May 2013 Newsletter



Sold-out crowds of Zaytuna College supporters in the San Francisco Bay Area were urged to “Think Outside the Cube” and a packed house in Southern California was drawn to “Reclaiming Our Faith” – and thousands of supporters worldwide watched both events online as they were live streamed.

At the May 25th Benefit Dinner in Anaheim, California, Dr. Jerry Campbell of the Claremont School of Theology emphasized the importance of a Muslim liberal-arts college in America, while Hamza Yusuf spoke of the challenges facing American Muslims.

That event was preceded by a day-long conference on “Reclaiming Our Faith: Negotiating Modern Theological Fault Lines” at which an array of major scholars addressed a capacity crowd on topics as varied as the relevance of the Qur’an to modern life and the feminism that Islam inspires. Scholars at the conference included Dr. Jonathan Brown, Dr. Sherman Jackson, Anse Tamara Grey and Zaytuna faculty members Dr. Mahan Mirza and Faraz Khan, as well as co-founder Dr. Hatem Bazian.

See photos from the “Reclaiming Our Faith” event in Anaheim, CA here.

And at the May 18th event near San Francisco, the three co-founders of Zaytuna College – Zaid Shakir, Hamza Yusuf and Hatem Bazian – provided updates on the exciting new developments at Zaytuna, including a certification to award degrees by the state of California (a prerequisite for formal accreditation). They also introduced Colleen Keyes, Zaytuna’s new Vice President of Academics and Student Affairs, to the audience and she spoke to the historical significance of Zaytuna for American Muslims. 

See photos from the “Think Outside the Cube" event in Santa Clara, CA here.

At both events, audience members engaged with the college by playfully participating in a "Zeopardy" competition where each table had to answer 10 questions about Zaytuna College and its faculty, students, campus property and co-founders. A table of 10 at each event was picked as a winner for the best answers and the prize was an invitation to sit in on any Zaytuna College class of their choice.


Zaytuna College has been authorized to operate and award degrees by California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), a necessary step towards getting accreditation.

"We are delighted to get this approval from the BPPE, and we feel confident that we will be successful, God willing, in becoming a fully accredited institution of higher education,” said Dr. Hatem Bazian, co-founder of the college and chair of its Academic Affairs Committee.

Zaytuna College is seeking accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the agency which also accredits well-known universities in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Stanford University and UC-Berkeley.

The approval from BPPE indicates Zaytuna’s compliance with the standards contained in the California Education Code and California Code of Regulations.  The Bureau examined data on, but not limited to, Zaytuna’s mission and objectives, educational programs, faculty qualifications, organization structure, and financial resources and statements.

In obtaining recognition from BPPE, Zaytuna has demonstrated that it is in compliance with standards for fiscal integrity, protection of student rights, safety, instructional quality and institutional stability. 

Zaytuna College welcomed its first freshman class in 2010 and plans on graduating that class in 2014. Last year, the college bought property in Berkeley and plans to renovate and refurbish it into a full-blown campus. 


Dr. Carl Ernst, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a distinguished expert on Islamic studies, Sufism and the Indo-Muslim culture, and his most recent book, How to Read the Qur’an, is used as a textbook at Zaytuna College. So it was quite an honor for Zaytuna to host Dr. Ernst at a workshop on “Reading the Qur’an.” 

Professor Ernst’s Keynote highlighted the chronological and literary approach to the Qur’an that he adopted in his book.  This approach investigates the development of the text, its structure, and intertextuality within the broader historical context of the Near East. However, this method privileges empirical, literary, and rational methods of inquiry that marginalize, ignore, or contradict theological imperatives. In the words of Prof. Ernst: “By looking at the Quran as a literary work that exists in history, I am also taking it out of the context of scriptural authority.” The organizers invited Prof. Ernst to reflect on the consequences of this move.  His topic was: “The Theological Implications of Bracketing Faith in the Academic Study of the Qur’an.”

Following the talk, Dr. Mahan Mirza, who uses Dr. Ernst’s book in teaching the Introduction to the Qur’an course at Zaytuna, moderated a lively panel discussion with notable scholars such as Mahmoud Ayoub, Nargis Virani, Todd Lawson, and Zaid Shakir.  Attendees then chose a surah to engage in small groups led by those and other scholars including Abdullah Ali, Ali Ataie, Yusuf Mullick, and Ernst himself.

In introducing Ernst, Dr. Mirza remarked on the significance of his work: “Dr. Ernst, it appears, fulfills the dream of (Jurgen) Habermas in his essay on An Awareness of What is Missing, by getting secular reason to talk with—instead of merely about—religious tradition. This step entails acceptance, and even respect, but not wholehearted agreement. As the venerable scholar William Montgomery Watt noted: It is unhelpful, when quoting the Qur’an to say ‘Muhammad says,’ as a secular historian might believe, or ‘God says,’ as a Muslim might believe, but rather, both may come to the table, together, without reservation, by maintaining simply ‘The Quran says.’”

The workshop was hosted by Zaytuna in collaboration with the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and the Center for Islamic Studies of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU).  Such dynamic events embody the mission of Zaytuna College, and allow students to witness the interaction between the Islamic scholarly tradition in which they are grounded while also becoming conversant with the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society. Zaytuna would especially like to thank Sr. Marianne Farina of the Dominican School, and Munir Jiwa of GTU, whose support and funding for the workshop were instrumental in its success.


There are 250,000 Muslims living in the San Francisco Bay Area, they are well-educated (with 75 percent having attended college), their median household income is $70,686 (slightly less than the average for the region), and more than 3 out of 5 Muslims volunteer their time, which is more than twice the rate of volunteering by all Bay Area residents.

Those are some of the highlights of a groundbreaking study of Bay Area Muslims done by Zaytuna co-founder Dr. Hatem Bazian and Dr. Farid Senzai of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). “Over the past 30 years, the Bay Area in general, and the Muslim population in particular, has experienced significant growth brought on by the region’s economic transformation and the emergence of the information technology industry,” the authors state in the study.

Credible information about American Muslims is sorely lacking and hampers a true understanding of the community and its increasing numbers in the country. Now, this benchmark study provides hard data on the demographics, sense of identity, economic well-being, political and civic engagement and the challenges faced by the Muslim community.

Among other findings, the study shows a diverse mix of race and ethnicity among Bay Area Muslims: South Asians (30%), Arabs (23%), Afghans (17%), and African-Americans (9%) among the larger segments. About 11% of Muslims in the area are converts to Islam.

The study was commissioned by the One Nation Bay Area Project, a collaborative funded by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, Marin Community Foundation and Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. The full study is available as a free download at