College freshman Nida Hassan, 18, walks between buildings to a campus lawn where students routinely fall prone across mats, praying toward Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the most sacred site of Islam.
But this isn't Public State U. It's Houston Baptist University (HBU), a confessionally Christian liberal arts school whose Muslim undergraduate enrollment jumped from 26 in 2006 to 61 in 2009.
Hassan's Shia Muslim parents emigrated from Pakistan, then settled in Sugar Land, Texas, 20 miles southwest of Houston. After Nida attended Catholic high school, HBU seemed right, even though she and her family retain their Islamic faith. She still fasts during Ramadan and prays to Allah during campus convocation.
Hassan insists that Muslims are respected on the urban, ethnically mixed campus founded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Hunter Baker, HBU's director of strategic planning, agrees, but says the school can prod students toward the Cross even while working toward its institutional goal to "bring Athens and Jerusalem together."
"Muslim students know what they are getting themselves into," Baker says. "Our seal has a Bible with a cross on it. We are out for evangelism."
President Robert Sloan, the man whose ambitious plan to turn Baylor University into a premiere Christian research institution polarized the Waco campus in 2005, has brought a similar faith-and-learning vision to HBU—one that has room for Muslim students. "It keeps us from being too insular," says Sloan, president since August 2006. "It also gives us an opportunity to learn how to witness right here, from experience."
Shepherding this spiritual nexus is Colette Cross, HBU's chaplain and director of spiritual life, who oversees the Community Life and Worship program ...1