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August 22nd, 2010
11:16 PM ET

California school aims to be country's first accredited Muslim college

As controversy swirls around a proposed Islamic center near New York City's ground zero and a handful of other mosque projects around the country, students will arrive this week at a California school that is aiming to become the country's first accredited Muslim college.

Zaytuna College hopes to the train a generation of Islamic clerics and professionals in a Western Islamic tradition that school officials say is ill understood by many of the foreign-born imams currently working in the United States.

"There's a triumphalist view that's not conducive to the type of religion we need to see," said Hamza Yusuf, chairman of Zaytuna's trustees board, describing many foreign-born imams. "American Muslims can help change a lot of the Muslim world to create the potential for conviviality."

The school, located in Berkeley, will offer just two degrees - Arabic, and a combined Islamic law and theology major - when it opens its doors Monday to the 15 students in its first freshmen class. The class includes eight women and seven men.

But its leaders say they plan to expand to around 150 students in the school's first four years and that they want to eventually train young people for careers in U.S. law, journalism, academia, and other fields.

First year tuition is $11,000 plus room and board, according to the school.

The school has yet to generate much controversy, but Yusuf, a co-founder who is the public face of the school, said he expects such criticism will come.

"I think the American people that are criticizing the ground zero mosque... are also criticizing us," he told CNN's Don Lemon on Sunday. "It's par for the course right now. Islam is an acceptable target. To be prejudicial towards Islam is politically correct."

But experts on American Islam say that the strain of modernist, mystical Islam espoused by Yusuf, which draws on Sufi traditions, might be more controversial among conservative Muslims.

"The young look up to Hamza almost as a sort of pop star," said Akbar Ahmed, an American University professor who has just completed a nationwide study of Muslims in the America.

"But he has expressed discomfort with some of the things that immigrant Muslims do and say," Ahmed said, "and many of the literalists see people like him as compromised or as having crossed over."

Ahmed said the failure of many foreign-born imams to relate to a younger generation on issues such as drugs and sex has provoked some Muslim young people to seek guidance from radicals abroad, feeding the phenomenon of homegrown American terrorism.

Zaytuna's website echoes that concern.

"There are very few Muslim scholars who can meet the religious and pastoral needs of a rapidly expanding Muslim community in the West," the site says. "...much of our younger generation has become alienated from the mosque and from religious culture."

Yusuf said he expected some criticism from fellow Muslims. "This is a growing pain for our community but it's a step in the right direction," he said.

The school has operated for more than a decade as a seminary but is now seeking accreditation from respected higher education boards, including the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Though Zaytuna has received little attention outside the Muslim world, many American Muslims have been watching the project closely.

"It is hugely significant," said Eboo Patel, a prominent Muslim activist who focuses on youth organizing. "Part of what America is about is that people from diverse background build on traditions that are inspired by their heritage but that serve the common good, in the same way that Catholic universities or Jewish hospitals do."

"The big story right now is the integration of Muslims into America," he said, "and the establishment of Zaytuna is an important milestone in that arc."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: California • Education • Islam • Muslim • United States

soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Reality

    WARNING: Words containing "t-it" as in ti-tle, "an-al" as in an-alysis or "c-um" as in doc-ument will be either deleted or be given the dreaded "waiting for moderation" message. Strange, strange and prudish moderators!!!!

    August 23, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  2. Reality

    The Age of Enlightenment has been with us since the likes of Albert Schweitzer began to evaluate the his-to-rical Jesus in the 1800's and early 1900's. What has been determined from exhaustive an-alyses of the known scriptural and non-scriptural docu-ments from the first to third cen-tury AD is that Jesus was not deity but a simple preacher man embellished by the likes of Paul et al into some kind of messiah.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  3. Reality

    You must be kidding me. It is the "c-um" fragment?

