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First Muslim college in the U.S. opens

Maryam Abdul-Aleem | 4/12/2011, 5:24 p.m.

"It nice to learn about history. It's nice to learn about journalism. It's nice to learn about how to write. It's nice to learn about science. It's nice to learn all these things, but it's also nice to learn about God, and it's necessary to have a balance in our lives," said Dustin Craun, a student at Zaytuna College, a new Islamic school in California.

The college was named after the Arabic word for "olive tree," due to its historical reference in the three Abrahamic religions holy books--the Torah, Bible and Qur'an--according to the school's website.

With a couple of other degrees already under his belt, Craun told the Amsterdam News that the education students obtain at other Western universities is often a bit imbalanced because it's about certain ideas and the mind. However, he said, at Zaytuna College the education offered is a more balanced.

"Those of us studying at Zaytuna are looking for a balanced education in the sense that [studying here] takes God into account. It takes a different worldview into account than what is presented at Western academies. And," the theology and Islamic law major continued, "it takes a holistic approach to the human being--that you can learn about the soul and the heart and our minds and how these things work together in constructing knowledge."

The college was founded in 1996 by Shaykh Hamza and held its first graduation in 2008 with a few students. It is now in the process of becoming the first accredited Muslim Institution with a mission to educate students to be leaders grounded in Islamic scholarship that can navigate through contemporary and cultural issues of its time. The college currently offers Arabic language and Islamic law and theology to its new students. (Other founders of the college include Imam Zaid Shakir, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Dr. Hatem Bazian.)

Craun, 30, who converted to Islam in 2002, said students attending the school are a mixture of Muslims of all races from all over the country who have converted to Islam or raised as Muslims.

The Colorado native said his choice to attend the college was due to the renowned instructors and their work preaching peace and a more balanced understanding about Islam, "and to be able to study Islam traditionally," because "you can study about Islam in a lot of universities, but you can't study Islam from its own view point and its own perspective," which Craun said teaches racial equality, women's rights and religious understanding.

The Qur'an, the Muslim's holy book, says God will not change a people until they change themselves, Craun stated, and so the students take it personally to change themselves for the better in the long run and with their families, their society and their long-term goals and then from that, create positive changes within the Muslim community because a majority of Muslims want peace and a more balance existence.

So, "what our work is, is to create positive responses and showing people what the beauty of Islam is," he concluded.