A Brief History Header Image

A Brief History

Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the United States, began in 1996 as Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, California, co-founded by Hamza Yusuf and Hesham Alalusi. During its early years in the San Francisco Bay Area, the institute, through its educational programs, publications, and productions, established an international reputation for its efforts to help revive Islam’s educational and intellectual legacy and to popularize traditional learning among Western Muslims.

In 2004, noting the paucity of religious leaders with the cultural literacy to tend to the spiritual and pastoral needs of American Muslims, Zaytuna Institute launched a pilot seminary program. Under the guidance of Zaid Shakir, the program trained and graduated five students in 2008. After the culmination of the pilot program, the Board of Directors of Zaytuna Institute (later renamed the Board of Trustees of Zaytuna College) guided the organization through a seismic transition, with the goal of establishing an accredited Muslim institution of higher education in the United States.

In 2009, Zaytuna College was launched in Berkeley, California, by Hatem Bazian, Zaid Shakir, and Hamza Yusuf. The Summer Arabic Intensive, a two-month, residential language course, was its first academic program. Subsequently, the undergraduate program welcomed its inaugural freshman class for the Fall 2010 semester.

In the ensuing years, Zaytuna College continued to refine its academic identity, rooting itself firmly in the American liberal arts tradition. By 2012, it also secured a flagship building for its permanent campus atop Berkeley’s famed “Holy Hill,” an academic neighborhood named for the host of religious colleges that have made their homes there. Zaytuna College expects to confer its first undergraduate degrees to its initial cohort of students in Spring 2014. 

“Zaytuna College is a unique institution in Islamic higher education in America and is the fruit of a pioneering effort to create an authentic Islamic education institution in this country. Moreover, it is devoted to the liberal arts, which lie at the heart of education on the university level. Its success in the goal it has set before itself marks a very important step in the preservation of Islamic thought and culture in the context of American society.”

Seyyed Hossein Nasr
University Professor of Islamic Studies
The George Washington University