Zayed University has launched the world's first master's programme in charitable endowments, the centuries-old Islamic form of philanthropy.
As the university launched its Institute for Islamic Higher Studies yesterday, religious and education officials said the degree was timely, as misconceptions were dogging Islamic transactions and procedures.
"People nowadays think that an endowment is only for building mosques," said Dr Nasr Aref, the executive director for the institute.
"It is whenever a social foundation creates an infrastructure that is not part of what a country's government does.
"The West took the concept of endowments from us centuries ago but we are 1,000 years behind them in terms of developing and executing it."
An endowment is the dedication of an asset's profits towards charity, such as building schools, hospitals or shelters.
"The first university in the world, which was created in the Muslim world, was from an endowment … and the first university built in the West, Oxford University, was also from an endowment," Dr Aref said.
Other examples of endowments from Islamic civilisation include building shelters for women who escape abusive husbands, and shelters for lost dogs and injured birds.
The institute provides four programmes of study: Islamic economy, endowments, contemporary Islamic studies and managing resources.
It has already accepted 130 students, which officials say is more than they expected. That number includes 20 students in the endowment programme.
The grand mufti of Egypt, Ali Jumaa, who attended yesterday's launch, said Muslims should stop blaming others for the distorted image of Islam and return to the days of glory through knowledge and education.
"There are some who have certain interests and want to damage the image of Islam and Muslims," the grand mufti said. "This is their own matter. But we have to start with ourselves."
He said launching more master's programmes in practical subjects such as Islamic economy would certainly help to clear up misconceptions.
There have been talks between the institute and Al Azhar University in Egypt about expanding cooperation.
"Zayed University is a prestigious university and so is Al Azhar, so we encourage their co-operation," the grand mufti said.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the president of Zayed University, said that with the global media providing misconceptions, people have become doubtful about the teachings of Islam.
"So this institute is a leading message … in providing clear explanations and for development and to enable the Islamic ummah to take a status that is worthy of it," Sheikh Nahyan said.
Maha Al Sayigh, 27, is from Saudi Arabia but decided to enrol at Zayed University after moving to the UAE for family reasons.
"It is interesting to study in a new place, especially since the Emirates is famous for its universities," Ms Al Sayigh said.