Bouquets of fresh flowers, mini chocolates, and commencement speeches in Arabic as well as English greeted the first graduating class of the Islamic University of Minnesota May 30 at the Shoreview Community Center.
“The beauty of [the graduation] is all the different cultures,” said instructor Safaa Sallam who teaches Arabic as a Second Language at the school. “Here is one of the melting pots in America.” Seated at the faculty table, she was surrounded by a standing room only crowd, which resulted in an overflow area broadcasting the event on large screen TV.
Student Aysar Abdualreesh received his Bachelor’s Degree in Islamic Studies, specializing in Islamic Law, and was a featured graduation speaker. The 43-year-old father of four studied electrical engineering in Chicago before moving to the Twin Cities in 1994. He is a self-employed business man, running convenience stores as his full-time job. Abdualreesh said he hopes to continue his education at the University. “First of all, I am going on to get my Master’s Degree, then hopefully a PhD,” he said. “I want to serve my community, maybe becoming a teacher at the University to help educate whoever wants to learn about Islam.”
Somali student Bile Mohamed Sugulle received a Bachelor’s Degree in Islamic Studies specializing in Islamic Law. Maath Hamed Al-Jasim obtained a Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies, specializing in Islamic Education. Al-Jasim’s graduate thesis subject was interracial marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim.
Executive Director Wafiq Fannoun spoke to the audience about the University’s outreach program, whose mission is to include the greater non-Muslim community into their classrooms. He pointed out that two priests attended Islamic Studies classes at the school for a full year. “We need to build bridges in our communities and in our workplaces so we can live together in peace and shalom,” he said.
World Religions and Globalization teacher Nadia Muhamed told the students: “I stand here admiring your persistence and patience. There’s no educator who won’t inspire and be inspired by his or her students. And I admit that I’m inspired by you as you transition into well-rounded, law abiding Muslim American citizens.”
Guest Speaker Yusuf Estes, once a devoted member of the Disciples of Christ church and Islamic convert later in life, asked who in the room was not Muslim. When two audience members raised their hands, Estes quipped, “How do you like being surrounded by all these terrorists-ummm-Muslims?” He also introduced a new website called “Guide Us TV” that he hopes will be up and running by the Ramadan observation in August.
In addition, almost 100 students were recipients of Specialized Certificates in Tajweed and Ijaza in Qur’an and Qur’anic Recitations. Students memorize the 600 page Qur’an. Tajweed certificates indicates that the student has learned the rules of recitation of the Qur’an and Ijaza certificate reflects the student met certain requirements of the program. Typically, the certificate in Qur’an memorization takes up to 30 months of instruction and alternative narrations are available for students from Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Sudan.
Safaa Sallam explained that the student memorizes the Qur’an from the first word to the last word. “Students have to memorize the Qur’an in a special way of reading. It’s like phonetics in English. You blend letters, how to start, how to stop. It has special rules.” While Sallam didn’t know of available jobs with a Tajweed or Ijaza certificate, she said students learn it for themselves and to teach children the right way of reciting the Qur’an.
The Islamic University’s structure and accrediation
The university is divided into three colleges: the College of Sharia Law, the College of Islamic Education, and the College of Arabic Language. There are Arabic and English programs. Some of the courses include Comparing Religions, Selected Hadits, Objectives of Islamic Law, Islamic Literature, Islamic Economics, Psychology of Islamic Education, and Inheritance.
Their College of Islamic Law and Fundamentals of Islam qualifies graduates to deal with and resolve issues related to the lives of Muslim minorities in the West in accordance with Islamic laws and principles, their website says.
Students need to complete 123 credits for their bachelor’s degree. Core classes include Qur’an Science, Arabic Grammar I, Oration and Orator Ethics, Jurisprudence of Crime, and mandatory graduation research. Examples of elective classes are Logic, History of Islamic Law, Islamic Politics, and Ethics. A master’s degree requires 27 credit hours and nine credits of thesis work. The university charges $50 per credit for undergrad courses and $75 per graduate credit.
The Islamic University of Minnesota, located in Minneapolis on Central Ave NE, opened its doors in 2007. It is not affiliated with the University of Minnesota nor is it accredited by the Higher Learning Commission or the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which is one of six regional accrediting institutions in the United States.
The Higher Learning Commission, based in Chicago, accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in the North Central region. (The Commission accredits more than 1,000 colleges and universities in nineteen states. The states are Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming). There are 147 accrediated post-secondary institutions in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
John Housaman, Public Information Administrator for the Higher Learning Commission, said there are no laws requiring an educational institution be accredited. “The process [to be accredited] is a lot of work. There are a fair amount of non-accredited schools around, but I don’t have those statistics. The student [in a non-accredited institution] could get in trouble if they want to go on to grad studies. If they come from an accredited institution, then the accreditation process makes it easier for them. If they want, they could stay contained in that non-accredited university.”
