Friday, December 24, 2010

Increasing number of Muslim students at Catholic universities in US

Washington Post ran a story a few days ago about the increasing number of Muslim students attending Catholic universities in US. I think it is interesting, though not really surprising, that some of these Muslim students relate to the more overt religious environment they find at these universities. Second, it also appears that these Catholic universities are also courting these students, which is also not surprising for private universities given the current economic situation in the US.

There are some definite positives with this. For example, this kind of synergy can certainly develop religious tolerance for both sides and gives an opportunity to encounter each other in normal university circumstances (though that is also true for other universities as well). But there can also be some negatives, as students may only get to see the more conservative side of US education (for example, the same article mentions that Catholic University refuses to officially recognize student groups, such as the gay rights advocacy organization, that they don't agree with).

So for better or for worse, here are some reasons for this synergy:
Muslim students say they enroll at Catholic schools for many of the same reasons as their classmates: attractive campuses, appealing professors and academic programs that fit their interests. But there is also a spiritual attraction to the values that overlap the two faiths.
"Because it is an overtly religious place, it's not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority," said Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf. "They have the same values we do." 
 Echoing Islam's conservative culture, the school separates men and women in its dorms and imposes visiting hours. The university prohibits sex before marriage. Daily prayer and periodic fasting are common concepts.
At the same time, Muslim students find themselves immersed in what can seem at times alien iconography. Almost every classroom is adorned with a crucifix. Statues of the Virgin Mary and Holy Child dot the campus. Professors often open their classes with an appeal to Jesus. Courses in theology are an undergraduate requirement.
That's how Shabnan found herself buying her first Bible, for a required Old Testament class. It's also the reason, she said with a smile, that she registered for an introductory course on Islam.
"I was looking for an easy course," she said. "I learned a lot that was new to me . . . and just seeing how someone completely outside our religion views it was fascinating." 
Read the full article here.


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