Zaytuna College: a sign of hope for Islam

By Shazia Kamal Los Angeles, California – The Arabic word for olive is zaytun. Qur’anic and Biblical scriptures have deemed … Continued

By Shazia Kamal

Los Angeles, California – The Arabic word for olive is zaytun. Qur’anic and Biblical scriptures have deemed the olive an extraordinary fruit due to its many benefits, and call the olive tree a symbol of purity and light. Thus, it is only fitting that the first Muslim college in the United States, carrying the light of knowledge and leadership, is bestowed with the name Zaytuna College.

The college’s very existence in America repudiates notions of Islam as an exclusively Eastern ideology. Its presence instead indicates that Islam and Muslims can be authentically American, and can contribute to the nation’s sociological, political and cultural advancement.

Education has played a major role in easing racial and religious tensions and encouraging tolerance in the United States. Many immigrant groups who came to America for freedom were instead discriminated against upon arrival. Religious groups began using education to address these tensions, becoming vital forces in fostering acceptance. Institutions like Brandeis University and the University of Notre Dame led the way in securing a place for Jewish and Catholic identities within the fabric of American mainstream society through their work to link their faith groups with strong, visible research and education institutions.

The University of Notre Dame was established in 1842 as a project of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, led by Reverend Edward Sorin, C.S.C. at the peak of Catholic immigration from Europe. Later, Brandeis University in Massachusetts became the first Jewish-sponsored, non-sectarian University to open in 1948.

Today these universities and others like them combine cutting-edge academic curricula with religiously inspired visions to promote universal values, like social justice, to all students – regardless of their religious background. Zaytuna College seeks to promote the same vision in its students, which it welcomes from all faith traditions. It endeavors to draw on principles from the Qur’an and from the teachings of some of the greatest Muslim scholars in history, like Imam Al Bukhari, a 9th century scholar of the study of hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and Imam al Ghazali, an 11th century jurist and Sufi author.

As a Muslim American college, Zaytuna carries with it an added responsibility of dispelling stereotypes about Islam. Given the current climate of rising Islamophobia and the inaccurate portrayal of Islam as a violent ideology, Zaytuna will assume its place at the forefront of public dialogue to tackle these issues at all levels: intra-faith, interfaith, and intercommunal.

Zaytuna College will communicate Islam’s tenets and practices to the broader American public and serve as an alternative source of information to five-second media bytes that perpetuate a one-dimensional Islam. This will be made possible by a wealth of articles and multimedia available on the college’s website on subjects such as the hajj pilgrimage, coexistence and leadership in Islam, as well as an opportunity for people to request faculty for speaking engagements.

Fortunately, Zaytuna has the means to become a growing center for understanding Islamic thought and practice through its world-renowned faculty like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of Zaytuna and advisor to One Nation, a national initiative promoting employment, equality and education for all, and Imam Zaid Shakir, who oversees New Islamic Directions, an organization dedicated to promoting a fair and balanced perspective on Islam–as well as through the study of the social sciences alongside Arabic language and Islamic law and theology.

Zaytuna College provides a substantive, interdisciplinary approach to be studied and applied urgently to an era in which facts, especially about Islam, are all too frequently taken out of context. With that in mind, graduates of Zaytuna College can serve the Muslim American community by becoming certified imams or chaplains and addressing matters like women’s rights and youth activism in their local Muslim communities.

Through its unique approach and exemplary scholars, Zaytuna College has the potential to become an authentic and invaluable vessel of peace and understanding that will define the 21st century.

Shazia Kamal is a community activist in the Los Angeles area, and a contributing writer for

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  • Montedoro

    “Zaytuna College will communicate Islam’s tenets and practices to the broader American public…”In addition, the most popular manual of Islamic sacred law, approved by the highest Islamic religious authorities of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, says: “Jihad means to make war on non-Muslims.” What could be clearer than that?

  • brahman

    Well said Montedoro.

  • ibstar

    Greetings, I found the article most interesting.To that end in light of all the Suras in the Koran I would ask the islamic c,

  • Jihadist

    In addition, the most popular manual of Islamic sacred law, approved by the highest Islamic religious authorities of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, says: “Jihad means to make war on non-Muslims.” What could be clearer than that? Posted by: Montedoro *******************************************Which “manual” of Islamic “sacred” law? When formulated said? Who approved said? When approved said?

  • RobertW2

    I think quoting statements from any religious text without context is a mistake, and is frankly not being objective. This is a common habit of Evangelical Christians and people among the Right Wing in demonizing Islam. When it comes to violent passages in the Bible, the response is often, “well those are historical passages.” Yet with the Koran, the historical context is ignored…hence, a double standard.One could do the same with the Bible. Take things piece meal. Yes there is violence in the Islamic world, but much of that has less to do with religion than it has to do with illiteracy, social and political misery, and economic failures. Christianity has had its share of violence historically.People can quote anything they want and justify anything. This applies to religion, fascism, or any ideology. Hinduism is a peaceful religion, yet the Tamil Tigers (Hindus) led the world in suicide bombings for much of the 1980s/1990s were Hindus.For the sake of balance, lemme take the liberty to quote some passages from the Bible out of context, ignoring any historical context to any of the passages (similar to what the previous posts have done with the Koran). Psalms 137: in referring to Babylon, the verse extols those who would seize Babylon’s infants and smash their skulls against the rocks.Another passage essentially legitimizes killing people of other beliefs:Deuteronomy 17:2-3,5: “If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant, And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; … Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.”Deut. 20: 16-18 On arriving to Canaan, Moses instructs his people to anhiilate anyone they find in the citiesJoshua 8: God Commands Joshua and his people, that upon conquering the city of Ai, that he take away the livestock and the loot, and kill all the inhabitantsJoshua 10: all the prisoners of war are killed.1 Samuel 15:2-3 God orders King Saul to kill the Amalekite people, killing every man, woman, and child, and livestockNumbers 31:40 where the ancient Jews (allegedly) killed the men, women, and little boys, but saved the virgins “for yourselves,” Moses here commits ritual sacrifice of virgin women.Most Christians and Jews ignore these violent passages and do not agree with them. Most Muslims do the same. Yet it isnt far fetched to see that if there is a part of the world with turmoil, illiteracy, political/social hardships, it would be easy to use religious passages to drum up support for any cause.

  • RobertW2

    Not that this should be a contest, but for perspective. Yes there are violent passages in the Koran and Bible. One website has done some of the work for us:Koran: 333 violent passages, 6236 cruel/violent versesBible: 842 violent passages, 31102 cruel/violent versesSure as a matter of %, the Bible is a much larger book. So % wise, yes the Koran does have more violent verses 5.3% Koran vs. 2.7% Bible.Thats plenty of fodder/material for any extremist to justify just about anything.I can’t post links I assume, but search up skepticsannotedbible. It has links to violent passages in the Old Testatament/New Testament/Koran etc.In the end, the vast majority of followers of both Islam and Christianity know where to put these verses. These verses are essentially stories or verses relating to certain historical events. Its a narrative. A story.Yes, lunatics will use whatever they can to justify anything. This isn’t a new phenomena. The difference is we’re dealing with 1.6 billion muslims. To label them all as extremists is quite silly when perhaps the total number of muslims engaged in some form of violence in the world is likely less than 1%. A sense of perspective is important.