Classes started today at a new school in Berkeley that aims to be one of the first accredited Muslim-run liberal arts colleges in the United States.
Zaytuna College, which is working toward accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, is initially offering two majors: Islamic law and theology and Arabic.
School officials said the accreditation process typically takes 4 to 8 years.
The school is starting out small with only 15 students and rented classroom space at the American Baptist Seminary of the West at Dwight Way and Hillegass Avenue, but officials said the college hopes to grow gradually and eventually have its own facility.
"The college will in due time graduate highly-trained and culturally aware professionals to lead the growing number of Muslim institutions and communities across the country as well as contribute in a meaningful way to the diverse American tapestry," co-founder Hatem Bazian said in a statement.
Another founder, Zaid Shakir, said the school also aims to improve relations between members of the Muslim community and other local faith groups.
The third co-founder, Hamza Yusuf, said the school represented the realization of a long-standing goal.
"We have long desired to establish an institution that recognizes the importance of shaping Islamic scholars and teachers that fully understand American culture," Yusuf said. "Zaytuna College is the first institution of higher learning to address that need."
Six men and nine women are enrolled in the freshman class at Zaytuna, which has five faculty members and charges $11,000 each year for tuition. All of the students are Muslim, but the college says it welcomes students and teachers of all faiths and perspectives.
Zaytuna is also seeking accreditation from major educational institutions in the Muslim world, such as Egypt's al-Azhar University.
Officials said the school is not receiving any government funding and instead subsists on contributions from the Muslim community in the U.S.
Courses offered at Zaytuna include Islamic theology, Islamic ethics, Islamic jurisprudence, Islamic business and finance law and Muslims in America.