Why Do So Many Muslim Students Attend Catholic Colleges and Universities in the United States?
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
Over the last decade, an interesting trend has been happening in higher education, and that is the increased enrollment of Muslim students in Roman Catholic colleges and universities. So, some might be asking, “why are more Muslim students attending Catholic colleges and universities, and also why is it important?” Well, this article will address some of those queries, introduce some of the Catholic orders who have seen increased Muslim enrollment, and give some interesting updates on this current phenomenon in higher education which I hope is here to stay.
Why has Muslim student enrollment increased in Catholic Colleges & Universities?
If we are to examine the reasons why Muslims are enrolling and attending Catholic colleges, then I think it is important to start with the mission statements for many of these institutions, and we will see a common thread. Many of these colleges and universities espouse ideals of community service and engagement, social justice, openness to other faiths, and education in the liberal arts, fostering an informed mind who works to make the world a better place and instilling a sense of morality in all their students. Now the important key factor is that that sense of morality does not necessarily have to be from a Catholic perspective, but at many of these schools, it is much more of a universal understanding amongst all the students.
In fact, all Catholic colleges are guided by whichever religious order they are affiliated with or they are in direct alignment with the Vatican by a diocesan school. So, the other way to explain this increased enrollment is to give a brief introduction to two religious orders in the United States which affiliate themselves heavily with various Catholic universities. In this article, I am going to explore the traditions that are behind the Benedictines and the Vincentians.
In a brief synopsis, Benedictines trace their monastic tradition to St. Benedict of Nursia and he established many monasteries within this time period. He is also considered the “Father of Western Monasticism, and he wrote the famous Rule of St. Benedict which is a guide for establishing monasteries, schools, and how the monks should behave.” However, if we examine what are their core ideals, then it will help us answer this question. They believe wholeheartedly in the importance of “community being the defining characteristic, hospitality, and the importance of interfaith dialogue.” Typically, that dialogue takes place between Catholic and Muslim students as well.
Vincentians trace their religious heritage to St. Vincent de Paul “who dedicated himself to serving the poor.” Additionally, the Vincentian values espouse “radical hospitality, integrity, and the belief of dignity of/for every individual.” All these values and beliefs can definitely factor into why Muslim students feel accepted at Catholic colleges and universities.
Revisiting the ‘Why’ of Muslim Enrollment in Catholic Colleges and Universities:
There are other reasons why Muslim students attend Catholic colleges and universities, and one of them is because of it being a faith-based institution, and some students feel more of a connection to that than a non-religious college. Other students have stated that they chose these schools because of the institution’s emphasis on community, justice, the reputation of the schools’ academic credentials, and the availability of classes in a topic such as world religions. Finally, a lot of Catholic colleges are small, and the community as a whole tends to look out and be supportive of one another, so that could be another reason why Muslims choose to attend these schools.
A Personal Perspective:
As a graduate of a small, private, Catholic, and Benedictine liberal arts college in the western suburbs of Chicago, I have seen all these things to be true. Additionally, my school made a conscious effort to foster interfaith communities on campus, to cater to the needs of Muslim students including hiring a Muslim Faith Advisor, providing Halal foods in the cafeteria and snack shops, educating their non-Muslim students like myself about the faith’s holidays including Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha, and of course respecting one another. My university also created prayer rooms for Muslim students, and the school always created educational opportunities to learn about the faith, among others. I also remember our professors teaching non-Muslim students to be respectful of their fellow Muslim students when we had class during the month of Ramadan, and asked us all to refrain from eating/drinking until our Muslim brothers and sisters could break their fast at the iftar. My college was a welcoming community to all, and as of a count from a few years ago, this school has about 25% of students who identify as Muslim, and the thought is that it is much higher nowadays.
Why is it important and a conclusion:
So, why is it important that Catholic colleges are enrolling more Muslim students? Well, first of all, these universities have commitments to having a diverse student body. And, secondly, another reason is that in a globalized world, it is important to cater to a wide group of students because we can all learn from each other. Finally, Muslim students feel welcomed and embraced by their Catholic universities who tend to be very inclusive because of their traditions that they espouse including a sense of community, hospitality, and respect.
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