The three founders of the school are all leading Islamic scholars. Hatem Bazian is a Palestinian-American who teaches Islamic studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Shakir and Hamza Yusuf are American converts who spent years studying Islam overseas before becoming leading Muslim scholars in the U.S.
Zaytuna, where tuition is $11,000 a year, offers a bachelor’s degree with two majors: Arabic language and Islamic law and theology. Students take classes in subjects such as Islamic ethics, Islamic finance and Muslims in America, as well as courses one finds at a traditional liberal arts college — sociology, philosophy, linguistics, astronomy.
Zaytuna’s opening is “one of the signs that Muslims have come of age in this country” and will be “a unique contribution to higher education,” said Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University.
But Mr. Moosa said the bachelor’s degree curriculum seems more like that of a theological seminary than a liberal arts college because most of the required courses are related to Islam.
“From where I’m sitting, it’s heading in the direction of becoming a theological seminary, unless there will be a radical rethinking of the program,” Mr. Moosa said.
In the years to come, Zaytuna’s founders hope to enroll more students, add more majors, offer graduate programs and have its own campus. The school is raising money from Muslim communities in the U.S. and trying to build an endowment.
Freshman Hadeel Al-Hadidi, 24, completed her bachelor’s degree in communications at the University of Michigan-Dearborn before enrolling at Zaytuna. She hopes to pursue a career in film.
“Zaytuna College is more of a personal thing,” she said, “to make myself a better person, to better myself in my religion.”