What an Increasing Number of Muslim Colleges Says About the Future of Islam in the West

| August 26, 2010 | 0 Comments


What an Increasing Number of Muslim Colleges Says About the Future of Islam in the West

Every fall, thousands of recent high school graduates embark on the next chapter in their lives. For every student and every parent, crossing the threshold into college raises dozens of questions and sparks the imagination on what the future will bring. For every student running through the four year college gauntlet, the end goal is pretty clear. You go to college, pick a major, and hope it will help you carve out a career.

So what do students at Zaytuna, America’s first Muslim college, envision for their future?

San Francisco based Zaytuna College, founded by long-time convert Hamza Yusef, offers majors in Arabic and Islamic Law and Theology.  While it’s beneficial to have a resource catering to an interest in Islamic law, the question is what type of marginal career field does this leave open for Zaytuna graduates?

An Arabic language major could score a great job as a linguist with the State Dept, CIA, or FBI. However, I really doubt these types of students would consider options where they’re ball and chained to this type of government career. What makes more sense is a role as an Imam, so that mosques wouldn’t have to import Imams from overseas who don’t understand the cultural context of our society.  Since the position of an Imam is reserved for males, where does that leave Zaytuna’s female graduates?

Personally, I’d attend Zaytuna in the interest of being able to better argue against sharia and only because of what I do here. But I really doubt this would be the aim of Zaytuna students. Students, who via Zaytuna’s website and marketing efforts are already conservative beard-growing hijab-wearing Muslims, showcase a grim contrast to the school’s claim to host “diversity.”

Zaytuna also says it’s branching off into the humanities and social sciences – but why pay to go to unaccredited Zaytuna when you could pay about the same to go to a great state university with a top tier humanities program?

It can be argued that out of all the majors Zaytuna could be offering that would help foster Muslim American relations, why are they honing in on Arabic and Islamic Law and Theory? Does this indicate an agenda aside from the obvious one of producing well informed advocates of Islamic Law – shariah law? Though no matter how well informed you are, the point is shariah has no long term role in the western jurisprudence – another view I’m certain isn’t shared by the unaccredited college or it’s students.

But perhaps its not all Zaytuna’s fault – after all, they can’t control what type of students they attract. So the question becomes, what type of student would be attracted to the Muslim college?

zaytune_2In my opinion, with the limited majors offered, Zaytuna would certainly attract non-secular Muslims that would likely be supporters of an Islamist agenda.

Western-raised students choosing to pay an $11,000/year tuition, investing four years of their lives, ensuring that (unlike standard colleges) their traditionalist views would go unchallenged (even in liberal Berkeley), are likely to graduate and lead the march in the next wave of CAIR-sympathizing Muslim Americans that do very little to foster positive relations and do too much to deepen the East-West divide.

So perhaps Zaytuna isn’t exactly like the notorious Virginia’s Islamic Saudi Academy, but is there really much of a difference as far as the end product? I think not.

Continuing to insist on “special schools” only cripples the diversity of thought these types of Muslims are desperately in need of.  This isn’t just a battle of ancient religions; it’s a battle of perceptions in which the proliferation of free thought is the only real weapon against Islam-centric ideology.

I wouldn’t have a problem with Muslim colleges if these colleges really challenged Islam in the 21st century, if they helped solves problems, if they created the type of bold an unyielding leadership that understands Islam but doesn’t bow down to it without critical thought – that holds truth as the highest priority, that challenges the long-running status quo of faith and culture. Neither of these schools do that.  The fact that these schools exist and given the rising in numbers globally (see Muslim “Eaton”), ensures that in a few years we’ll have a whole new breed of single-minded Muslims who’ve strayed further from God and spirituality than they may realize.

But before this article helps flare the next wave of ignorant anti-Islam demonstrations against Muslim schools, let me make this very clear: Islamic schools aren’t the problem.

Just like our failed government isn’t the fault of the idea government itself, the problem lays with the button pushers and lever pullers behind the green curtain. The problem can be traced to the curriculum, the board, and the administration of some schools. I’m personally well acquainted with several Islamic schools in Orange County and while a couple of them are wonderful and compete with top private schools in the area, with some of the most wonderful dedicated teachers, the same can’t be said of all Islamic schools.


Far from giving them the green light, Islamic schools, whether for an elementary or graduate student, have a duty to reach out to a non-Muslim demographic. Unfortunately, even the best of schools aren’t doing that due to a cemented mindset within the board and administration that underestimate the power of a strong marketing and public relations campaign.

But Zaytuna and other like-minded schools aren’t interested in public perception of them; they’re interested in serving Islam. Yet what they fail to realize is that we’re a global community where Islam is seen as a global threat. Whether that’s true or not, the threat of Islam is a very real perception in the eyes of many non-Muslims.  You don’t have to agree with it, but that doesn’t change how people see it.

The smart thing to do would be to adapt and evolve both Islam and its followers, and use education as a tool to do so – rather than creating divisive measures that promise future conflict. This alone becomes comes with its own set of problems that I’d be happy to discuss in another article.

The key issue here is that schools like Zaytuna and the “Muslim Eaton” don’t serve Islam or God; they don’t authentically serve Muslims in the West. Instead, they serve a selfish need to grasp onto an identity.

My opinion is that if you’re so adamant to live in your own little collective sphere of people who are mirror images of one another in body and mind, if you’re so insistent on separating yourself from “Western influences”, then why don’t you just go back to the Middle East or another Muslim country?

You’re here. You’re reaping the benefits of Western society that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a strong belief in pluralism, integration, and freedom of thought. Appreciate it, adapt, or leave.


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Image Source: Zaytuna College

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