New Muslim College wants Cambridge recognition

Rebecca Sage, Sophie Harrold & Ruth Holmes 22 October 2009

An institution set up to educate Muslims on how to better integrate into British society has recently opened. The Cambridge Muslim College (CMC) is situated on Grange Road, near the Sidgwick Site and Newnham and Selwyn Colleges.

The college, directed by the Muslim Academic Trust, accepts students from every Islamic denomination and is particularly concerned with helping young people to develop their identity as British Muslims. The college offers a one-year course in ‘Contextual Islamic Studies and Leadership’ with the aim of educating its six students on subjects such as ‘Western Intellectual History’ and ‘British Islam Today’. On a recent BBC news report, the college was called ‘important and progressive’ despite its small intake in the first year.

The course aims to produce not only imams, but members of the Islamic faith able to act as representatives to the wider community. There are currently 2.4 million Muslims living in Britain, of whom 50 percent are under the age of 25.

The college is not affiliated with Cambridge University, although the Chair of Trustees, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (T J Winter), is also a fellow and Director of Studies in Theology at Wolfson College. The proximity to the university was a factor in the decision to locate the college in Cambridge, and the college hopes to become affiliated with Cambridge University in the future.

Abdulaziz Brown of the Cambridge Muslim College told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that “the whole point of being in Cambridge is to benefit from the links with the intellectual scene. We aim to encourage dialogue between different religious groups and to contribute to the training and thinking of British Muslims, especially with plans to open a new mosque in Cambridge.”

Dr Berdine, Director of the Cambridge Muslim College, has said that the college seeks to help the students become better Muslims and to better understand the UK in which they live. The introduction of the course is at a time of reportedly growing ‘Islamophobia’ – a recent poll in The Financial Times suggested that Britain is more suspicious of Muslims than all other European nations and the US, with just 59 percent of those surveyed believing it is possible to be a Muslim and a British citizen.

Commenting upon these results, Dr Berdine pointed out the negative consequences of those who have “distorted and twisted Islam” by claiming actions against “the West” in the name of Islam.

 However, he did not see a clear conflict between British and Muslim identity, emphasising that “Muslims are taught to obey the laws of the country in which they live as long as those laws do not conflict with the teachings of Islam”. As far as many scholars are concerned, no such conflicts exist in Britain and the US.

Dr Berdine acknowledged that a broader knowledge of Islam in the British community would be helpful in facilitating integration. “A problem in the UK can be that people observe cultural manifestations of Islamic communities and assume that these equate to the teachings of Islam”, he said. “Therefore, a distinction needs to be made between behaviours which are cultural and those which stem from Islam as a religion.”

Some links with Cambridge University do already exist, for example a public lecture series run by the Cambridge Muslim College is being held at Trinity Hall’s lecture rooms.

The University has not issued a statement on this matter however, acknowledging only that the college is “simply not a part of the University of Cambridge”.

Rebecca Sage, Sophie Harrold & Ruth Holmes