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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 101 (Suppl.), August 2006







Dr. Michael Galligan-Stierle, Ph.D.

Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Care in Universities




Students and Catholic campus ministers from the United States have much to learn from other cultures. Giving this presentation in Rome, I begin with the retelling of a common story of a U.S. student studying abroad:

There was an American student studying in Italy. At her first dinner in Italy, she naively asked her host parent for water to drink with her meal. Her Italian host simply stated, “Wine is for drinking and water is for bathing.” Throughout her year abroad that simple sentence, “Wine is for drinking and water is for bathing,” became her mantra for how little she understood the Italian culture.[1] 

Like the American student, I have much to learn at this conference in Rome as I am tempted to ask for water with my meal while in Italy. I look forward to being enriched by your presentations and then after a refreshing shower, sharing a glass of wine with you at dinner.

I have been a Catholic campus minister and university professor for thirty years before being employed as the Assistant Secretary for Higher Education and Campus Ministry by The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). However, in preparation for this talk, I thought it best to distribute a brief questionnaire to the 1200 Catholic campus ministers who serve throughout the U.S. today. Within this paper you will see notations from articles, books, and interviews that will reflect a variety of voices and experiences on this topic. 

I was asked to speak about Christian and Muslim students from Islamic majority countries and how they are cared for by U.S. colleges and universities. The available statistical data on international students reviewed for this presentation enabled me to document the numbers of international students from Islamic countries studying in the U.S.; however, it did not provide data which distinguished Muslims and Christians from amongst these students. Despite this limitation, this presentation will center on the issues concerning Muslim students from Islamic-majority countries and how U.S. colleges and universities respond to that pastoral reality. Today, this talk will cover four points: 

  1. The U.S. history of Muslim – Christian dialogue and the need for more, 
  2. The demographics of Muslim students in the U.S., 
  3. Critical issues in U.S. higher education regarding Muslim students, and
  4. Various activities for Muslim students on campuses in the U.S. Since the text is longer than the 15 minutes allotted for my presentation, throughout the talk I will briefly summarize some sections of the text that you can read at your leisure.

I. Muslim - Christian Dialogue in the United States: A Context for a Catholic Response Regarding International Students from Islamic - Majority Countries

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and a significant group of Muslim scholars have slowly and steadily been dialoguing on issues of Islam and Catholicism for the last 20 years. In addition, Muslim and Christian scholars have been brought together for conversations, ongoing programs, and special events at various church related universities. Dr. John Borelli, in Christian-Muslim Relations in the United States: Reflections for the Future After Two Decades of Experience, documents a long list of programs of Christian-Muslim Dialogues from 1987-2003: 

  • Three consultations on Muslim - Christian relations (1989, 90, 93); 
  • Three national Muslim - Catholic dialogues (two in 1991 and one in 1992) with the last two co-planned with the American Muslim Council; 
  • Two joint statements of the USCCB and the American Muslim Council (one in 1993 after the World Trade Center bombing and one in 1995 before the United Nations Conference on population and development); 
  • Two consultations with Muslim experts on public policy (1995 and 96); 
  • Three meetings with representatives of Imam Warith Deen Mohammad and a trip to Rome jointly led by Cardinal Keeler and Imam Mohammad (1996); and
  • A series of regional dialogues from 1996 to 2003 co-sponsored by the USCCB and Muslim organizations.
    • Midwest Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims beginning in 1996 in partnership with the Islamic Society of North America, Indianapolis, IN;
    • Mid-Atlantic Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims beginning in 1998 in partnership with Islamic Circle of North America, New York, NY; and
    • West Coast Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims beginning in 2000 in partnership with advisory (shura) council, Orange, CA.[2] 

The dialogues held before September 11, 2001 produced some common statements, while the dialogues that followed September 11th have not. Some had hoped for a specific document on “violence and religion.” However, the trust built at earlier dialogues enabled an honest dialogue after September 11, 2001. These meetings have been the most valuable of all the gatherings for some members. Some believe that the trust and honesty built through on-going dialogue may enable the writing of future documents on common history, comparative theology, and comparative exegesis.

Borelli notes that for decades, Jewish - Catholic dialogue seemed to overshadow any attempts at Muslim-Catholic dialogue. Borelli writes:

The final volume of the History of Vatican II series (Orbis 1995-2005) presents Nostra Aetate as “the outcome of one of John XXIII’s original insights.” Ever since the idea for that declaration originated as a request in 1960 to reformulate Christian teaching, preaching and catechesis on Jews, Catholic-Muslim relations have stood in the shadow of Catholic-Jewish relations. Not until 1964 was the decision made to extend and rename the draft “On the Jews and non-Christian peoples.” Its fourth section on Jewish relations remained the centerpiece, but the third, much shorter section on Muslim relations was equally remarkable as a reversal of history.[3] 

By 2001, Muslim - Catholic dialogue was beginning to “match the pace” of Jewish - Catholic dialogue, according to Borelli. Given the reality that there are 1 billion Muslims and only 20 million Jews, Muslim - Catholic dialogue is essential for international understanding. 

