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Muslim students opt for "more religious" Catholic universities

Overseas Muslim students are choosing Catholic institutions in increasing numbers, because they prefer the more faith-based atmosphere.

  • Richard Perez-Pena
  • United States
  • September 4, 2012
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Arriving from Kuwait to attend college here, Mai Alhamad wondered how Americans would receive a Muslim, especially one whose head scarf broadcasts her religious identity.

At any of the countless secular universities she might have chosen, religion — at least in theory — would be beside the point. But she picked one that would seem to underline her status as a member of a religious minority. She enrolled at the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic school, and she says it suits her well.

“Here, people are more religious, even if they’re not Muslim, and I am comfortable with that,” said Ms. Alhamad, an undergraduate in civil engineering, as several other Muslim women gathered in the student center nodded in agreement. “I’m more comfortable talking to a Christian than an atheist.”

A decade ago, the University of Dayton, with 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students, had just 12 from predominantly Muslim countries, all of them men, said Amy Anderson, the director of the school’s Center for International Programs. Last year, she said, there were 78, and about one-third of them were women.

The flow of students from the Muslim world into American colleges and universities has grown sharply in recent years, and women, though still far outnumbered by men, account for a rising share.

No definitive figures are available, but interviews with students and administrators at several Catholic institutions indicate an even faster rate of growth there, with the Muslim student population generally doubling over the past decade, and the number of Muslim women tripling or more.

At those schools, Muslim students, from the United States or abroad, say they prefer a place where talk of religious beliefs and adherence to a religious code are accepted and even encouraged, socially and academically. Correctly or not, many of them say they believe that they are more accepted than they would be at secular schools.

“I like the fact that there’s faith, even if it’s not my faith, and I feel my faith is respected,” said Maha Haroon, a pre-med undergraduate at Creighton University in Omaha, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in the United States. “I don’t have to leave my faith at home when I come to school.”

She and her twin sister, Zoha, said they chose Creighton based in part on features rooted in its religious identity, like community service requirements and theology classes that shed light on how different faiths approach ethical issues.

Many Muslim students, particularly women, say they based their college choices partly on the idea that Catholic schools would be less permissive than others in the United States, though the behavior they say they witness later can call that into question.

They like the prevalence of single-sex floors in dorms, and even single-sex dorms at some schools. “I thought it would be a better fit for me, more traditional, a little more conservative,” said Shameela Idrees, a Pakistani undergraduate in business at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., who at first lived in an all-women dorm.

Full Story: Muslims From Abroad Are Thriving in Catholic Colleges

Source: New York Times 
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