CAIRO – Catholic universities in the United States are becoming a favorite destination for Muslim students in the country and abroad, finding a faith-based education that respects their religious needs.
“Here, people are more religious, even if they’re not Muslim, and I am comfortable with that,” Mai Alhamad, an undergraduate in civil engineering, told The New York Times.
Alhamad, who is attending the University of Dayton, says she feels comfortable to be among religious leaders, even if they were not Muslims.
“I’m more comfortable talking to a Christian than an atheist.”
|Muslim Students Prefer US Catholic Colleges|
Alhamad is among many Muslim students, who prefer to attend Catholic colleges in the United States.
“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.”
At the University of Dayton, for example, there were only 12 Muslim students among the university’s 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
“There’s no conscious effort,” said the Rev. Kail Ellis, a priest and vice president for academic affairs at Villanova University, near Philadelphia.
“It’s basically something that happened through word of mouth and reputation.”
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of between six to seven million.
Accommodating for their religious needs, Catholic universities were more convenient for many Muslim students.
“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.
Dayton also offers Muslims other accommodations such as spaces for prayers, a small room for daily use, and two larger ones for Fridays.
It has also installed an ablution room for the pre-prayer ablution.
“I was in another university before that did not respect us so much,” said Manal Alsharekh, a Saudi Arabian graduate student in engineering at Dayton.
Yet, many Muslims still fear a cultural shock by walking into an identifiably Christian institution, often for the first time in their lives.
“I was afraid they will not like me because I am Muslim, or they will want me to go to church,” said Falah Nasser Garoot, a male Saudi graduate student in business at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
“At first, when I saw the crosses on the classroom walls, it was very strange for me.”
Fatema Albalooshi, a graduate student from Bahrain who is studying engineering at Dayton, recalls a similar feeling.
“I thought it was going to be compulsory to take Catholic courses,” she said, recalling her first look into the Catholic school.
Though practicing different faiths, Muslim students found a curious welcome from their Catholic peers.
“People stop and ask me questions, total strangers, about my head covering, they’re curious about how I dress,” said Hadil Issa, an undergraduate, who grew up in the Palestinian territories and the United States.
“I tell people the atmosphere is very warm and supportive,” Issa said.“I feel accepted here, and that’s what matters.”
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