I began with a short of history of the larger portrait of the Muslim - Christian dialogue in the U.S. Catholic community because it helps to create the larger context in which to understand the topic of International students from Islamic countries and U.S. Catholics. The Catholic campus minister at The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, recognizes the advances that have been made on the larger church level of Catholic bishop and Muslim Imam, but believes the real dialogue goes on in dorm rooms, classrooms, and coffeehouses around campus. It is here that individual students, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, and Muslim close the real divide. In addition, affirmation by faculty, university administration, and religious leaders supporting this conversation go a long way in establishing long-term understanding.  

II. The Demographics of Muslim Students Studying in the U.S.

A. International Students and Muslim Students from Islamic Countries

In 2004, there were 16.3 million U.S. students engaged in higher educational studies of which 591,188 were international students studying in the U.S. Every year from 1971 – 2001 the number of international students studying in the U.S. increased. However, from 2002-2004, 1-3 percent fewer international students came to the U.S. to study. Even with this small drop in numbers, there continued to be more international students studying at colleges and universities in the U.S. than in any other country. The drop in international students studying in the U.S. can be attributed to the decrease in students from the more than 50 Muslim-majority countries since the September 11, 2001 attacks of the World Trade Center in New York. Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are two such examples. Between 2002 and 2004, the number of Indonesian students in the United States dropped 25.6 percent from 10,432 to 7,760, and enrollments from Saudi Arabia declined by 13.8 percent in 2004. 

The 2005 - 2006 academic year seems to be back at record levels, in part because of initiatives like the one taken by the Saudi Arabian government. They agreed to under write the full cost of a U.S. education for 10,000 Saudi students for the 2005 - 2006 academic year.The monies included four years of undergraduate studies, one year of intensive English language training, anda $1,400 monthly stipend for living expenses.[4] 

Of all international students studying, more are studying in the U.S. than any other country. Additionally, the number of foreign students studying in the U.S. but not working toward either an undergraduate and graduate degree rose by 22.8 percent.[5]Furthermore, it should be noted that the international students studying in the U.S. contributed more than $13 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2004-5 academic year.[6]

B. Muslim Students Already in the U.S. Attend the University 

While over a half a million international students attend universities in the U.S., other students attending universities may appear to be international students, when in fact they are U.S. citizens. Their physical appearance or accent may incorrectly identify them as an international student, when in fact, their family may have been in the U.S. for many years. This is the case with many Muslim university students. Catholic campus ministers report that they interact with many more Muslim students who are U.S. citizens than international students who are Muslims. For example, at Villanova University, Villanova, PA the majority of members involved in the Muslim Student Association (MSA) are first generation children of Muslims from Pakistan, Syria, India, and Nigeria; only a few members are international students who are Muslim. Another example, Alverno University, Milwaukee, WI, reports that Muslim students at their university tend to be Arab immigrants who are first generation Americans and live at home. Loyola University, Chicago, IL, notes that their Muslim students are primarily U.S. citizens of South Asian decent.

C. The Reality of African-American Muslims within the University

The U.S. experience of Muslim students in higher education is complicated on another level as well—the reality of African-American Muslims. While many Americans cluster all Muslim students together, regardless of country of origin or race, this is a simplistic understanding of the reality. For example, many African-American Muslims relate more with African-American groups than Muslim groups. Black American Muslims often feel like they are straddling two worlds—being African-American in a white-majority country and being Muslim in an Arab-majority religion. Amir al-Islam, a professor of Islamic Studies at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, NY states it this way: 

Our betweenness puts us in a precarious position. We are the single largest Muslim community in America, and we have been practicing Orthodox Islam for decades. Yet the media often relegates us to the margins. And Muslim organizations from the immigrant community often view us as new Muslims who are seen as not proficient in the Islamic canons and, therefore, lacking in authenticity.

In many ways, for an African-American Muslim it is like being black - twice, with regard to Americans, and it is moving from the back of the bus to the back of the camel for newly arriving Arabs! 

Given these perceptions, it is easy to see why the African-American Muslims, who comprise 24 percent of American Muslims, feel slighted. Abdur-Rashid, the leader of a Muslim congregation in New York City, said, We have served in the armies of America as Muslim African-Americans since the American Revolution and we are not at odds with the West…We are the West.[7]Catholic campus ministers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the U.S. are significantly challenged in this regard with African-American Muslims, African Muslims and Arab Muslims all interacting on the same campus.

