Page 3 of 3   <      

Enrollment of Muslim students is growing at Catholic colleges in U.S.

In the past few years, enrollment of Muslim students has spiked at Catholic universities across the country. Last year, Catholic colleges had an even higher percentage of Muslim students than the average four-year institution in the United States.

He found a faculty adviser and filled out the required paperwork but heard nothing back for a while.

Then, an administrator pulled him aside and said it wouldn't work to have a Muslim group at such a major Catholic institution.

When asked about the experience, Basiri is hesitant to say anything negative about a school that he says has embraced him so fully and given him a chance to grow in faith and academics.

"I understand the difficulty," he said. "In Iran, if you tried to start a Catholic group at a Muslim university, that would be just as strange and hard to make it work."

Many other Catholic schools with rising numbers of Muslim students have set up prayer rooms and formed Muslim student associations.

Georgetown University, whose Muslim student numbers have also been climbing, has a prayer room, student association and an entire center devoted to Muslim-Christian understanding, and the school hired a full-time Muslim chaplain in 1999. Catholic administrators at colleges that have added similar features say they haven't perceived the efforts as a challenge to their religious identity.

"We're not going to take down the cross or change our name. We're proud of who we are," said Marco Masini, associate vice president of student life at Benedictine University in Illinois. "Hospitality is a part of the Benedictine philosophy, so it's important we welcome individuals of all faiths."

When Catholic University has declined to officially recognize other student groups, such as a gay advocacy organization, it has been because their beliefs run contrary to church teaching. University President John Garvey said that although other religious services aren't offered at Catholic, its campus ministry collects information from nearby religious centers and offers those connections to students.

"I think there's a lot of benefits to having students of other faiths here," he said. "They bring the grace of many of their own religious traditions."

Muslim students there say they have benefited as well. In his years at Catholic, Basiri said, he has experienced a long list of firsts: meeting a nun and priest, celebrating Mass, witnessing Easter and Thanksgiving.

Basiri said his Islamic faith has grown and matured in the past four years while studying in buildings named after Catholic leaders, in classrooms adorned with crucifixes, and with classmates often named after saints.

"The face of my prophet and my God has changed," he said. "It is even more beautiful now."

<          3

© 2010 The Washington Post Company