Where Islam Meets America

I suppose this was inevitable:

Back in 2000, a Catholic nun named Marianne Farina noticed a gap in the world of religious higher education. She issued a challenge to her friend, a forty-two-year-old Muslim teacher named Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. “You’re one-fourth of the world’s population. Where are the Muslim colleges?” she asked. “You need to do it.” Yusuf, an Irish-American convert who wears horn-rimmed glasses and a Vandyke beard, is perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world, and he took Sister Farina’s question seriously. Three years ago, in Berkeley, California, he joined with Imam Zaid Shakir, an tall, slender Oakland-born black convert whose influence rivals Yusuf’s, and a Muslim academic named Dr. Hatem Bazian to found Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal-arts college in the United States.

Berkeley. Who’d a thunk.

Who is Yusuf?

[B]orn Mark Hanson, and raised in Northern California by academic parents, he was named after Mark Van Doren, a champion of the Great Books approach. He converted to Islam in 1977, after nearly dying in a car crash, and subsequently spent ten years training with leading Muslim scholars in the Middle East and North and West Africa. When he returned to California, he earned degrees in English, religious studies, and nursing, and he’s currently pursing a Ph.D. in Islamic studies at U.C. Berkeley.

A white growing up in Northern California who converts to Islam. Imagine that.

I had to crack up at the writer’s attempt to use a ‘shared victim’ narrative by grouping Jim Crow with… Irish persecution. Of the school’s founders:

And they often draw on their own American experiences in the classroom: Shakir as a black American and a child of the civil-rights movement, and Yusuf as a descendent of Irish Catholic immigrants who were abused by Nativists in Philadelphia in the eighteen-forties—but who responded, as Korb puts it, “by building churches and schools as a way to create safe institutions that would eventually serve the entire community.”

That’ll probably be the first and only time you ever see a liberal publication refer to Irish-Americans today as victim-cohorts to… say… blacks.

Now, as far as the curriculum, one has to read between the lines here:

Zaytuna’s course offerings increasingly reflect the founders’ wide-ranging interests—American history, logic, rhetoric, ethics, anthropology, composition, poetry—but all of it, Korb told me, “inflected by Islam.” For Yusuf, Korb writes, Zaytuna’s liberal-arts curriculum “is part of a larger ambition to bring the sacred knowledge he gained throughout the Muslim world into conversation with classical texts of the Western tradition.”

Yusuf and Shakir can be highly critical of America—its permissiveness, its foreign policy in the Middle East, its attitude toward Muslims—but they’re also quick to say that in some ways, Muslims have it a lot better here than they would in certain Muslim-majority countries. (One exception is American public education, which Yusuf bitterly opposes, insisting that it ignores “basic human decency” and produces “no more than functional literates.” “If you want a fatwa from me,” he said at an event in 2011, “I really consider it prohibited by Islamic law to send a child to public school in this country.”)

Good thing he doesn’t take that position in Germany.

Which brings up the question: What happens to Muslims living in Germany when they refuse to send their kids to public school?

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