Islamic College Plans to Open This Fall, Seeks Accreditation

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A Muslim lecture hall in Berkeley may become the first accredited four-year Islamic college in the nation if it is able to make it through the "deliberate" four- to seven-year accreditation process.

The Zaytuna Institute and Academy, located on 2070 Allston Way, is in the process of expanding to become Zaytuna College, offering degrees in Islamic law, theology and Arabic language. The school plans to open its doors on Aug. 24 with 14 students expected.

The institute was founded in 1996 by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and the college was started in 2009 by Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian. The college awaits accreditation, but Bazian, now the college's chair of academic affairs, said it will not have trouble receiving the certification.

"I think the Islamic character wouldn't generate any hesitation from WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) in the accreditation process," he said. "They have been supportive in the process and have indicated their readiness to help."

Zaytuna College is currently operating with a $2 million to $2.5 million budget, which will increase with permanent property costs, ranging from $15 million to $30 million, in addition to costs of establishing a steady endowment, Bazian said. The college is fundraising to purchase a permanent location and develop its endowment.

In addition to their Islamic studies, students will be required to fulfill 60 units of general education in order to enhance their knowledge of Western environment and history, according to Bazian.

"Students will take basic English composition, U.S. history, government, economics, constitutional law, anthropology, etc. and will be required to take them as part of the program in addition to classes in Islamic law, theology and Arabic language," Bazian said. "Students who will be working in the United States and interacting with the community need to have knowledge to be conversant with modern American society."

Zaytuna students will have the chance to associate and share their knowledge with UC Berkeley as well as Berkeley City College students, Bazian said. Zaytuna College will not only provide a liberal arts education, but a place for Muslims to turn to for guidance and ask questions about their own religious practice, he added.

The college will be open to all faiths and genders. However, in the classroom, men and women typically sit on opposite sides of the room according to traditional Islamic decorum.

"Our expectation is that students will follow Islamic customs in the classroom and on campus," Bazian said. "It will not be the mandate of policy, but our expectation is that knowing their Islamic customs, people will coalesce with them in the classroom."

Bazian pointed out that Christians and Jesuits have a larger presence in American liberal arts education because they arrived in the country long before other religious populations.

According to Ramy Salah, a recent UC Berkeley graduate and member of the Muslim Students Association, the opening of Zaytuna College will have a huge impact on the city's Muslim community and Muslim communities across the nation.

"Being home for college in America as opposed to having to travel to the Middle Eastern countries to get higher learning in Islamic studies is a plus," Salah said. "It signifies a few things and that the Muslim presence in America is growing. Muslims are feeling more integrated into the American society and taking it more as our own because it's our home."


Contact Caroline Cook at [email protected]

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