First Muslim college in U.S. headed by radical

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
Zaytuna College/Facebook

BERKELEY, Calif. (Christian Examiner) – An Islamic radical in 2008 became one of three founders of Zaytuna College, the first Islamic college in the United States. The school will teach Islamic law and theology, and U.S. history.

Hatem Bazian, the chairman of academic affairs at the school, has been accused of whipping up anti-Semitism on campuses across the nation through another organization he helped establish, the anti-Israel "Students for Justice in Palestine" -- although Hamza Yusuf, cofounder and president is known to be an outspoken critic of extremism.

"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," wrote Yusuf in an open letter on the college's website.

Zaytuna College/Facebook

"Today, Zaytuna's accreditation roots this vision in a reality recognized within American higher education," Yusuf continued. "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."

Zaytuna College offers one Bachelor of Arts degree, in Islamic law and theology. Courses offered include several on Islamic law, Introduction to the Koran, Ethics, Mathematics, and U.S. History.

Yusuf, an Islamic scholar adviser at both Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley in addition to being the president of Zaytuna College, has been an outspoken critic of extremism. His speech warranted a death degree from ISIS earlier this year for condemning the Charlie Hebdo cartoon magazine massacre in Paris, according to an article in FOX news.

Bazian in an April 2004 rally in San Francisco, showed support of insurgents in Iraq and in 2008 took to the streets to stir passions on Palestine.

"Are you angry?" Bazian shouted. "Well, we've been watching intifada in Palestine; we've been watching an uprising in Iraq and the question is ... how come we don't have an intifada [an uprising] in this country?

"It's about time," Bazian continued, appearing to call for an uprising in the United States. "You haven't seen radicalism yet!"

Some critics who monitor higher education say the idea of a Muslim-centric school is fine in principle, but they are wary of Bazian's links to Students for Justice in Palestine. He's also a senior lecturer at UC Berkeley; critics say any school associated with him is suspect.

"He's an anti-Israel activist and he uses academia to further his agenda," Nonie Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel, told

Many colleges and universities across the nation have Christian roots, with the focus on a well-rounded education undergirded by biblical principles. Zaytuna has Islamic roots, with the focus on Koranic studies.

The name Zaytuna, the Arabic word for "olive," includes the concept that an olive tree's roots can go 20 feet deep to find nourishment, and the olive is blessed, according to the school's website.

The college last week received full accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, one of six accrediting entities in the United States.

The accreditation process ensures acceptable levels of quality in the education received, rather than in the content of what is studied, according to the U.S. Department of education. Any coursework could be acceptable, provided the depth of the material covered would be sufficient to pass muster in any other college.

Accreditation means students' coursework will transfer to any other accredited school. It also means students who attend the college can apply for grants and loans, and the college may issue visas to international students.