Don’t Believe the Hype about Zaytuna College

zaytunaAmerican Thinker, By Stephen Schwartz, April 29, 2015:

The accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) of tiny Zaytuna College, an Islamist project with seventeen professors and fifty students in Berkeley, California that has been called “America’s first Muslim liberal arts college,” has been lauded — and misrepresented — in the mainstream press. A Religion News Service article reprinted in the Washington Post and elsewhere, including the Christian Century, described Zaytuna as “A college that requires the study of both Wordsworth and the Quran for graduation… now the first fully accredited Islamic university in America.”

Yet WASC approved only one program: a B.A. in Islamic law and theology. Moreover, it stated that, “The phrase ‘fully accredited’ is to be avoided, since no partial accreditation is possible.” This distortion may be blamed on sloppy reporting, since such a degree program would not a university make, even in a Muslim country. As disclosed by Zaytuna itself in a March 8 statement, WACS accreditation provided Zaytuna with a vague status as “an American Muslim college [that] has now joined the nation’s community of accredited institutions of higher education.”  No mention appears of “full” accreditation or pretentions to being a university. According to the U.S. Department of Education (USDE), accreditation is optional for private schools in California.

It appears that Zaytuna originally intended to accept federal and state funds (for which accreditation is necessary), since a list of frequently asked questions on its website declares, “Until Zaytuna College achieves accreditation, students will not be eligible for any state and federal grants or loans.” Yet today Zaytuna (along with such colleges as Hillsdale and Christendom) “does not participate in state or federal grant or loan programs,” a standing that exempts it from federal regulations regarding, among other matters, the sex and race of the student body.

The college’s founder, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a convert to Islam who was born Mark Hanson and raised Greek Orthodox, carries the honorific title Shaykh, which denotes respectability within the Muslim community but does not imply the attainment of educational or religious credentials. Two days before the atrocities of September 11, 2001, Yusuf declared in Los Angeles that America stood “condemned” and “unfortunately has a great, great tribulation coming to it.”

Hanson’s partners in the Zaytuna venture include two more well-known Islamists: Hatem Bazian, a senior lecturer in the University of Berkeley, California’s departments of Near Eastern and ethnic studies notorious for his vitriolic anti-Israel rhetoric, and the American imam Zaid Shakir. Bazian is also director of Berkeley’s “Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project” — an ideological rather than scholarly effort — and Shakir has discounted the atrocities of the so-called “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) by comparing them with the depredations of Mexican drug cartels.

While Bazian’s teaching responsibilities at Zaytuna are not specified in the college catalogue, Shakir is “chair of Zaytuna’s Student Affairs Committee, which looks after student residential life and co-curricular activities.” Both are members of the college’s board of trustees.

The college operates from two buildings on Berkeley’s “Holy Hill” within in a cluster of religious seminaries around the UC Berkeley Graduate Theological Union (GTU). This setting was predictable, since, according to its website, Zaytuna was launched in 1996 as an Islamic seminary in the nearby suburb of Hayward, California.  Hanson, Shakir, and Bazian changed their project to that of a “Muslim liberal arts college” in 2009.

The Zaytuna website avers that all students who have not passed one year of classical Arabic with a C or better must pass its Arabic intensive language placement test. There are seventeen faculty members, although its website does not identify the courses they teach.

As for Wordsworth, the online catalogue states that students must take a freshman seminar that assigns works from both the Western and Islamic traditions, including poetry, but mentions no authors by name. All of Zaytuna’s requirements for graduation are Islamic in nature except for courses in formal logic, rhetoric, mathematics, material logic, the history of science, astronomy, economics, U.S. history, and constitutional law. A required senior thesis may be submitted in either English or Arabic.

Zaytuna’s financing is opaque. Since it is not required by California to report on its funding, there is no means at present to determine how it is supported. Its website states that 12,000 people have contributed to its support, but does not disclose the total assets it has reached.

Annual fees are $15,000 for tuition and $9,000 for on-campus housing, both very low among contemporary private colleges. All student financial aid resources at Zaytuna “are funded by Zaytuna’s community of supporters, and most financial aid awards come from zakat (alms).”

Despite the hyperbole, Zaytuna has not been accredited as a “Muslim liberal arts college,” but as a facility offering only one baccalaureate degree.  It could be seen as a hope for American Muslim parents who want their children to receive an Islamic education, but it will not substitute for the broad and diverse intellectual challenge associated traditionally with the liberal arts in colleges and universities, even in Muslim countries.  Rather, it is a personal religious school headed by Hamza Yusuf Hanson. No one should be fooled by this absurd masquerade.

Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

‘Islamophobia’ in the Bay Area?

images (95)By Stephen Schwartz:

According to “The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Identity and Community,”  (BAMS) the San Francisco Bay Area, long known for its tolerance towards minorities and adherence to multiculturalism, is a hotbed of “Islamophobia.”

Its principal author is Hatem Bazian, a senior lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley’s Near Eastern Studies Department, director of Berkeley’s Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project, which advertises BAMS at its website, and “Academic Affairs Chair” at Zaytuna College in Berkeley. Bazian’s co-author is Farid Senzai, an assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school, and a faculty member (subject undisclosed) at Zaytuna. Senzai is also director of research at a little-known entity originating in Detroit, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which co-commissioned the May, 2013 Bay Area study.

BAMS is the latest effort by Islamists to use their stature in academe to deceive the Western public about their extremist agenda and the interests of Muslims in general. It is fatally flawed in its methodology, the evidence it musters does not support its conclusions, and it is little more than propaganda to use as a political bludgeon against anyone who objects to radical Islam. No scholarly tool for understanding the Muslims of the Bay area, it will be used to silence critics and stifle debate.

Read more at American Thinker

The Iran Lobby Buys a Friendly Face for Despotism

216_largeBy Stephen Schwartz:

The funding of a significant pro-Iran lobby that funnels money to American universities was disclosed to the wider public for the first time during the U.S. Senate’s recent confirmation battle over Chuck Hagel’s successful nomination as secretary of defense.  By far the largest grantor is the Alavi Foundation, now under federal investigation, which has given Harvard University $345,000 over nine years ending in 2011.  Other institutions in the U.S. and Canada have also benefited from Iranian largesse.

Hagel, who represented Nebraska as a Republican U.S. Senator from 1997 to 2009, has long advocated a soft line toward the brutal theocratic regime, as exemplified by his call in 2007 for “direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.”

He has participated in at least one Middle East Studies event organized by Tehran’s tenured apologists and subsidized by the Iranian regime.  As described by Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, Hagel addressed a March 2007 conference at Rutgers University co-sponsored by the school’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and the shadowy group that, as pointed out by the WSJ‘s Stephens and others, helped pay for the Rutgers AIC event: the Alavi Foundation.

He has participated in at least one Middle East Studies event organized by Tehran’s tenured apologists and subsidized by the Iranian regime.  As described by Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, Hagel addressed a March 2007 conference at Rutgers University co-sponsored by the school’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and the shadowy group that, as pointed out by the WSJ‘s Stephens and others, helped pay for the Rutgers AIC event: the Alavi Foundation.

Alavi is an arm of the Tehran government that has granted substantial sums to American and Canadian universities.  Its 2010 Form 990, filed in compliance with its nonprofit status with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, listed assets of $39,082,555.  Alavi’s “Direct Charitable Activities” were limited to four, all school-related: “Farsi Schools in Various Universities and Schools,” “Information Education Centers,” “Publication and Book Distribution,” and “Interest Free Loans to Education Centers.”  Its total grant outlay for that year was $2,148,630.  The 2007 Form 990 from Alavi included a line for Rutgers, indicating that Alavi’s investment in the Rutgers CMES and, presumably, the event with AIC and Hagel, was $72,500.
Read more at American Thinker

Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.  He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

 

Gulen’s False Choice: Silence or Violence

Fethullah Gulen

By Stephen Schwartz:

The imam and his army should follow their own advice: respond to insults against Muhammad or other non-violent attacks by presenting a better example of Islam, rather than by attempting prior restraint on free expression.

When the enigmatic Turkish Islamist leader, M. Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the U.S., published, in the September 27 London Financial Times, an op-ed column with a clumsy turn from benevolent moderation to hard Islamist ambitions, he revealed his authentic character.

The topic was, probably predictably, the latest outburst of terrorism in Muslim countries, along with the pretext of indignation against a crude video made in the U.S. and which insulted Muhammad. The op-ed, entitled, “Violence is not in the tradition of the Prophet,” emphasized, in the first seven (out of nine) paragraphs, that Muslims should not react to insults against Muhammad by destructive protests: “The violent response,” he wrote, “was wrong… Muslims …must speak out [against] violence… The question we should ask ourselves as Muslims is whether we have introduced Islam and its Prophet properly to the world. Have we followed his example in such a way as to instill admiration?… [A Muslim] should respect the sacred values of Christians, Jews, Buddhists and others as he expects his own religion and values to be respected.” So far, so good.

