheistic agenda,” which may “tear at the foundations that Muslims come in [to college] with.” Mir also voiced concerns about the school not upholding the Shariah — Islamic law — approach to teaching that separates males and females in the classroom.

The college joins the ranks of various other religious affiliated schools in the country. According to the Braintrack.com, there are more than 800 institutions, including 221 Roman Catholic, 94 United Methodist, 67 Baptist and 21 Jewish colleges.

Zaytuna College states that its mission is to “educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual and spiritual leaders, who are grounded in the Islamic scholarly tradition and conversant with the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society.”

The fledgling institution plans on being accredited by 2014.

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