Many American universities—both religious and secular—have recently launched efforts to accommodate and encourage religious diversity on their campuses. Universities are fostering this diversity and strengthening interfaith respect and cooperation to better serve their students and to counter rising incidences of xenophobia and other prejudices. Colleges are taking particularly active steps to welcome Muslim students, who too often face discrimination and prejudice because of their faith.
The number of Muslim students enrolled at Catholic universities has reportedly doubled over the past decade. In fact, according to the Higher Education Research Institute, the percentage of Muslim students at Catholic universities is higher than at “the average four-year institution in the United States.” Many may assume this influx of the religious “other” might generate tension, and that has indeed been the case on some campuses. But while much attention has been paid to instances of conflict and discord, the firsthand experience of many students suggests that, theological differences aside, having a religious identity of any kind can serve as a point of commonality for many students.
Many other universities are developing programs and policies that are designed to make Muslim students feel more welcome, as well:
- Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, where 15 percent of the students identify as Muslim, compared to the average 1.3 percent of students at four-year colleges, established dedicated prayer rooms for Muslim students and launched an “Interreligious Dialogue” program, inviting students from different faiths to discuss a wide range of issues, including anti-Muslim sentiment.
- Georgetown University, in addition to reserving space for daily Muslim prayers, employs Imam Yahya Hendi as a university chaplain in its multifaith Campus Ministry in Washington, D.C.
- American University, which is affiliated with the Methodist Church, actively engages Muslim students through its Kay Spiritual Life Center in the nation’s capital and its Muslim Chaplain Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad.
By taking actions that express concern and sensitivity toward students of all faith traditions, these universities have demonstrated a commitment to bridging the river of religious differences and countering the idea that religious diversity inevitably breeds discord. Other universities that have yet to take action ought to note the successes of these programs at both religious and secular institutions—most notably the one fostered by non-religiously affiliated New York University.
Classes are now underway at the first Muslim university in the country.
School officials say they hope to enroll 2,000 students in ten years. but the first day of classes at Zaytuna College, in Berkeley, Calif, began with just 15 students.m”We have a really healthy mix of different ethnicities which really reflects the Muslim population in the United States,” Zaytuna College Vice President Omar Nawaz said. The college offers bachelors degrees in Islamic law and theology and Arabic language. Administrators said the university is open to students of all faiths, but admits the Koran is the primary book at the school.
The Muslim Community Center can offer resources for students of all faiths to learn and study the Islamic culture, its faith and its people from within. Please contact our office via e-mail and one of our knowledgeable advisors will contact you.