Why Zaytuna College
Islam has never become rooted in a particular land until that land began producing its own religious scholars. There are several million Muslims in the United States and rapidly growing Muslim populations in Canada, Great Britain, and Western Europe. Yet, there are no accredited academic institutions capable of training students in the varied sciences of Islam, while also instilling in them a sophisticated understanding of the intellectual history and culture of the West. Clearly, there is an essential need for Muslim institutions that can wed Islam’s classical texts with the contemporary context. This reality has led to two lamentable situations. First, there are very few Muslim scholars who can meet the religious and pastoral needs of a rapidly expanding Muslim community in the West. Second, much of our younger generation has become alienated from the mosque and from religious culture.
From Vision to Reality
Since its founding by Hamza Yusuf in 1996, Zaytuna has been attempting to address these issues through a variety of educational programs. Zaytuna’s vision has always been to create a lasting institution of higher learning. To that end, we launched a pilot seminary program in 2004 that graduated five students in 2008. Based on our experience with the pilot program, we are moving forward with our plans to establish the first accredited Muslim college in the United States. Zaytuna College will function at a level comparable to the best of religious seminaries and general institutions of higher education in the United States. We have carefully designed a rigorous curriculum in Islamic Studies and Arabic, as well as in the humanities and social sciences, so our students can confidently navigate the cultural, political, and intellectual currents that are shaping our world. We are also seeking accreditation from the most demanding accrediting bodies in the United States, as well as recognition from major educational institutions in the Muslim world, such as Egypt’s al-Azhar University. Finally, we are building an endowment that will rival that of comparable academic institutions.
Indigenization of Islam in the West
By aspiring to produce scholars who understand the specific needs of contemporary societies, we believe Zaytuna College has an important contribution to make in the indigenization of Islam in the West. An indigenized Islam is of particular significance at this time when there is so much suspicion directed toward Muslims as illegitimate “outsiders,” while at the same time a demonstrated desire on the part of many in the West, especially in America, to create a more open, multicultural, and tolerant society. God willing, a Zaytuna College education will prepare students for a meaningful life as compassionate, productive, and educated citizens of the global community who understand Islam as a living, viable, and relevant faith, and who represent that faith with dignity, wisdom, and honor.
Zaytuna College was founded in 2009 by Imam Zaid Shakir, Hamza Yusuf, and Dr. Hatem Bazian to restore broad-based and pluralistic scholarship to its proper place as a central priority of Muslims. In 2004, Imam Zaid initiated a pilot seminary program at Zaytuna Institute, which was useful in Zaytuna College’s refinement of its Islamic Studies curriculum and its educational philosophy. For four years, students in the pilot program were engaged in the study of contemporary and classical texts, and in 2008, three men and two women graduated from the program.
Since the culmination of the pilot program, the Board of Directors has been guiding Zaytuna through a major transition that has oriented the organization toward the goal of establishing Zaytuna College as America’s first accredited Muslim institution of higher learning. Zaytuna Institute was founded by Hamza in 1996. During its early years in the San Francisco Bay Area, Zaytuna rapidly established a national reputation for providing premier educational programs, publications, and audio and visual materials for the local and national Muslim community.
“Zaytuna offers America’s leading program in traditional Islamic studies. In a world where misinterpretation thrives, it is impossible to exaggerate the corrective importance of what Zaytuna offers.”
Dr. T.J. Winter (Abdal Hakim Murad)
Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge