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For the settlement in Western Sahara sometimes spelt Hawza, see Haouza.
a Hawza in Nishapur.

Hawza (Arabic/Persian: حوزة) or ḥawza ʻilmiyya (Arabic/Persian: حوزة علمیة) is a seminary of traditional Islamic school of higher learning. It is a term used mostly by the Shi'a Muslims communities to refer to a traditional Shi'a centre where clerics are trained. Here students are trained through a study of classic texts in their original languages.[1][2]

Several senior Grand Ayatollahs constitute the hawza. The institutions in Najaf, Iraq and Qom, Iran, are the preeminent seminary centers for the training of Shi'a clergymen. However, several smaller hawzas exist in other cities around the world, such as at Karbala, Iraq, Isfahan and Mashhad in Iran, Lucknow, India, Lahore, Pakistan, Europe and North America.[3]

The Hawza Ilmiyya is the Shi'a equivalent of the Darul Uloom system and the core areas of study in the two systems are generally the same.[2] Hawza is not an organized theocracy with clear hierarchies and chains of authority, rather, it is bound by fervor, consensus and the utter devotion of its leaders and followers.[4]

Hawza 'Ilmiyya Najaf[edit]

Ali al-Sistani (current chancellor of Hawza 'Ilmiyya Najaf) and Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei (ex-chancellor of Hawza 'Ilmiyya Najaf)

Hawza 'Ilmiyya in Najaf, Iraq was established in 430 AH (the 11th century AD) by Shaykh al-Tusi (385 AH/995 CE – 460 AH/1067 CE),[5] the Hawza 'Ilmiyya Najaf remained the main centre of learning for the Shi'ahs for over 1000 years until its decline in the 20th century starting with the establishment of modern Iraq in 1921.[1][6] The revival of the Najaf Hawza in Iraq since the fall of the Saddam regime has indeed begun but still Iraq’s seminaries today have only a few thousand clerics.[7] At present Ayatollah Sistani heads Hawza 'Ilmiyya Najaf, which includes three other Ayatollahs - Mohammad Ishaq Al-Fayyad, Mohammad Saeed Al-Hakim and Bashir al-Najafi.[8]

Hawza 'Ilmiyya Qom[edit]

Although big Shi'a academies existed in Qom dating back as early as 10th century CE,[8] the hawza of the city became prominent at the time of the Safavids when Shi'a Islam became the official religion of Iran. The famous teachers of that era included Mulla Sadra and Shaykh Bahai.[9][10] The modern Qom hawza was revitalized by Abdul Karim Haeri Yazdi and Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi and is barely a century old.[6] There are nearly three hundred thousand clerics in Iran’s seminaries.[7] At present Ayatullah al-UzmaHossein Vahid Khorasani heads Hawza 'Ilmiyya Qom.[8]

Hawza 'Ilmiyya Khwaharān (Women's Hawza)[edit]

There are also a number of women's hawza, mostly located in Iran. Already in the early 1800s, the Salehiyya madrasa in Qazvin ran a women's section where several lady mujtahids were trained. In Qom, the earliest seminary for women was established by grand ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari who in 1973 added a women's section to his hawza Dar al-Tabligh, called Dar al-Zahra.[11] Next, the Haghani school opened a women's wing in 1974/75, called Maktab-e Tawhid.

Outside Qom, women's seminaries included Maktab-e Fatema of Fasa (opened in 1961), Maktab-e Zahra of Shiraz (opened in 1964), Maktab-e Fatimah of Isfahan (opened by Lady Amin in 1965),[12] Zahra-i Athar of Tehran (opened in 1966), and Madrase-ye ‘Elmīyya Narges of Mashhad (opened in 1966).[13]

After the 1979 revolution in Iran, the state began to centralize the women's hawza system. The women's seminaries in Qom were centralized into one large school, the Jamiat al-Zahra. In Khorasan with its clerical center of Mashhad, the women's maktabs came under the aegis of the state-run Centre for Management of Women’s Seminaries of Khorasan. In the rest of the country, women's seminaries were integrated into the Centre for Management of Women’s Seminaries (Markaz-e Modiriat-e Ḥawzahā-ye ʿElmiyya Khwaharān). Since the mid-1990s the latter center has established more than 300 seminaries across Iran (before the revolution less than a dozen existed in the entire country).

Course and levels[edit]

There is no standard syllabus as such. Each Hawza tends to create its own. There are however some standard texts in each subject area that are considered "classics" and that all Hawza students are expected to study.

Those who seek to become a mubaligh (fem. mubaligha) [missionaries or Islamic 'propagators'] would typically study for 5–7 years at a Hawza. In the past, it is said, that it took 20–40 years for one to become a mujtahid (fem. mujtahida, e.g. Banu Amin) (an Islamic jurist able to derive laws from Islamic sources on his/her own), depending on one's intellectual abilities, how hard one strove in their studies. With the use of modern means today (such as computers) as well as more systemized and structured study systems, this could take a lot less.[8]

Some students study as a registered student at a school, others are independent students who pick their own tutors and study at their own pace. Furthermore, a lot of students will engage in other Islamic activities during their studies, such as writing, translating, preaching, teaching others, etc. all of which could lengthen the duration of one's study. Most Hawza students consider themselves students for life.