While there may be some differences socially, economically and culturally, a Muslim student from Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, cautioned about subdividing Muslims into a variety of categories. As he says,

All the Muslim students at Dartmouth College function as one Muslim body, which I think is great. We don't differentiate between international students, or U.S. born and raised Muslims, or converts. You will find us all praying on one line, doing the same programs together, breaking our fast together. We all are at different knowledge levels (such as converts who do not know much), but we educate each other and some converts become better than born Muslims.  

III. Some Critical Issues

 A. Fear and Suspicion of Muslims after September 11, 2001 

While there are those in the U.S. that fear all things Muslim and forecast an Eurabia[8] mentality descending on the U.S. by those who befriend Muslims, university campuses have been seen more often as safe havens, rather than locations of hate crimes. One Chicago university president tells the story of a delegation of Muslim students and clerics meeting with him a month after 9/11 and thanking him for creating within the university campus the safest location in Chicago for Muslims. Many other university personnel document specific support programs initiated for Muslim students and presentations designed to increase knowledge of the Muslim reality for American students. However, the larger cultural reality of discrimination has left its mark on Muslim students. Some report not wearing traditional dress at school to avoid harassment. Many feel generally misunderstood and frustrated at the ignorance and discrimination (subtle and overt) they see and feel in the world and in the media. Thankfully, many experience most university professors and students as supportive and appropriately inquisitive. Now and again, unpleasant incidents on some campuses do occur.

B. Inability to Obtain Visas for Entry and Re-entry into U.S.

This culturally pervasive fear carries over into a significant issue facing Muslim university students: the issue of visas. Since 9/11, it has been very difficult for Muslim students to travel into and out of the U.S. Many Muslims have had their studies halted or rudely interrupted because they were denied re-entry into America when they were home for vacation or traveling abroad for some other reason. This is a major problem. Many U.S. universities have applied lobbying pressure on the U.S. government to ease these students’ visa-status-restrictions or speed up the reentry process. It seems to be working, although many Muslim students are still fearful to leave the U.S. recognizing that they may not be able to return freely.

Many American institutions with large foreign enrollments have made changes designed to give new students more time to obtain their visas. For example, at New York University, admissions decisions have been moved up by a full two months to accommodate international students.[9] 

C. Prayer Space, Special Foods and Accommodations for Holy Days (e.g., Ramadan)

The vast majority of Catholic campus ministers that answered our questionnaire identified a Muslim prayer space for students as the number one religious concern of Muslim students. On some university campuses, such designated spaces have been a separate room, a shared common space, or a sacred space used by various religious groups. Consider the following:

  1. A Separate Room: At the University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, MI, a Catholic and Jesuit University, a space is provided for 2 Islamic prayer rooms. At the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA, two years ago, a small conference room in the Campus Ministry Center was turned into a permanent Muslim prayer room for the campus. Having the Muslim prayer room in the Campus Ministry Center gives the Catholic campus ministers and Muslim students an opportunity to interact regularly. 
  2. A Shared Common Space: At Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, the Student Common Room is used for Mass and then Islamic prayer every First Friday of the month. Often the Catholic students and priest help the Muslim students to role out the carpets as one group exits and another enters. 
  3. A Sacred Space Used by Various Religious Groups: Staten Island University, New York, NY, through the combined efforts of Catholic Campus Ministry and the college administration, designated a "Prayer and Meditation Room" in the Campus Center, which can be used by anyone who wishes to spend some time in prayer or meditation. The room can also be booked for services or prayer by any organization on campus. Fridays are generally blocked out for the Muslim Student Association, while Ash Wednesday is designated for Catholic campus ministry. 

The second identifiable concern of Muslim students by Catholic campus ministers that answered our questionnaire was the issue of fasting and food accommodations. Some campuses seem to be very accommodating, others, not so much. Catholic campus ministers at religious colleges report that their schools are more sensitive to these issues than the state schools reporting. For example, one Catholic university campus reported that the Catholic chaplains and the Muslim Student Association co-sponsored a breaking-of-the-fast meal at Ramadan. 

