On March 8, 2015 The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) extended accreditation to the United States’ first Muslim college.
As described on Zaytuna College’s website, the freshly accredited school was founded in 1996 in Hayward, California with the intent of restoring Islam’s scholarly legacy while helping to popularize traditional Islamic teaching for modern Muslim. The school, originally co-founded by Hamza Yusuf and Hesham Alalusi, has since garnered international acclaim for marrying the Islamic tradition to an American liberal arts educational program.
Accreditation for Zaytuna College has been pursued since 2008. The current co-founders of the Berkley, California campus, Hatem Bazian, Zaid Shakir and Hamza Yusuf, have a vision to pursue. All three men have become apologists for moderate Islam that seeks to strike a middle ground between spiritual teachings and the modern trappings of Western culture while keeping Muslims from falling into extremism. The co-founders reportedly see Islam as a constantly evolving entity that “is open to a diversity of interpretations honed by centuries of scholars.” As reported by The New York Times, co-founder Yusef has gone to great lengths to promote the acceptance of Muslims by hosting a reality show in the mid-200’s that saw him bus Muslims across the U.S. and introduce them to various groups of Americans. Co-founder Bazian, who also teaches at UC Berkeley, praised WASC’s decision on The Berkeley Blog, stating that “at a time of such extreme negative news cycle focusing on Muslims, the initial accreditation vote is a most positive development for a community that has been battered for more than a decade.”
Congratulations to Zaytuna College on its accreditation. It combines traditional Western liberal arts study with classical Islamic learning.
— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) March 12, 2015
According to Yusef, who hopes that the success of accreditation will further a greater acceptance of Muslims across the Western world, says, “[Accreditation] gives [the Muslim] 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.” Dispelling the misconceptions of Islam is helped along by Zaytuna College’s admissions process which states that they not discriminate in admissions of students due to “age, race, sex, religion, or national/ethnic origin in the admission of applicants.” This may address the concerns of skeptics of such a facility whose typical comments include “If they take one dime of government funding, they will have to let in LGBT students, atheists, etc. Unless of course Obama exempts them in the name of Allah.”
Co-founder Bazian, in a statement looking towards the college’s future, added, “An accredited institution makes it possible to open many doors and creates local, regional, national and international academic relations. In a short period of time, Zaytuna College will be be ready to welcome students from across the globe and provide the much-needed context to understanding Muslim circumstances in the West, as well as provide diverse opportunities to engage in conversations with faith and civil society partners that are dedicated to seeing and bringing forth a different world.”
As of March 13, 2015 the college hosts approximately, “30 students, and offers a B.A. in Islamic Law and Theology and courses in politics, astronomy, and American history, among others,” as reported by Thinkprogress.org.