Christian tradition in a liberal arts education

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Hamza Yusuf is one of the founders of the first Islamic liberal arts colleges in America. Photo courtesy of Imram Khan.

It is difficult for the student body of the University of Dallas to imagine a liberal arts program that isn’t grounded in the Christian tradition. How many of us have heard of a Buddhist liberal arts program? What about a secular, Jewish or Islamic one? However,
the liberal arts can belong to any religious or secular institution.

It should interest us to consider the similarities and differences between each type of
liberal arts education.

As many of us know, Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of Zaytuna College, has been invited to UD to speak on the topic “Liberal Education Among the Abrahamic Religions” this Thursday at 7 p.m. He will be speaking on Islam while Provost Jonathan Sanford and Dr. Joshua Parens,
dean of Braniff Graduate School, will speak on Christianity and Judaism, respectively. I
would suggest that we as students are not fully aware of the weight Yusuf ’s work carries in the intellectual and Islamic world, and that his coming to UD might be considered a
historical event worth remembering.

Yusuf is an American-Islamic scholar who has been called “arguably the West’s most influential Islamic scholar” by The Guardian and “perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world” by The New Yorker. He was born in Walla Walla, Washington as Mark Hanson and converted to Islam at 18.

Even though Yusuf is famous as an Islamic lecturer throughout the world, many do
not know the love he has for the liberal arts, which has inspired him and his colleagues to
open Zaytuna College, the first accredited Islamic liberal arts college in America.

Zaytuna College’s aim is, according to its website, “to educate students to become
morally, intellectually, and spiritually accomplished persons who, having been rigorously
trained in the Islamic and Western scholarly traditions, are ready to interact with and shape modern society by the light of principles that transcend it, being motivated constantly by the intention of finding the extent of human wisdom.”

I would argue that Zaytuna College’s aim is similar to that of UD; the two schools’ mission statements are nearly identical if one exchanged the word “Islamic” for the word “Christian.” Both schools are dedicated to instilling the virtue of truth in their students and broadening students’ understanding of what it means to be human, and how to understand the nature of reality.

The relationship between Zaytuna College and UD is important to our university; this is the first time we are establishing a relationship with any Islamic liberal arts college. This Thursday’s talk itself will allow us to share views that will make clearer our understanding of the values the Abrahamic religions share and confirm our understanding of what it
means to be liberally educated under a religiously affiliated umbrella of thought.

Perhaps we will be surprised to realize that we are more similar in our ideas than we thought we were. And if not that, then certainly there is still much to be gained from attending such a unique event that will explore the different kinds of liberal arts educations and the value that each has in the scope of its own religious tradition.

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