D. Common Misunderstandings about Islam

The Gallup Organization[10] has just released the latest Gallup World Poll which studied the hopes, dreams and fears of a billion Muslims. John L. Esposito, Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, in a recent talk, Can You Hear Me Now?: What a Billion Muslims Want You to Know, shared some findings from the study. These findings corroborate what many Catholic campus ministers reported to me about U.S. university students’ opinion, that is, most Americans possess misinformation about what Muslims really believe. I share a few key findings with you here as they impact the perceptions of U.S. university students and often need to be overcome if deep understanding of the Muslim reality is to be achieved by Catholics: 

  1. Comparing Muslim and American Customs: While conventional U.S. wisdom states that Muslims hate U.S. democracy, freedoms, and technology, the two most frequent responses to what Muslim respondents admired most about the West was its technology and political freedom.
  2. The Shari’a: While conventional U.S. wisdom states that the Shari’a is an oppressive corpus of law only supported by a small handful of fanatics who oppose basic liberties, a majority of Muslims support the Shari’a as a source of legislation, and do not see a conflict in their support of freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. 
  3. Women’s Rights: While conventional U.S. wisdom states that Muslim men support the Shari’a which deprives women of their basic rights, the data shows that men and women support the Shari’a and both support a woman’s right to vote, drive, and work outside the home. 
  4. Theocracy: While conventional U.S. wisdom states that Muslims want a medieval style theocracy where religious leaders have absolute power and there is no separation of faith and politics, the Muslim model is neither a theocracy nor a secular democracy. That is, a majority want a system of government that combines and integrates democracy and faith.
  5. Improving Muslim-West Relations: While conventional U.S. wisdom states that they envy of our success, wealth, and prosperity, the data shows that Muslims most want the West to respect Islam (e.g., stop treating Muslims as inferior and stop degrading Muslims in the media). Very little was mentioned about cross-national welfare and the conventional U.S. wisdom that Muslims simply want the West to give them money.

A Catholic professor and campus minister at Mercy Hurst University, Erie, PA, summarized current misunderstandings of Muslims by U.S. students this way: 

The major issue that I find in teaching a course that includes a section on Islam is the incredible misconceptions that students have about the Muslim religion because of the weakness and inaccuracy of the western news media reporting and the residual anger that lies just beneath the surface of many students since the events of September 11th. 

At Corpus Christi College, Corpus Christi, TX, Muslim students help to bridge the gap of public misunderstanding by inviting Muslim scholars who explain Islam in a way that westerners can understand. Speakers talk of Islam as a religion of peace rather than a religion based on 'jihad' (holy war) and they emphasize the many shared values (e.g., importance of faith and the sanctity of life) held by Muslims and Catholics. 

IV. Muslim Chaplains and Significant Activities on University Campuses

A. Muslim University Chaplaincy

Currently there are about 14 Muslim chaplains at colleges and universities in the U.S., according to the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Georgetown University hired the first fulltime Muslim chaplain at a U.S. university in 1999. MSA lists the following other universities with chaplains: Tufts University, Medford, MA; Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; American University, Washington, DC; George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA; SUNY, Stonybrook, NY; Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ; Wesleyan University, Hartford, CT; Trinity College, Hartford, CT; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; University of Chicago, Chicago, IL; and, Cal State University-Fullerton, Fullerton, CA. 

Ingrid Mattson, director of the Islamic chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary, Hartford, CN, believes that the need to train Muslim chaplains in the U.S. has increased as post 9/11 restrictions have increased on visas and travel for people of Middle-Eastern origin. Consequently, Hartford established the only accredited Islamic chaplaincy program in the U.S. in 2000. There were two students enrolled the first year, and 6 men and 6 women enrolled in the 2005-2006 class.

At many schools responding to our questionnaire, a volunteer from the community, a faculty member, or a student leader fills the role of "spiritual advisor and advocate" for Muslim students. For instance, at DeSales University, Allentown, PA, one of the senior vice presidents is Muslim and has always assumed the role of “gentle host,” along with another faculty member in the MBA program. Between the two of them, they have been the "godparents" of many Muslim students. A few schools noted that a Muslim student well-versed in Arabic, the Koran and Islam has taken a significant leadership role. 

B. Muslim Student Groups

Muslim Student Association Chapters have increased in ten years from 400 to 600 in the U.S. and Canada. The student groups vary from inactive to very active, and from uninvolved to highly involved in interfaith and inter-cultural activities. Most MSA chapters that are active develop programs that promote understanding of Islam and interaction between faith groups. On the larger campuses, the student groups are either under the auspices of an International student affairs office, an inter-cultural office, or a campus ministry office. In most cases, MSA promotes cross-cultural and interfaith events aimed at increasing awareness and understanding among students. 

Some goals of MSA are to educate others about Islam, break down stereotypes, promote Islam as a religion of peace, and most importantly, build community and support for each other to be good practicing Muslims. In July 2005, the MSA publicly condemned acts of terrorism and hatred following the bombings in London. Over 59 Muslim student organizations from more than 30 colleges and universities signed the statement.[11] 

On many of the campuses, Catholic campus ministry works directly with the Muslim Student Associations in sponsoring programs of common interest. In addition, informal interaction also takes place, such as the case with Yale University, New Haven, CN. One Yale campus minister reports: 

As both groups [Catholic Student Association and MSA] are two of the largest and most active on campus, we have had quite a few interactions. We sponsor a weekly dinner in the main dining hall for students to dine with a campus minister – the Muslim students gather at the same time at the next table. This happy circumstance has led to some great informal conversations and has sparked an interest in further formal program development. To this end, we are cosponsoring a Catholic-Muslim dinner and discussion at the end of April.

