The first accredited Islamic college in the US is being planned by an influential Muslim body hoping to produce â€œa generation of indigenized scholarsâ€.
The management committee from the Zaytuna Institute, which is dedicated to classical Muslim scholarship, last week recommended launching Zaytuna College in autumn 2010. The board of trustees is expected to vote on it later this month.
The college would be open to men, women, Muslims and non-Muslims, and would be on a level comparable to the best religious seminaries and higher education institutions in the US, the brochure says.
The initiative, described as a â€œMuslim Georgetown,â€ is backed by widely respected Islamic scholars and clerics across the world, who argue there is a need for institutions that can wed religious texts to a contemporary context.
There are thought to be about 7,000,000 Muslims in the US, and in Cairo last Thursday, President Barack Obama noted that Islam had â€œalways been a part of Americaâ€™s story.â€
â€œThey have fought in our wars, served in government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they have excelled in our sports arenas, they have won Nobel prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic torch.â€
Every state had a mosque and there were more than 1,200 mosques within the countryâ€™s borders, Obama said, before adding: â€œLet there be no doubt, Islam is a part of America.â€
Imam Zaid Shakir, scholar in residence at the Zaytuna Institute, said: â€œWeâ€™re an expanding Muslim community in North America and we donâ€™t have any seminary or college that is endeavoring to produce a generation of indigenized scholars.
â€œNon-Muslims are free to study here. We are not a closed society or a secretive one. Our goal is to have a 50/50 gender split in the student body. Weâ€™re talking about a generation of American Muslim scholars, period.â€
His key concerns, shared by others at Zaytuna, are that there are few scholars who can meet the religious and pastoral needs of the westâ€™s Muslim community and that much of the younger generation has become alienated from the mosque and the religious culture.
Students on the bachelor program will study the Qurâ€™an, jurisprudence, legal theory, theology, hadith science, Islamic spirituality and Arabic. There will also be an emphasis on studying history, literature, philosophy, political science and economics and sociology.
The brochure states: â€œWe see no dichotomy between what is called â€˜secularâ€™ and â€˜religiousâ€™ in the modern world. We believe our students will be able to contextualize Islamic knowledge in a dynamic and productive way.â€
Shakir, an African-American air force veteran who converted to Islam in the 1970s, studied in Syria and Morocco. It is hoped that by obtaining accreditation â€“ a process that can take up to seven years â€“ Zaytuna college will offer a local alternative to those who are thinking of studying overseas. It has even been suggested that its classes in Islamic studies will rival those offered at places such as Yale and Stanford. â€œWe want to be recognized by Al-Azhar [the university where Obama gave his speech] and other educational institutions in the US,â€ he said.
The initial enrolment will comprise 30 students, with up to 50 students added each year. The operating budget is forecast at $3m for the first year.
The biggest financial overheads will come with the creation of a $30m endowment and $20m for property purchasing. The college will, for a while, work out of rented buildings.