America's first Muslim College started functioning on Tuesday with 15 students starting classes, according to a Religion News Service article published by Huffington Post.
Berkeley, California-based Zaytuna College grew out of a pilot seminary program at the Zaytuna Institute, according to the report.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, an American-born convert who had undertaken Islamic studies abroad, set up the institute in 1996, which offered continuing education lessons in Arabic and Islamic studies.
Yusuf, along with colleagues Imam Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian, transitioned the institute to a full-fledged college.
The new college is offering two majors to start: Arabic language, and Islamic law and theology. There are plans to add advanced degrees, adult education classes and professional certificate programs in areas such as Islamic medical ethics, Islamic finance and religious training, say the founders.
The organizers say the Muslim population in the country is now focusing on building infrastructure and institutions.
With a rise in Muslim population and improving financial stability of Muslim immigrants, the community is now setting eyes on building academic institutions, just as Catholics and Jews did generations ago, said Farid Senzai, a member of Zaytuna's management committee and the research director at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
Co-founder Bazian, who is also a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Palestinian native, said the college is needed because of a lack of native-born Muslim professionals with a strong understanding of their faith and the needs of U.S. Muslims.
The founders said the college will seek accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. They also said they hoped "to graduate students who can work in any profession, including serving the Muslim American community as imams, nonprofit managers and Islamic school teachers."
The college will be housed at the American Baptist Seminary of the West for five years until founders can establish its own campus, the report says.
Zaytuna means "olive tree" in Arabic.