Muslim Student Groups Based On Countries of Origin or Ethnic Identity: Some clubs on campus consist of a majority of Muslim students. For example, Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA) reported these groups on their campus: Afghan, African, Arabian Gulf, Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Iranian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Turkish, the Friends of Palestine, Palestinian Awareness, and a small group called the Muslim Volunteer Association. 

The Muslim Interest Living Community (MILC) at Georgetown University is designed to create a strong support group for Muslims and non-Muslims who want to build community by living together on a floor in the residence hall. The specific goals of MILC are as follows: 

  • To establish an Islamic living environment for those who wish to increase and strengthen their faith. 
  • To give Muslims the opportunity to be surrounded by others who will encourage and support them throughout the learning process. 
  • To give Muslims a chance to meet other Muslims in the local area. 
  • To increase awareness about Islam on campus and promote understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. 

Activities to date include a Fast-a-Thon, Open Iftar, weekend Suhoors, weekend Iftars, Friday Halaqas (discussion circles on contemporary issues), surprise birthday parties, movie nights, an open house, monthly get-togethers, and congregational prayers in a musalla.

Similar to the Georgetown Interest Living Communities, other universities have initiated creative residence hall arrangements. One such example is Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.

[It] launched a Multifaith Living and Learning Community in 2005. Currently, 11 students of 

various faiths reside there leading the way on campus toward better understanding and 

dialogue between people of different faiths. The students in the living center sponsor 

programs around religious holidays, hope to open kitchens with foods that are Kosher and 

Halaal, and create open conversations about religions. The program is part of a larger 

"Transformation Project," established by the school in 1996. School officials note the college 

campus may be the only place where many students have the opportunity to address religious 

differences in a safe and open environment. [12] 

The Student-Run Mosque at Loyola University, Chicago, IL, boasts a large membership and the only mosque run by students in the state of Illinois. The MSA and the mosque are located in University Ministry (also with Hillel, the Hindu Student Organization’s Puja room, and the entire University Ministry staff). The MSA faculty adviser teaches in the Department of Theology and is herself a Muslim. MSA and University Ministry co-sponsor many joint events, for example, a Fast for Darfur during Ramadan and an interfaith prayer service on the Feast of St. Francis.

C. Centers for Muslim Understanding

Georgetown University: The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding was founded in 1993 by an agreement between the Fondation pour L'Entente entre Chretiens et Musulmans, GenevaandGeorgetown University…. The Center's mission is to improve relations between the Muslim world and the West and enhance understanding of Muslims in the West. The geographic scope and coverage of the Center includes the breadth of the Muslim world, from North Africa to Southeast Asia, as well as Europe and America. Since its foundation, the Center has become internationally recognized as a leader in the field of Muslim-Christian relations.

In December 2005, the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding received a $20 million dollar gift from HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, an internationally renowned businessman and global investor, to support and expand its Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU). The Center was renamed the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. This endowed fund is the second largest single gift in Georgetown University history. 

The Center addresses stereotypes of Islam and warnings of a clash of civilizations. Center faculty--among the foremost international scholars of Islam and the Muslim world--work on issues including: The compatibility of Islam and modern life; Civilizational dialogue; The status of women in Islam; Islam and modernization; Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions; Islam and pluralism; and, Islam, violence and terrorism. 

Based in Washington, DC, CMCU realizes its mission by training the next generation of leaders from around the globe and serving as a think-tank for the international exchange of scholars and ideas. CMCU faculty…serve as consultants to government leaders, diplomats, policymakers, corporate executives, and members of the media. With more than a decade of experience in addressing issues related to Islam and relations between the Muslim world and the West, the Center has established itself as a primary resource for authoritative information on Islam and the Muslim world. (Please see: http: //cmcu. georgetown. edu/about/).

Hartford Seminary: The Duncan Black Macdonald Center is an academic unit within Hartford Seminary dedicated to scholarly research, teaching, publication and communication with the public. The Center is responsible for the Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations component of the Seminary’s MA and PhD programs, and the Muslim Chaplaincy program. Named for one of the nation’s early, pre-eminent scholars of Islam, the Macdonald Center is the country’s oldest center for such study.

Academic courses taught through the Macdonald Center cover a range of topics, including Islamic history, law and theology; study of the Qur’an, sunnah and hadith; contemporary social and political movements; Christian-Muslim relations in their historical and current contexts; Sufism; Arabic; and comparative religion. 

