Zaytuna College, a new institution in Berkeley, California, has attracted a lot of positive news coverage. But Stephen Schwartz, executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, wonders why and accuses the media for overlooking some key problems at the school.
Reports have called Zaytuna the "first Muslim college in the U.S." But Schwartz points out that the American Islamic College in Chicago opened in 1981. He asks why the college was "so favored by American media" when he sees it more as "a novelty, and not a very interesting one." The new college's proprietor, Hamza Yusuf [Schwartz refers to him as Hamza Yusuf Hanson], has not yet obtained enough financial support to develop the new college in the "ambitious way" that he initially proposed. Plus, Zaytuna College has only four faculty members and a limited offering of courses for students, Schwartz says.
"How can such an enterprise be needed, considering the plentitude of Middle East courses available at America's existing universities and colleges?" he wrote. The college will "presumably vindicate Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson's overweening narcissism while providing a platform for the Islamist ideology of his mentors."
Yusuf's mentor, Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, has been praised by the radical cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, well-known for his support of suicide bombings. In a February 2010 interview on BBC Arabic, Qaradawi said:
"I supported martyrdom operations, and I was not the only one. Hundreds of Islamic scholars supported these operations….They are forced to turn themselves into human bombs, in order to defend their land, their honor, and their homeland."
At a 1996 Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) convention Yusuf said that America is "a country that has little to be proud of in its past and less to be proud of in the present. I am a citizen of this country not by choice but by birth. I reside in this country not by choice but by conviction in attempting to spread the message of Islam in this country."
He also made anti-Semitic statements in a 1995 video: "Jews would have us believe that God had this bias to this little small tribe in the middle of the Sinai desert and all the rest of humanity is just rubbish."
"I mean that is the basic doctrine of the Jewish religion and that's why it is a most racist religion, it really is," Yusuf said. Schwartz says that Yusuf has toned down his public statements since 9/11.
Two other faculty members at Zaytuna, Imam Zaid Shakir and UC-Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian, have espoused radical statements more recently. During a 2004 rally, Bazian said "it's about time that we have an intifada in this country that change fundamentally the political dynamics in here. And we know every –They're gonna say some Palestinian being too radical—well, you haven't seen radicalism yet!"
Zaid Shakir, at a 2005 Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention in Canada, blamed the U.S. for terrorism:
"And the finger of blame will be pointed at all of those real or imagined terrorists scattered all over the world, and no mirror will be held up to see the terrorism that is being inflicted and has been inflicted on the people of the world because of the policies of the United States of America."
Shakir has made a host of other radical statements, such as assertions justifying Hizballah's 1983 bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, promoting conspiracy theories about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and condemning the legal and political system in America as "sinful."