Zaytuna College is likely unfamiliar to most Americans, as it is a small, Islamic higher education institute that was founded quite recently. Described as the nation’s “first Muslim college,” Zaytuna, located in Berkeley, Calif., seeks to mesh Islamic values with Western educational tenets. While the school currently has only 31 students and is renting space from a Baptist seminary, it plans to have its own campus next year — an expansive act that showcases the potential growth and trajectory of the emerging school.

On its web site, Zaytuna’s purpose is clearly highlighted as educating and equipping Muslim students to embark on a journey in the modern era. Noting that the Islamic population is growing in the West, the school believes that there are a number of challenges facing Muslim-Americans, particularly when it comes to integrating Islamic and Western cultures.

This Is Zaytuna College: Americas First Muslim Liberal Arts College

Photo Credit: Zaytuna College/Facebook

The college further explains these sentiments on its web site:

Islam has never become rooted in a particular land until that land began producing its own religious scholars. 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. Clearly, there is an essential need for Muslim institutions that can wed Islam’s classical texts with the contemporary context.

This reality has led to two lamentable situations. First, there are very few Muslim scholars who can meet the religious and pastoral needs of a rapidly expanding Muslim community in the West. Second, much of our younger generation has become alienated from the mosque and from religious culture.

To satisfy its educational goals, Zaytuna College pledges to continue its growth, while modeling itself as an institution that will rival some of America’s best religious seminaries and general educational facilities. Students participate in a curriculum that is described as “rigorous,” with classes in Islamic Studies, Arabic, humanities and the social sciences. The notion is that graduating students will become “scholars who understand the specific needs of contemporary societies.”

Advancing its goal of offering Muslims the opportunity to better learn and understand “Islam’s critical role in the modern world,” Zaytuna currently offers two majors: Islamic Law & Theology and Arabic Language (full course listings for the programs are available at the aforementioned links).

As far as cultural awareness goes, the school believes it can be a bridge to assist in what it calls the “indigenization of Islam in the West.” This is code for cultural understanding and the adopting — or, at the least, the understanding — of the two cultures by one another. An explanation on the college’s web site points to the general notion that Muslims are “outsiders” in America, something Zaytuna is attempting to temper and rectify.

“God willing, a Zaytuna College education will prepare students for a meaningful life as compassionate, productive, and educated citizens of the global community who understand Islam as a living, viable, and relevant faith, and who represent that faith with dignity, wisdom, and honor,” the web site continues.

A recent Al Jazeera report has more about the school’s goals, along with student testimonials:

While the college is not currently accredited, officials are working toward that goal, with hopes of reaching it by the time the first graduating class accepts diplomas in 2014.

Learn more about Zaytuna College on the school’s web site.