A major part of the activity of the Macdonald Center is involvement in interfaith dialogue, with particular emphasis on Christian-Muslim relations. All Center faculty and personnel are committed to the importance of better understanding between and among faiths, and to supporting efforts toward building relationships based on tolerance and trust.

A major part of the activity of the Macdonald Center is dedicated to relationships with the wider community. Faculty regularly speak and participate in meetings and conferences in the greater Hartford area, nationally and in the international context, and are available to provide information for members of the press and other media, researchers, local churches and institutions, and the public in general. (Please see:

Harvard University: Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal recently gave the university a $20 million gift to establish an Islamic studies program. The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University will bring together faculty, students, and researchers from across the University and will be housed within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in close coordination with Harvard Divinity School. The program will establish four new faculty positions, enabling Harvard to attract a group of additional outstanding academics from a broad range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. An endowed chair known as the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought and Life will be created, and an additional endowment fund will be established to support three senior professorships in other areas of Islamic studies. The program also will provide support for research, tuition, fees, and stipends for graduate students. 

In addition, the program will launch an initiative known as the Islamic Heritage Project, which will preserve and digitize historically significant Islamic materials and make vast quantities of the resulting images - including digitized texts of the classics of the Islamic tradition - available via the Internet. Among other things, this initiative will help guard against the potential loss of important texts, which could be endangered under a variety of circumstances, as demonstrated by the recent tragic destruction of manuscripts in Iraq and Bosnia and the neglect and deterioration of manuscript libraries around the world. (Please see: daily/2005/ 12/13- islamicgift.html). 

Duke University: The Duke Islamic Studies Center will focus on “expand(ing) partnerships with universities in Muslim-majority countries" and "advance(ing) interaction and understanding between citizens of American and Muslim cultures." The Center "will offer a four-year interdisciplinary and integrated curriculum that includes a first-year course on Islamic studies, at least a semester of study abroad, foreign language studies (in Arabic, Persian Turkish or Urdu), and a senior thesis course." Students can earn a certificate in Islamic Studies. The program will also recruit students and visiting scholars from Muslim-majority countries.[13] 

D. More Courses on Islam Being Offered

Universities have offered courses in Islam or comparative religions for many years. However, many universities are offering Introduction to Islam and other Islam-related courses at a growing rate because of a higher demand for such courses. A significant challenge is trying to locate qualified teachers. A second area of concern is the style of teaching as professors who proselytize in the classroom or paint a distorted picture of Islam and the Middle East, are not welcome.[14] 

E. Catholic-Muslim Dialogues

Throughout the U.S. on any given night you can find a conference, institute, or presentation engaging Muslims with various interest groups. Listed below is a sampling of recent past and upcoming events at colleges and universities in the U.S.:

  • A conference on The New Religious Pluralism in World Politics was hosted by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs on March 17, 2006. Some conference topics were religious pluralism in a global context; trans-state Muslim movements in an era of soft power; religious actors in world politics, religion and U.S. foreign policy after the cold war; and, the evolution of religious freedom in international law.
  • A conference on International Prayer for Peace: Religions and Cultures, The Courage of Dialogue was held April 25-27, 2006. Sponsored by the community of Sant’Egidio, the Archdiocese of Washington, Georgetown University, and The Catholic University of America. This gathering commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Prayer for Peace held in Assisi. Some conference topics included inter-religious dialogue; religions and globalization; religions facing terrorism in the post 9/11 world; Islam in America; and, eastern religions in the west.
  • An upcoming institute on June 25 - July 1, 2006, Pastors and Pastoral Workers on Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, is being sponsored by The Duncan Black MacDonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations of Hartford Seminary and the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding of Georgetown University. Some conference topics will include Muhammad and interpreting the Qur’an; Islamic law, faith and practice; Diversity among Muslims; and, teachings and policies regarding Muslim-Christian religions in various faith traditions.

Islamic Awareness Weeks are held on many campuses across the U.S. Two universities, Villanova University and the University of Dayton, provide typical examples:

  • Villanova University, Villanova, PA, spring semester, 2006, some topics: Jihad; Islam and the Media; and, Muslim co-existence with non Muslims. The week’s activities concluded with an entertainer playing Arabic music in the student center. 
  • University of Dayton, Dayton, OH, March 27, 2006, some topics: ARoundtable Discussion/Q&A--Islam in the Real World; A chat with Muslim UD students about how their religion relates to their daily lives; Sufi Poetry Night; Culture Night which included a taste of Pakistani and Arab food and Henna/mehndi artists hand painting; and an evening of popcorn and the movie The Prophet Muhammad.

