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Muslims from Abroad at US Catholic Universities

September 27, 2012


With all the US flag burning going on in the Arab world and Muslim nations these days, one question I have is where do they get these American flags? There seems to be a never ending supply of US flags in the very regions of the world that seem to despise all things American. But I digress. Flag burning and the ongoing antagonism expressed toward the US, isn’t the point of this piece. What is interesting is that despite the so-called Muslim rage portrayed on the cover of Newsweek or in mainstream media, Muslim students continue to choose the U.S. as their destination for higher education. What’s even more interesting is that they are choosing to do so at U.S. Catholic institutions. A 9/3/12 NYT article “Muslims Thrive at Universities Run by Catholics,” shows that a significant number of students from Muslim countries prefer attending a Catholic college or university than a secular institution of higher education. In fact, these students find that they are more comfortable in the religious setting of a Catholic university, even though they’re not Catholic. One female student from Kuwait at the University of Dayton is quoted as saying that she’s “more comfortable talking to a Christian than an atheist.” The students interviewed felt accepted and welcomed. Another, a graduate student from Pakistan at Creighton University in Omaha, said: “I like the fact that there’s faith, even if it’s not my faith, and I feel my faith is respected. I don’t have to leave my faith at home when I come to school.”

U.S. Catholic colleges and universities are reporting a sharp increase in the number of Muslim international students in recent years, though no definitive figures are available. But most report the numbers have not only doubled but that the number of Muslim women has tripled over the past decade. Catholic institutions offer features, such as single-sex dorms, or single-sex floors in dorms, spaces for prayer and installation of ablution room (for the traditional pre-prayer washing of hands and feet) that make them palatable to Muslim students. These students feel they can relate to the traditional values of a Catholic institution. In turn, the Catholic colleges recognize the special needs of their Muslim students by helping them with arrangements for celebrations of major religious holidays and offering halal meat at the cafeteria or for special events. By and large the feeling shared is that of mutual respect and understanding.

It is nice to see that on the campuses of our Catholic colleges, students from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds are able to get along and learn from one another. And just maybe on returning home to countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia these students will take with them their experience of tolerance and acceptance.

The Frustrated Evaluator

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