In a hawza, one goes through the stages of muqadamat' (introductory studies), sutooh (intermediary-advanced studies), dars kharij (advanced-Independent studies), and finallay ijtihad (deducing laws independently i.e. where one becomes a mujtahid(a)), without any formal titles. This final stage would be roughly equivalent to a Ph.D program at a university. The titles for Hawza graduates will vary from a talaba (student) to Shaykh, Ustad, Hujjatul Islam, Allama and Ayatullah. These are just the more common titles and they are not bestowed by the Hawza. Rather, the culture and community that the scholar serves will end up bestowing it.

Hawza subjects[edit]

Most of the traditional subjects taught at a Hawza are interconnected and they supplement each other. Hawza students begin their studies by learning fiqh, kalam, hadith, tafsir, philosophy, natural and abstract sciences as well as Arabic and Arabic literature. Once these studies have been completed, they may begin preparation to become a mujtahid by studying advanced ancient textbooks known as sat'h, and research courses known as kharij.[14]

Hawza Studies is dedicated to the more traditional subjects only, especially since they are not readily available elsewhere. The traditional subjects taught at a Hawza may be divided into the following:[8]

  1. Mantiq (Logic)
  2. Usul al-Fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence)
  3. Fiqh (Jurisprudence)
  4. Tafsir al-Qur'an (Qur'an Exegesis)
  5. 'Ulum al-Qur'an (Qur'an Sciences)
  6. 'Ilm al-Hadith (The Study of Traditions)
  7. 'Ilm ar-Rijal (Science of Narrators)
  8. Tarikh (History) -
  9. Aqaid / Kalam (Theology)
  10. Lugha (Language Studies)
  11. Falsafa (Islamic Philosophy)
  12. 'Irfan (Islamic Mysticism)

Mantiq (logic)[edit]

Mantiq, or Islamic logic, is a similar science to what is called traditional logic at Western universities (as opposed to modern logic that is taught as a field of mathematics).

Usul al-Fiqh (principles of jurisprudence)[edit]

Science of the 'ilm usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence) discusses not only the jurisprudence content of a Qur'an verse or hadith but also the general principle(s) behind it that jurists could adhere to when deriving other laws on other issues. Usually referred to as 'ilm al-usul (the Science of Principles) or usul al-fiqh (the principles of jurisprudence).

Fiqh (jurisprudence)[edit]

Fiqh (jurisprudence) is a major (if not 'the major') science around which most of the other subjects revolve. The study of the practical laws of Islam and how to derive them is divided by areas of jurisprudence such as purification, prayers, fasting, hajj, marriage, trade, etc. A branch of fiqh that was once never recognized as a subject on its own is Al-Qawaid al-Fiqhiyya (The Laws or Principles of Jurisprudence). This is distinct from but often confused with Usul al-Fiqh.

Tafsir al-Qur'an (Qur'an exegesis)[edit]

'Ilm al-Tafsir, or "the science of Qur'an exegesis" is usually a systematic (either sequential or thematic) exegetical study of the Qur'an's verses. This subject is widely studied by all Hawza students and one who chooses to specialize in this field becomes a mufassir or commentator of the Qur'an.

'Ulum al-Qur'an (Qur'an sciences)[edit]

Unlike Tafsir al-Qur'an which explains and discusses the 6000+ verses of the Qur'an themselves, 'Ulum al-Qur'an studies the Qur'an holistically. For example, the Qur'an's history, how it was revealed, the reasons that prompted revelations, how it was compiled, by whom and when, its preservation through the ages, the variations in its readings, the classification of verses into various categories such as abrogating (nasikh) verses vs. abrogated (mansukh) verses, and so forth.

'Ilm al-Hadith (the study of traditions)[edit]

'Ilm al-Hadith (or the science of Hadith) is not about the narrations or traditions themselves; rather it discusses the history of traditions, their compilation and classification, their collection and preservation, and so forth.

'Ilm ar-Rijal (science of narrators)[edit]

'Ilm ar-Rijal is, literally, "The Science of People". Any tradition (hadith) is usually made up of two parts: a header (called isnad or sanad) and the main text or narration itself (called matn). The header lists the chain of narrators, which is crucial in identifying the original source of a hadith and verifying its authenticity. 'Ilm ar-Rijal, as an off-shoot of 'Ilm al-Hadith, studies the individual lives of narrators to check their trustworthiness. This in turn is used as one factor (amongst others) in concluding the authenticity of narrations. Sometimes a narrator may be unknown and his history may simply be lost in time.

Tarikh (history)[edit]

Tarikh is study pre-Islamic and post-Islamic history mainly in context of events related to Islam.