F. Interfaith Activities with Muslim Students in the U.S.

Listed below is a wide variety of religious activities among Muslim, Jewish, and Christian university students throughout the U.S. Events like these—and this is but a sampling—suggest that devout students of every tradition are finding new and creative ways to forge closer ties.[15]For example,

  • At Washington University in St. Louis, MO, Jews and Muslims fast together during each others' holidays. 
  • At West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship teamed with the Muslim Students Association in 2004 for a high-profile, moral condemnation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. When Muslims wanted a forum in the spring to explain what they believe about the Koran, they arranged a public debate with Intervarsity members. The following fall, both groups sponsored speakers for a forum on Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • At Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, forums for Christians and Muslims are in their sixth year. According to York Moore, Intervarsity’s director for regional evangelism in the Midwest, Between Christians and Muslims, there's a mutual interest for converting each other…So a lot of our dinners would be discussions where the leadership of both organizations understood that part of what we're doing is to present the case for our faith, as it were, to one another.
  • At Georgetown University, Washington, DC, an Interfaith Shabbat is held each year. This year, the Georgetown Gospel Choir and St. Martin's Catholic Church Gospel Choir sang, a Muslim Sufi gave the keynote speech, and a Whirling Dervish participated in the Jewish service that was attended by people of all faiths.
  • At Colgate University, Hamilton, NY,medievalist Alan Cooper gave a lecture to a general audience on Muslim & Catholic Crusades. Many attended the event and the chaplains agreed it was one of the best religious events of the year. 
  • At Staten Island University, New York, NY, an Annual Interfaith Panel Discussion is held. Co-sponsored by Catholic Campus Ministry, Hillel, and MSA, the event includes an imam, priest, and rabbi speaking. Previous topics covered included the following: Spiritual Resources for Peace in the Abrahamic Religions, 2003; Mysticism in the Abrahamic Religions, 2004; and, Ethics of Stem Cell Research: Religious Perspectives, 2005.
  • More than 150 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada participated in the MSA's third annual Fast-a-Thon for Ramadan held October 26. The event raised awareness about the millions of people who go hungry every day and to create a greater understanding of the traditional Islamic holiday, Ramadan.[16] 

G. Islamic Visiting Professorships for Colleges with Fewer Resources

Fulbright Direct Access: Fulbright established "a new short-term visiting scholar program for professors from predominantly Muslim countries." Direct Access to the Muslim World sends scholars for three to six weeks to colleges which do not have Islamic studies programs, and areas where the students might not otherwise be exposed to such issues.[17] 

Amany Massoud El Hedeny, a political science professor from Egypt, was a visiting scholar with the Fulbright Direct Access program, to Winona State University, Winona, MN. She gave more than three dozen lectures at the university and the surrounding communities and taught two courses at the university during her six weeks there. She noted that stereotypes on both sides were broken down by the connections she made. Non-Muslim students have a lot of questions but are sometimes afraid to ask them. “They ask everything from why women wear veils to what jihad means in connection to holy wars. She also notes that in Egypt, the perception is that Americans are uncaring, but she found that the students were very concerned about international issues.”[18] 

The Council for International Exchange of Scholars: The University of Beirut in partnership with The Council for International Exchange of Scholars sends Muslim scholars to U.S. colleges and universities that don't have academic programs on Islam or Muslim society, ranging from six weeks to an academic year. They will teach one or two courses at the university and act as a resource for the wider community, giving talks and lectures.[19]  


The essential question before any U.S. Catholic campus minister is “How do I pastorally care for an international student who studies in the U.S.?” The short answer is the creation of an “authentic culture of welcome” to all that present themselves for care.

This paper has presented an array of programs and statistics regarding international students from Islamic majority countries studying in the U.S. While the U.S. is an ideal location for inter-religious dialogue as the U.S. Constitution guarantees public religious pluralism, sometimes pastoral care givers fall short. Given that the U.S. has been rooted in the Judean-Christian tradition, a new way of thinking, especially in regard to our Muslim brothers and sisters, needs to emerge. Our common future must be grounded in the new rubric of Abrahamic civilization shared by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

This pastoral care to international students, grounded in Abrahamic civilization, must include helping the Jewish, Christian and Muslim student maintain a balance between immersion in a new culture and maintaining ties to their own culture; combating ‘cultural clashes’ caused by insensitivity to cultural differences; and, addressing religious differences. Dialogue with the students themselves is essential, as is listening attentively to their perception of their needs, desires and concerns. By encouraging international students to participate fully in planning and implementing cultural exchanges, campus worship, and social events, all will learn our common Abrahamic roots. Most importantly, the Catholic community on campus needs to work closely with members of the universities International student office, and wherever possible, assign a campus minister for the pastoral care of international students. 

Ultimately, all pastoral plans for international students ought to include respectful dialogue which embraces cultural openness and evangelical freedom. The pastoral minister who is a culturally flexible becomes a sign and symbol of Christ embodying God’s love to all that share this planet. 

