One of Egypt’s senior Muslim clerics supports the concept of a Muslim college being established in the United States, telling The Washington Times last week that it would help foster better relations between the West and the Muslim world.
“Things like the Zaytuna College are definitely a step in the right direction,” said Sheik Ali Gomaa, who was in Washington last week as part of a two-day conference, A Common Word Between Us and You: A Global Rights Agenda, held at Georgetown University.
Zaytuna College is expected to open next year in Berkeley, Calif., where it will offer Arabic language and Islamic legal and theological studies. The plan includes becoming a fully accredited, four-year college.
One of Zaytuna’s co-founders is Sheik Hamza Yusuf, who, after a meeting with President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11 attacks, commented, “Islam was hijacked.”
Zaytuna co-founders and Sheik Gomaa say the school would fulfill educational and cultural needs that have long been ignored.
“There are several million Muslims in the United States and rapidly growing Muslim populations in Canada, Great Britain and Western Europe. Yet, there are no accredited academic institutions capable of training students in the varied sciences of Islam while also instilling in them a sophisticated understanding of the intellectual history and culture of the West,” officials say at zaytunacollege.org. “Clearly, there is an essential need for Muslim institutions that can wed Islam’s classical texts with the contemporary context.”
Zaytuna also could help in the war on terror.
Christians and Muslims have said fighting extremism means reaching out to moderates, teaching younger Muslims that Islam rejects violence and hatred, and finding common ground - such as love of God.
Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world’s pre-eminent Islamic college, supports Zaytuna, said the sheik, who hopes the two institutions of higher learning will cooperate in several ways, including a student-exchange program.
“These are means we can explore. An exchange program can be one way to further dialogue and engagement,” Sheik Gomaa said.
Engagement and dialogue are key to dispelling misperceptions and falsehoods in the West about Islam and misperceptions and falsehoods in the Muslim world about the West.
The sheik laid out his priorities in a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Tuesday.
No. 1 is education, followed by the media and social cooperation.
He singled out curriculum and historic texts and documents.
“We are in dire need of reviewing curriculum” and rewriting texts to remove “false” perceptions, the sheik said.
“We can make massive strides forward” if that is done, he said.