Fall 2013 Newsletter

At ISNA, a Conversation about Zaytuna College Continues

The main events may have transpired in vast auditoriums and lecture halls during the 50th Annual ISNA Convention in Washington, DC on Labor Day weekend. But Zaytuna’s booth, a helter-skelter of activity, became an event in itself, as it welcomed scholars and students, as well as a cross-section of the American Muslim community, to the continuing conversation the college has inspired.

The way Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan sees it, the struggle of Muslims in the West centers on their relationship with knowledge. “Some think that if you want to [participate in] academia in the West, it means you have to forget about the traditional way we deal with our sources,” he told Zaid Shakir, Zaytuna’s co-founder and board chair, during an exchange at the Zaytuna booth. “On the other side, some think that if you are rooted in the traditional teaching, it means you have to avoid anything that has to do with academia, as if these were two contradictory universes of knowledge. And we have to just say, No. That’s not the case.”

And when Zareena Grewal, a Yale University professor and the keynote speaker at Zaytuna’s most recent convocation ceremony, dropped by the booth, she explained to Zaytuna co-founder Hatem Bazian that she was most heartened by Zaytuna’s commitment to a critical engagement with the tradition. "Criticism is integral to the tradition," she said. "[It's] nasiha, the idea that scholars or students give each other advice or constructive criticism…[It's] having an honest debate—and debate is what gives the tradition its life. If we aren’t able to be honest with one another, then the tradition dies."

Also at the booth, Zaytuna College President Hamza Yusuf stopped by for a book-signing and addressed the large crowd gathered, explaining the importance of a liberal arts education and Zaytuna’s unique effort at fusing both the Islamic and the Western traditions into its curriculum.

Zaytuna’s presence was felt elsewhere at the ISNA convention as well. The College held a panel discussion of its own on “The Higher Purpose of Higher Education” with Zaid Shakir and Hamza Yusuf, along with Colleen Keyes, our Vice President of Academic Affairs. And Hamza Yusuf once again was the headline speaker on the Main Stage on Saturday night, where he told the large audience that it was his “swan song” as he wanted to make room for other emerging scholars and spiritual leaders.

Watch our ISNA 2013 Reel for more highlights from Zaytuna’s ISNA weekend.

“American Muslims Have Never Had Success at This Scale”

As Dr. Zareena Grewal surveyed an expectant audience at the fourth Zaytuna College Convocation last month in Berkeley, her gaze settled, finally, on Zaytuna’s students, assembled in the first rows of the auditorium. “I see before me,” she announced authoritatively, “four classes at Zaytuna College: freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. This is just not your milestone. This is a milestone for American Muslims as a collective, national community.”

And while that remark elicited sustained applause, Grewal, a Yale University professor delivering the ceremony’s keynote address, clarified quickly that her purpose wasn’t to score easy points with a friendly crowd. Rather, she measured her assessment as a specialist in the intellectual and institutional history of American Muslims.

"I know that Zaytuna College is actually not the first Muslim college," continued Grewal. “I know too well how many American Muslims—all of them hard-working, sincere men and women—tried to build institutions of higher learning in this country with limited success or who failed.” For Grewal, her lifelong study of Islam’s history in the United States gave added meaning to what she saw before her.

“American Muslims have never had success at this scale,” she declared. “We’ve never had the potential in this room.”

Besides the presence of all four classes of students for the first time, the convocation ceremony, held August 27, also featured other firsts. It was the first convocation for Zaytuna’s new administrative leadership—Colleen Keyes, the vice president of academic and student affairs, and Waheed Rasheed, the vice president of administration and operations. And, it was the first convocation held at Zaytuna’s new campus on Holy Hill, which will also be the site for Zaytuna’s first-ever graduation in May, 2014. 

In his welcoming remarks, Hamza Yusuf, the college president and a co-founder, focused on the purpose of a liberal arts education, reminding his listeners that its roots didn’t emerge only from the West. “The madrassah was a place where the liberal arts were taught,” he asserted. A liberal education, he said, nurtures three core dimensions of all humans: their existence as moral, intellectual, and spiritual beings. “If people,” he warned, “are not trained to work with these three aspects of the human being, then what follows is immense discord.”

For Yusuf, a college committed to a liberal arts education—“those studies that enable people to think deeply”—can mend a distinctly modern educational problem: universities that thrive on dizzying specialization but fall flat in inducing social cohesion. “We’ve lost the sense of what the purpose of a college is,” he said. “A student now goes and he’s given a brochure that begins with Anthropology and ends with Zoology, and he’s told to pick his way.”

To Grewal, meanwhile, Zaytuna’s most promising characteristic is its divergence from the ambivalence toward America that marked previous American Muslim educational initiatives. She described Zaytuna as a “counterintuitive” venture, one that was launched—and is succeeding—during a period of hostility toward both Islam and the liberal arts.

Still, she said: “Zaytuna College is not a place where American Muslims are hiding from the world in retreat. This is a place where American Muslims are being prepared to engage in the world around them.”

She ended her keynote address by turning, once again, to the students seated in the front rows. “You can’t be anybody but you,” she told them. “Check your intentions, discover your talent. That’s what your teachers built this Islamic liberal arts college for. … I’m telling you that I want to know who you are. We all look forward to seeing who you are going to become. And that’s what your job is—to be here and to figure that out.”

Watch our Convocation Reel for the highlights from the event.


Begin the Life of Learning 

Zaid Shakir to Host Online Open House as Zaytuna Opens Admissions 

Our scholars say: “Matters are based upon their aims and purposes.” The purpose of what we offer here at Zaytuna -- an Islamic education rooted in the Western liberal arts tradition -- is uncommon and unprecedented. We aim to train the minds of our students and bequeath to them the requisite tools so they may pursue a life of thought and reflection. And to always do it with humility, purpose, and piety.

We expect our graduates to demonstrate abilities and competencies in oral and written communication, reasoning and analysis, scientific inquiry, civic engagement, and intercultural sensitivity. These are coupled with the distinctive advantages that accompany advanced preparation in Arabic and in Islamic Law and Theology. The community service that students perform while studying at Zaytuna, which includes organizing and leading local classes and tutoring at various venues, forecasts the advantages of this preparation.

Zaytuna College is now recruiting students for the 2014–2015 academic year. We evaluate applications on a rolling basis and encourage students to apply early.

Zaid Shakir, co-founder and chair of the Zaytuna College Board of Trustees, will host the first of our Online Open Houses, a series of interactive online sessions designed to help students and parents learn more about education at Zaytuna. During the September 25 session, Zaid Shakir will be joined by Dawood Yasin, the Director of Student Life, and students Sohabe Mojaddidy and Mahassin Muhsin. Hear what they have to say and ask questions. Register

Open House Schedule

Representatives Wednesday, September 25, 2 pm Pacific ONLINE Tuesday, October 29, 5 pm Pacific ONLINE Saturday, November 16, 2 pm Pacific ON CAMPUS Wednesday, December 11, 4 pm Pacific ONLINE
Faculty Zaid Shakir & Cindy Ausec Hatem Bazian Abdullah Ali Faraz Khan & Mark Delp
Administration   Yusuf Samara Colleen Keyes Mahan Mirza  
Student Life Dawood Yasin Dawood Yasin Dawood Yasin Dawood Yasin
Student Body Sohabe Mojaddidy, Freshman Mahassin Muhsin, Senior Ali Kirat, Junior Faatimah Knight, Vice President, Student Union Board Aaron Choy, Sophomore Rasheeda Plenty, President, Student Union Board Haroon Imtiaz, Senior Leena Safi, Senior