Housaman said a lot of employers want their employees to have their degree from an accredited institution, but said it’s up to the individual employer. “It really depends on the student’s future plans.”
There are several Islamic colleges throughout the U.S. and two in Minnesota. What is unique about the Islamic University of Minnesota is their requirement of attendance, said teacher Aisheh Wazwaz. Students must take seat time in a classroom, as opposed to distance learning. The other Minnesota Islamic university is online, Wazwaz said.
Fannoun said there have been 900 students since the university opened and that 58 percent were male and 42 percent female. More than fifty percent of students have received scholarships, he said.
Following the graduation ceremony, the crowd was served a buffet-style dinner and a raffle was held to raise funds for scholarships.
Guest Speaker Yusuf Estes Sidebar
Yusuf Estes, was born Skip Estes in Ohio, but grew up in Texas. Estes was raised in the Disciples of Christ, an evangelical church, and became a successful businessman and musician.
Estes, now 66, converted to the Islamic faith in the early 1990s. Today, he travels the world giving presentations on his beliefs and writes books. He said he is chaplain to Muslim prison inmates and was a delegate to the United Nations World Peace Conference for Religious Leaders in September 2000. He has more than 25,000 Facebook fans.
Because of his popularity with Muslims, several organizations wanted to videotape Estes’ graduation speech. [See YouTube videos of the speech here and here.
After being handed a fistful of microphones, he exclaimed “How many microphones we got here? One more and you can go work for the FBI.”
Estes asked the crowd if anyone were not Muslim. After two people raised their hands, he quipped, “How do you like being surrounded by all these terrorists, -ummm-Muslims?”
After congratulating the graduates, Estes talked about the more than 2,000 websites he helps maintain. “Many graduates from universities just like this one have helped us put [the websites] together. A lot of people are misguided by a few who hate Islam. They hate it blindly even though they know they are lying,” he said. “They don’t mind telling their lies because that is how much they hate Islam. It’s sad.”
Estes gave the example of a hate group from Virginia that put up anti-Muslim billboards in South Carolina and created a website called “Islam Rising.” To counter that, Estes said, his organization created a website called “Islam Is Rising.” “We completed the sentence for them,” he said. “These same people put up [a website] a few years ago called ‘Prophet of Doom.’ We put up ‘Prophet of Dome’ and we put up another one, ‘The Prophet of Dome.Net.’ And another one, ‘Answering the Prophet of Doom.”
Estes said when Senator John McCain ran for President, that same anti-Muslim group distributed 200,000 DVDs attacking Islam. “[They thought] it would help McCain get elected, but it didn’t work, did it?”
He said the hate group established a website called “Obsession” and produced the documentary film Obsession. “We put up [a website] ‘The Movie Obsession,’ then ‘Obsession the Movie.’ That’s why we have more than 2,000 websites and people are going to our websites instead of theirs. And it made them angry. Why? Because we copied a lot of their art work, we copied the letters and what we did when they said evil things, we said nice things….they didn’t like it. They actually wanted to go to court over that. In other words, we want to go to court to prove we can say lies. But you know what? We pray for our enemies, that’s what Muslims do. We don’t need to attack them. They attack themselves.”
Estes urged the audience not to visit the anti-Muslim websites. “Don’t promote websites that attack Islam. Every time you click on the links and send it to other people, you raise them up in the search engine and Mr. Google, and we don’t need that.”
Estes is launching a new internet program, he explained. “We know that there is no voice on the television for true Islam anywhere in the Americas. It’s not happening. So a lot of the brothers and sisters around the planet who know the English language and know how important it is for us to have a true message, have joined together with us as sponsors, volunteers, and media partners to put together this television channel. It’s called Guide.Us.TV.”
Estes said it is already on the internet and took two years to develop. He said his speech to the graduation class was being broadcast on the channel’s Chat feature. He hopes to put it on Satellite TV and cable stations in the future. Plans are to be on satellite TV by the start of the Muslim observation of Ramadan in August.
(Above) Some of the students of the Islamic University of Minnesota at their commencement ceremony held May 30 at the Shoreview Community Center.
(Above) Islamic University of Minnesota faculty members Safaa Sallam, left, and Nadia Muhamed. Nadia was a featured speaker.
(Above) Student Aysar Abdualreesh gave his graduation speech in both Arabic and English.
(Above) After commencement, a community dinner was served.