    The Age of Historical Jesus Enlightenment has been with us since the 1800's. What has been determined from exhaustive an-alyses of the known scriptural and non-scriptural doc-uments from the first to third century AD

    August 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  4. Reality

    The Age of Historical Jesus Enlightenment has been with us since the 1800's. What has been determined from exhaustive an-alyses of the known scriptural and non-scriptural documents

    August 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  5. Reality

    Let us try this:

    The Age of Historical Jesus Enlightenment has been with us since the 1800's. What has been determined from exhaustive an-alyses of the known scriptural and non-scriptural documents from the first to third century AD

    August 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  6. Reality

    Let us try this:

    The Age of Historical Jesus Enlightenment has been with us since the 1800's. What has been determined from exhaustive an-alyses of the known scriptural and non-scriptural

    August 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  7. Reality

    The Age of Historical Jesus Enlightenment has been with us since the 1800's. What has been determined from exhaustive an-alyses of the known

    August 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  8. Reality

    Still a problem- what besides an-al is offending said moderators:

    Let us try this:

    The Age of Historical Jesus Enlightenment has been with us since the 1800's. What has been determined from exhaustive an-alyses of the known scriptural and non-scriptural documents from the first to third century AD.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  9. Reality

    Now lets start once again:

    The Age of Enlightenment has been with us since the likes of Albert Schweitzer began to evaluate the historical Jesus in the 1800's and early 1900's. What has been determined from exhaustive an-alyses of the known scriptural and non-scriptural documents from the first to third cen-tury AD/CE is that Jesus was not de-ity but a simple preacher man em-bellished by the likes of Paul et al into some kind of mes-s-iah.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  10. Reality

    Ahh, there it is an-al in word an-alysis. Strange blog indeed!!!

    August 23, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  11. Reality

    Taking apart my previous comments to see what word(s) have offended the prudish moderators' word filter:

    The Age of Historical Jesus Enlightenment has been with us since the 1800's.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  12. Ninja's with no Brains

    I pretty much blame all of your religious fantics for Hell. If it wern't for you there would be no Hell. For without Heaven, Hell could not exist. Way to ruin it for the rest of us.

    August 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  13. Bill in Accounting

    So who has eleven grand to toss around these days?
    Those kids are going to have a huge student loan balance hanging over their heads after they graduate.
    I call 'em "Loans of Damocles"

    August 23, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  14. TheRationale

    It is still amazing that one can be educated and still fall for religion.

    August 23, 2010 at 9:17 am |
    • Reality

      It is called the Three B Syndrome i.e. Bred, Born and Brainwashed !!!

      August 23, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  15. Reality

    Time for us “born Christians” to “think outside the scribe stories”. Embellishment was the norm in the Greek, Roman and Jewish world. Everybody had their PR guys. For the Jewish nation, it was the scribes and this is a historical fact. History continued on in the first century. There was no second coming as mythicizid by St. Paul. It was just more embellishment as history would predict.

    August 23, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  16. Reality

    The Age of En-ligh-ten-ment has been with us since the likes of Alb-ert Sch-we–itzer began to evaluate the histo-rical Jesus in the 1800's and early 1900's. What has been determined from exh-au-stive analyses of the known scriptural and non-scriptural documents from the first to third cen-tury AD is that Jesus was not de-ity but a sim-ple pre-ac-her man em-be-llished by the likes of Paul et al into some kind of mes-siah.

    August 23, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  17. someoneelse

    We should be closing down Christian ones, not opening new religious ones. I also don't mean in a forceful way (too controlling if government does that) but as a society we shouldn't even want Christian ones let alone another religion.

    August 23, 2010 at 7:18 am |
  18. Tony

    Similar to West Point, a war college.

    August 23, 2010 at 6:48 am |
  19. dave

    I've read alot of the comments . yes they have the right but its the respect thats needed .part two of the respect issue... the so-called spokesperson for the college did the interview and said { ground zero OR WHATEVER } also stated plenty of muslims were here for the founding of this country . as far as i'm concerned that clown is now burning MY flag!!

    August 23, 2010 at 6:27 am |
    • Concerned American

      Dave, you sound like an angry man. LOL!

      August 24, 2010 at 2:14 am |
  20. wildman

    it is really comforting to see how CNN and all the other toad operations manage to find these wonderful islamic stories for us...you know, peace mosques everywhere and new muslim cartoon heros who can fly around the US murdering and conquering with magic powers, schools to teach the next generation of stinking ragheads how to mass murder, steal, loot, stone women to death and burn christians and jews...i really appreciate reading this stuff...it warms, the heart, it really does...i am so happy to hear this non stop bombardment of BS islamic propaganda from the media...makes me really feel a whole lot better about watching the country taken over by this slithering scum from afar...congrats., CNN..Dhimmi of the year award to you all.

    August 23, 2010 at 6:27 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.