[1]H.B. Hoof and M.J. Verbeeten, Wine Is for Drinking and Water Is for Bathing: Student opinions about International Exchange Programs, Journal of Studies in International Education, (Spring 2005): 42-61. 

[2]For more details of each, see ”Christian-Muslim Relations in the United States: Reflections for the Future After Two Decades of Experience,” The Muslim World, vol. 94, No. 3 (July 2004): 321-333. Or see website:

[3]“Relations with Muslims,”America, Oct. 24, 2005.

[4]Burton Bollag, American Colleges See More Saudi Students on Scholarships, The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 24, 2006. 

[5]Eugene McCormack, Enrollment of Foreign Students Falls for a 2nd Year, Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 13, 2005; see also, Open Doors, an annual report on international academic mobility that is published by the Institute of International Education and supported by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. 

[6]For more information and statistics, consult the Open Doors website: Number of International students studying in the U.S by country, during the 2004-2005 school year. China, 17,035; Korea, 8,301; India, 7,755; Japan, 5,623; Germany, 4,846; Canada, 4,262; United Kingdom, 3,185; France, 3,078; Italy, 2,565; Russia, 2,420; Spain, 2,043; Taiwan, 1,543; Israel, 1,500; Brazil, 1,499; Turkey, 1,427; Australia, 1,183; Mexico, 1,158; Netherlands, 946; Poland, 925; Argentina, 825; Sweden, 686; Romania, 674; Switzerland, 661; Thailand, 619; Colombia, 550. Institutions with highest number of international students--Harvard University, University of California - Los Angeles , University of California – Berkeley, University of California - San Diego, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Florida, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Washington, University of California – Irvine, Stanford University, The Ohio State University, Main Campus, University of California – Davis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California - San Francisco, Washington University in St. Louis, Cornell University, University of Southern California, Texas A&M University, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, University of Michigan, Duke University & Medical Center, Pennsylvania State University - University Park, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Maryland College Park, Boston University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Wisconsin – Madison.  

[7]Carol Eisenberg, “Black Muslims Seek Acceptance from Fellow Americans, Adherents.” Seattle Times, January 22, 2006; see also, American Muslims, Demographic Facts, Allied Media Corp.,

[8]Eurabiamentality:an arrangement between European and Arab governments according to which the Europeans, agree to accept Arab immigrant manpower along with the oil, as well as agree to disseminate propaganda about the glories of Islamic civilization, provide Arab states with weaponry, side with them against Israel, and toe the Arab line on all matters political and cultural. For more information, see Brendan Bernhard, The Fallaci Code, LA Weekly, March 15, 2006. 

[9]Burton Bollag, “Wanted: Foreign Students. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 8, 2004.

[10]Gallup design and methodology:Field Period for These Data: August through October, 2005; Nationwide Multi-stage Probability Samples – Urban and Rural Sectors; All Interviews Conducted In-Home, Face-to-Face; Target: Total 18+ Adult Population; 1,000 Interviews per Country, for a total of 10,000 people; Scores of Separate Sampling Locations Nationwide; Designed Entirely by The Gallup Organization; Associated Sampling Error +/- 3%; Gallup has been studying human opinion for 70 years; The Global 100 survey methodology gives us a read of opinions, perceptions and values with accuracy virtually equal to asking every adult in the country. For more information see:  

[11]“Muslim Youth across America Unite against Ideology of Hatred.” July 21, 2005. Muslim Public Affairs website: 

[12]"Multifaith Learning Community Addresses Difficult Issues."On-Campus Connection, Jan. 16, 2006. 

[13]Black Dickenson, "Duke to Establish Islamic Studies Center, Create $1.5 million Endowed Professorship.” Duke University, April 28, 2006. 

[14]Eric Weiner, “Islamic Studies a Hot New Course at U.S. Colleges.” National Public Radio, March 7, 2006. 

[15]Many of the items in the list are from G. Jeffrey MacDonald, “On U.S. campuses, religious students' ties cross faith lines:Devotion provides common ground in secular setting.”The Boston Globe, September 11, 2005. Online at Other items were reported to us through our questionnaire to campus ministers. 

[16]For further information, seeErin Block,Muslim and Non-Muslim College Students Share a Day of Fasting: Fast-a-Thon raises Ramadan awareness, collects money for the hungry.” U.S Department of State, Nov. 8, 2004. Online at:

[17]Sara Lipka, "Fullbright Connects with the Muslim World." The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 4, 2005.

[18]Sara Lipka, "Breaking Down Bias in the Midwest." The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 4, 2005. 

[19]"Scholars from Islamic Countries Travel to U.S. Universities and Colleges to Increase Understanding Between Americans and Muslims." The Council for International Exchange of Scholars, July 7, 2003. Online at: