A small college in California has become the country's first accredited Muslim college.
The college, Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., received a letter last week notifying it that it has received initial accreditation to grant a single degree, a B.A .in Islamic Law and Theology. The college is a small one, with only a few dozen students. However, its founders have big ambitions, seeing the school as the first example of what could be a great network of Islamic colleges and universities in the United States.
"Five years ago, we introduced an undergraduate liberal arts program inspired by the idea of restoring the holistic education that had been offered in the great teaching centers of Islamic civilization," President Hamza Yusuf said in a statement on the school's website. "Zaytuna's accreditation roots this vision in a reality recognized within American higher education. It gives our community its first accredited academic address in the United States. And we hope, God willing, that there will be more such Muslim colleges and universities to come."
Zaytuna was first founded as Zaytuna Institute in 1996, and it was turned into a college in 2009. Its stated mission is "to educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual, and spiritual leaders who are grounded in the Islamic tradition and conversant with the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society."
Two of Zaytuna's founders, Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, are American converts to Islam who have gained national attention as advocates against violent Islamic extremism. Yusuf was even threatened by the Islamic State after he condemned the massacre of Charlie Hebdo employees in France.
While more moderate, the two are still strong advocates for spreading their faith. Shakir told The New York Times nine years ago that he hopes the United States will one day be a Muslim country governed under Islamic law, but via persuasion rather than force.
"Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country," he said then. "I think it would help people, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a Muslim."