The true outlook of Fethullah Gulen, however, was revealed in his last two paragraphs: “Hate speech designed to incite violence is an abuse of the freedom of expression… [W]e should appeal to the relevant international institutions, such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC] or the UN, to intervene, expose and condemn instances of hate speech. We can do whatever it takes within the law to prevent any disrespect to all revered religious figure, not only to the Prophet Muhammad. The attacks on the Prophet we have repeatedly experienced are to be condemned, but the correct response is not violence. Instead, we must pursue a relentless campaign to promote respect for the sacred values of all religions,” Gulen proclaimed.

Gulen proposes, in so many words, adoption of international laws against blasphemy as an alternative to homicidal outbursts. And what would a “relentless campaign” involve other than disrespect for free speech? Presenting terrorist mobs and blasphemy codes as the principal alternatives for redress of offended Muslims’ grievances is hardly reasonable, and conflicts with the reputation Gulen has sought to construct for himself and his followers as dedicated adherents to interfaith dialogue and tolerance of religious differences.

Gulen leads a massive, worldwide religious, journalistic, and educational network, known as Hizmet (Service). His movement is associated with the Istanbul daily newspaper Zaman (Time), which claims to be Turkey’s largest in circulation. Zaman produces an English online edition, Today’s Zaman, as well as media aimed at the overseas Turkish communities in Germany and Australia. Zaman also appears in locally-edited versions in countries, from the Balkans to Kyrgyzia, which possess either Turkish minorities, or are viewed as part of a pan-Turkish cultural sphere. Zaman has no problem with restrictive press rules under notorious dictatorships, such as, for example, that of the former Soviet Muslim republic of Turkmenistan, under the eccentric, coercive, and energy-rich regime established by its post-Communist autocrat, Suparmarat Niyazov (1940-2006). Zaman Turkmenistan, following the prevailing rules, has refrained from reporting news unfavorable to Niyazov’s regime and its successors.

Gulen is doubtless best known outside Turkey for a system of science-oriented primary, secondary, and higher education institutions across the globe, including many operated as “charter schools,” with local public financing, in the U.S. The Gulen school system in America – 120 establishments in 2012, according to The New York Times – has been questioned for its odd characteristics. These include recruiting American students of non-Turkish descent to learn Turkish – hardly a likely first choice for American learners of a second language – and participating in competitions for the mastery of Turkish culture. Turkish-Americans, however, according to the reliable estimates, account for fewer than 150,000 people out of the total population, thereby depriving the Gulen program of an argument for multicultural representation in public school curricula of a significant minority culture.

Further, in the last two years, mainstream media have reported U.S. federal and state investigations of the Gulen charter school system. These have focused on charges of diversion of local government money to Gulen-controlled businesses and abuse of “H1B” work visas for teachers brought from Turkey and Central Asia who have substandard qualifications, while American teachers with superior credentials suffer unemployment. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that three Gulen schools in the American state of Georgia (he has many more schools in the former Soviet republic of Georgia) had defaulted on bonds, and that an audit had disclosed improper contracting for services with Gulen enterprises.

The Gulen movement’s American branches additionally offer speaking platforms and tours of Turkey to influential Americans, with considerable success. Gulen, who began his professional life as an imam, has enjoyed the support of America’s premier academic apologist for radical Islam, Professor John Louis Esposito of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, as well as other prominent figures. Through them, he has projected himself as a preacher of moderate, spiritual Islam related to the Sufi tradition and particularly to that of Said Nursi (1878-1960), who advocated a fusion of science and faith. Gulen has been especially identified by his defenders with mutual respect between religions and as an advocate for secular education, an opponent of terrorism, and, in effect, a lover of all humanity.

Inside Turkey, Gulen and his movement have a different image. They inspire considerable fear. Gulen’s followers have been accused of an elaborate strategy of infiltration of state institutions, including the army, police, and judiciary. Ahmet Sik, a Turkish journalist who wrote an expose of the movement, The Imam’s Army, was charged with participation in a nebulous “conspiracy” called “Ergenekon,” organized ostensibly by a “deep state” within the Turkish institutions. Sik was released in March 2012 after more than a year in prison. The Imam’s Army is banned in Turkey and has yet to be printed as a book there, although it, and excerpts translated into English, have been posted on the internet.

Read more at Gatestone Institute