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. Find Colleges

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    April 9, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  2. Alexxakalexxak

    У вас хороший форум!

    July 24, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  3. kmisi mbazira

    Assalam alaikum, am 16years old [male],so i love, i want to study my islamic religion.i am ambitious to learn how to recite the holy quran and all about islam. so can you give me any contribution from your college or any sort of help. i will be happy to get your reply........thank you.

    July 1, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  4. NM

    please check out http://www.islamicsolutions.com/islam-gave-the-world-monotheism-and-education/

    August 26, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
  5. bumble

    Who were these Muslim founding fathers he is talking about? If this is an indication of his ability to promote accurate history then this college wont last long.

    August 24, 2010 at 5:37 am |
  6. AmericanPatriot

    The only way a woman can guarantee her passage into Paradise is if her husband is happy with her when she dies. When I read about this one, I thought, "Mohammad, you are a crafty one."

    This idea obviously helps with the subjugation of women. It gives her a strong incentive to subordinate her wishes to her husband's, because while she might have a chance to get into Paradise if she's a good Muslim, the only way she can guarantee she will go to Paradise (and avoid eternal suffering in hell) is to make sure her husband is happy with her when she dies.

    August 23, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
    • Rahma

      Yes. A woman inherits half of what a man inherits. But at the same time she is not responsible of any living expenses, furniture, housing, etc., the man (e.g., the husband) is responsible for all her needs during her whole life even if she is working and/or she has wealth from her own family. The man cannot enforce her to pay a Penney if she doesn’t like. At the same time she has her whole right to invest in her money , do whatever she wants to grow it up , makes her own project, etc., So it is fair enough that when a father who has a daughter and son dies, the son takes double of the daughter as he will have more more responsibilities than the daughter.

      March 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  7. AmericanPatriot

    A woman is in a thoroughly subordinate position. This idea really helps support other ideas in the collection. If women had too much influence, they'd try to curb the warring. Women in general don't like to send their husbands and sons off to war. But if women have no say in the matter, then the rest of the ideas can express themselves without interference. By subordinating women, the idea-collection prevents their effective vote against war, violence, and conquest.

    The rules and laws within Islam that keep women subordinate are numerous. For example, she is not allowed to leave her house unless she is accompanied by a male relative. Under Islamic law, a woman is forbidden to be a head of state or a judge. She can only inherit half of what a man can inherit. In court, her testimony is only worth half of a man's. She is not allowed to choose where she will live or who she will marry. She is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim or divorce her husband. He, however, can divorce her with a wave of his hand. And according to Shari'a, he can (and should) beat her if she disobeys him.

    All of these ideas keep her subordinate, which helps keep the war machine going unimpeded by domestic rebellion.

    August 23, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
    • Rahma

      I am a Muslim woman so I think I am the best one to reply you assuming that you didn’t intend to speak lies and it is only a matter of misunderstanding that let you say something that you really don’t know its truth.
      A woman can divorce her husband, please ask about “الخلع في الأسلام
      I don’t know the translation in English to put it here so this is the right of the woman to divorce her husband whenever she decides. I will find the translation and let you know.

      March 25, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Rahma

      Who says woman cannot go out her house without being accompanied with a relative man????!!!!. We all go and come and travel alone, this is completely untrue. The only thing is, in the early days, remember 1400 ago, in the desert, it was dangerous for the women to cross the desert alone which leads for this misunderstanding, that she should accompany a relative man.
      I will not be long here but please do not talk as you are expert when you are not. I am a Muslim woman 38y have my Ph.D. in computer science, I wear hijab, love it, I used to hear lies spoken about Islam, like woman oppression, believe or not, like it or not, even After 1, 400,0000000 not only 1400 yrs , most of Muslim women will choose to wear hijab , love it , they wouldn’t replace it with shorts and bikini. This wouldn’t prevent us being professionals , participate in our societies and from enjoying our life.

      March 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  8. AmericanPatriot

    You must read the Quran in Arabic. This unites believers by language, and language has a very powerful unifying influence. For added incentive to learn Arabic, another basic Islamic principle says you can't go to Paradise unless you pray in Arabic.

    So Muslims all over the world share a language. This makes it easier to coordinate far-reaching campaigns of protest, political pressure, and war.

    August 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • Concerned American

      What is disturbing about you is that you claim to have so much knowledge on Islam. My gues is that you have read a book or two, maybe even three. Then you read some of the Qur'an and claim to be an expert. A wise man told me that an idiot is someone who reads something strange and then begins to teach it. that sounds like you.

      August 24, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  9. AmericanPatriot

    You can't leave Islam once you're in. This is an interesting one. It is actually illegal in Islamic states to convert out of Islam. This is a critical part of Shari'a law. Someone who has rejected Islam who was once a Muslim is an "apostate." This is a crime and a sin, and the punishment for it is death (and eternal damnation in hell thereafter).

    Obviously, you can see why this idea has been included in the collection, but this one has actually caused Islam a problem because those who are following Islam to the letter consider more "moderate" Muslims (those who want to ignore or alter the more violent passages of the Quran) to be apostates. Since the punishment for apostates is death, fundamentalist Muslims are fighting modernizing Muslims all over the world, and keeping many rebellious, modernizing Muslims from speaking up for fear of death.

    Every time a group of Muslims decides that maybe Islam should be updated for the 21st century and maybe women should have some rights and maybe the government should be more democratic, the devout Muslims call them apostates and try to kill them.

    In this and in many other ways, Islam protects its own fidelity (in other words, the original idea-collection cannot be altered).

    Another idea in Shari'a law says it's against the law for anyone to try to convert a Muslim to another religion.

    August 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
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About this blog

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.