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America’s First Muslim College Gets Accredited

Berkeley’s Zaytuna College was officially recognized by one of the largest accreditation bodies.

Zaytuna College's first commencement ceremony, in 2014. Image via Zaytuna College's Facebook page.

Islamophobes all over the United States (and probably beyond) will be distressed to hear that America just came into possession of its first accredited Islamic college. Last week, the Berkeley-based Zaytuna College was officially recognized by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a significant accrediting body, which means students can now recieve federal financial aid to attend the school.

“The devotion and availability of the faculty, together with their high expectations for student achievement, are setting a worthy norm for the institution as it develops its academic culture,” the Association wrote in its notification letter.

Hamza Yusuf, an American scholar of Islam, established the college in 2008, along with co-founders Imam Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian. The liberal arts college currently offers a Bachelor of Arts in Islamic Law and Theology, a four-year program that requires memorization of the Qur’an and an 8,000-10,000 word senior thesis. They also offer an Arabic summer intensive for anyone interesting in learning the language.In 2014, the institution granted its first Bachelor’s degrees to the class of 2014.

Bigoted demagogues may need to be reminded that the United States is already home to other accredited religious colleges and universities, and that Zaytuna College is not necessarily exceptional in its commitment to religious education. There are plenty Christian colleges, a number of Jewish colleges, and even some Buddhist colleges, but Zaytuna College is the first of its kind to be accredited. Muslims in the U.S. number in the millions, with estimates ranging between five million and 12 million, so Zaytuna has a pretty substantial population to cater to.

“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,” said Yusuf, who serves as the college’s president. “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.”

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