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New Islamic University Opens in Minneapolis
February 02, 2007
By Abdirahman Aynte
     The Center for Independent Media
 
Minneapolis, MN (HOL)- So, you want to learn Islam and Arabic without leaving the Twin Cities?

That might be possible with the newly launched Islamic University of Minnesota. So far, about 160 students have registered this spring for courses at $150 each. They will learn everything from the basics of Islam to the Quran to the Arabic language.

The campus, at 2534 Central Ave. N.E., is in the heart of a sprawling Muslim community, where shops with Arabic signs dot the neighborhood.

Founders say the timing couldn’t be better. The state has recently been a flashpoint for cultural conflict involving Muslims, whose faith remains a mystery to most.

Sitting in his highly decorated office on the third floor of an aging building the university shares with a mosque, co-founder and president Dr. Farok Hamod Samara’i explains the mission. “We strive to teach moderation and objectivity in Islam through an academic setting,” he said, as he sipped a leafy Arabic tea.

Why Minnesota?

Despite being at the bottom of the top 12 states that 80 percent of Muslims in America inhabit, the state is home to many Muslim scholars, according to Dr. Samara’i. Professors at IUM include several imams at local mosques, including a Somali one, and a psychologist.

“We’re blessed,” said Dr. Samara’i, a charismatic Iraqi, who was a dean at a Jordanian university and oversaw dozens of doctorate dissertations in United Arab Emirates.

An estimated 150,000 Muslims, mostly from Somalia, live in Minnesota. Donations from some of them made it possible to start the university, says Adnan Sameha, who helps with enrollment at IUM.

Somalis constitute more than 60 percent of the students. Women, who share a classroom with men, make up 35 percent of students, according to Sameha.

Dr. Samara’i is proud of the inclusion of women, a rarity in Islamic universities, “because that transcends the wrong impression about Islam,” he said. “Our teaching is purely radical-averse.”

Another unusual aspect is that all courses, except the recitation of Quran, are taught in Arabic with simultaneous English interpretation. That’s because 15 percent of the students are American-born Muslims, who barely understand Arabic.

Islam is believed to be the fastest-growing religion in the United States, stemming in part from converts. But Dr. Samara’i insists that their objective isn’t conversion. In fact, being a Muslim isn’t an admission requirement. “We don’t believe in self-righteousness,” he said.

Seeking Accreditation

The university is registered with the state but not accredited — a hurdle that Dr. Samara’i hopes to cross by proving viability to the state accreditation board. Meantime, students might be able to obtain credentials from Al-Azhar University, a prestigious college in Egypt, should talks between the two yield desired results.

One way to prove viability to the accreditation board, IUM officials said, is to require students to successfully finish approximately 120 credit hours, a similar requirement of most other colleges.

IUM isn’t the first Islamic university in the U.S. But it might be the only one with traditional classrooms, said Dr. Samara’i, who briefly taught at American Open University, which offers courses through correspondence.

The local university plans to increase enrollment in the near future and to move out from the dowdy classrooms it currently inhabits

Abdirahman Aynte can be reached at [email protected]

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