Last week the nation's first Muslim college was given accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, one of the handful of organizations responsible for authorizing private and public colleges and universities in the country. With this status, Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., can apply for grants of all types, issue visas to international students, and allow students to transfer credits with other accredited institutions.
"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," co-founder and President Hamza Yusuf wrote in a statement on the school's website. "Today, 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."
As an Islamic studies adviser at UC-Berkeley and Stanford University, Yusuf has been very outspoken against Islamic extremism and drew the ire of ISIS earlier this year after denouncing the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. The same cannot be said for Zaytuna's other co-founder, however.
Fox News reports:
Hatem Bazian, who serves as the school's chairman of academic affairs, has been accused of whipping up anti-Semitism on campuses across the nation through another organization he helped establish, the anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine. And at an April, 2004, rally in San Francisco in support of the Iraqi insurgency, Bazian appeared to call for an uprising in the U.S.
"Are you angry?" Bazian shouted to protesters. "Well, we've been watching intifada in Palestine, we've been watching an uprising in Iraq, and the question is that what are we doing? How come we don't have an intifada in this country? …and it's about time that we have an intifada in this country that change[s] 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!"
Critics say any school associated with Bazian, who is a senior lecturer at University of California Berkeley, is suspect.
"College is supposed to be a time where the free exchange of ideas is explored. America, throughout our history, has encouraged diversity of thought and the freedom to worship as one desires," Caleb Bonham, editor-in-chief of Campus Reform, told FoxNews.com
"But Students for Justice in Palestine has proven itself to be an anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli organization since its founding," he continued. "Our campuses must remain bastions of freedom of expression. I hope the founders uphold the principles of freedom that are inherent to all men and women."
Aside from the troubling reality that a school was given accreditation even with this type of leadership at the helm, it's also rather unusual that the school only offers one Bachelor of Arts—in Islamic Law and Theology.
It will be important in the years ahead to keep a close eye on Zaytuna's development.