Aqaid / Kalam (theology)[edit]

Aqaid (theology) is also called 'Ilm al-Kalam or Usul al-Din. The latter title is rarely used in Hawzas, perhaps to avoid confusing it with Usul al-Fiqh (which is at times called 'Ilm al-Usul). Shi'ah theology usually discusses issues around five principles:

  • Tawhid (Divine Unity),
  • Adalah (Divine Justice),
  • Nubuwwah (Prophethood),
  • Imamah (Imamate) and
  • Ma'ad (Day of Judgement, also called al-Qiyamah or the Resurrection).

This subject is as important as jurisprudence for the hawza student. It is also a crucial subject for one who is interested in comparative religious studies for it goes beyond discussing the five principles in themselves and discusses issues related to them. For example: anthropomorphism (as related to Tawhid), Predestination and Freewill (as related to Adalah), Infallibility (as related to Nubuwwah and Imamah), and Intercession (as related to Qiyamah). Aqaid also discusses religion in general and topics such as the Need for Religion, Pluralism, etc.

Lugha (language studies)[edit]

Arabic is the language of the Qur'an and hadith (especially classic Arabic grammar and vocabulary). Studying the Arabic language at Hawza usually consist of:

  • Grammar (Nahw)
  • Syntax/Morphology (Sarf)
  • Rhetoric (Balagha)
  • Vocabulary Building

Falsafa (Islamic philosophy)[edit]

Having studied Mantiq, those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of the philosophy of Islam will study Falsafa. At the hawzas, a large part of Islamic philosophy deals with theoretical metaphysics and mysticism, the practical aspects of which are covered in 'Irfan.

'Irfan (Islamic mysticism)[edit]

'Irfan is generally divided into theoretical (nadhari) 'irfan and practical ( 'amali ) 'irfan. Theoretical 'Irfan is the study of Islamic metaphysics and 'Transcendent Philosophy'. The latter is usually a discussion around the teachings of philosopher-mystics like Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi, Ibn 'Arabi and Mulla Sadra. 'Irfan however distinguishes its goal from that of religious philosophy by being more theosophical. In other words, whereas falsafa seeks to know God with the mind and through rationalization, 'irfan seeks to know God through direct, personal experience. Practical 'Irfan is sometimes called sayr wa suluk (Spiritual wayfaring) and is in many ways synonymous to Sufism.

Advanced subjects[edit]

Once the basic studies have been completed, students may begin preparation to become a mujtahid by studying advanced ancient textbooks known as sat'h, and research courses known as kharij.

To be a mujtahid one has to excel in the advanced levels of the Hawza including Muqad'dim'maat, Sotooh, Sotooh 'Ulya, 'Uloom ukhra and Bahath Kharij.

Bahath e Kharij is the last level of hawzah and this level leads to Marji'iya, to become a ma'raja one has to teach dars e khaarij for considerable amount of time, publish collection of juridical edicts (risala ‘amaliyya) and recognised as one (by established Maraji).[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hawza - Advanced Islamic Studies
  2. ^ a b The Training of Religious Leaders in the UK: a survey of Jewish, Christian & Muslim Seminaries
  3. ^ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Hawza Studies
  4. ^ For Iraq's Shiites, Faith Knows No Borders, Ishgooda, Senior Staff, Wed, 23 Jun 2004 05:45:04 -0700
  5. ^ [1] [2] FIQH and FUQAHA - An Introduction to Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) Containing Forty Four Life Sketches of the Great Past Masters, Published by the WORLD FEDERATION OF KHOJA SHIA ITHNAASHERI MUSLIM COMMUNITIES
  6. ^ a b Shiites and Democracy by Sreeram Chaulia
  7. ^ a b A History of Tension between Iran's Clerics and the State, Mehdi Khalaji July 26th 2010 Washington Institute
  8. ^ a b c d e Thinkin ahead: Shi'ite Islam in Iraq and its seminaries, Christoph Marcinkowsi, Nayang Technological University, Singapore
  9. ^ تاریخ مذهبی قم، ص 131.
  10. ^ کتاب النقض، عبدالجلیل بن ابی الفتح، ص 164؛ تاریخ مذهبی قم، علی اصغر فقیهی، قم، چ حکمت، ص 167.
  11. ^ Michael M. J. Fischer, Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003, p.196
  12. ^ Mirjam Künkler and Roja Fazaeli, "The Life of Two Mujtahidas: Female Religious Authority in 20th Century Iran", in Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority, ed. Masooda Bano and Hilary Kalmbach (Brill Publishers, 2012), 127–160. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID1884209_code1321417.pdf?abstractid=1884209&mirid=1
  13. ^ Keiko Sakurai, “Women’s empowerment and Iranian-style seminaries in Iran and Pakistan,” in Keiko Sakurai and Fariba Adelkhah (eds.), The Moral Economy of the Madrasa, Islam and Education Today, (Oxon & New York: Routledge, 2011), p. 32-57
  14. ^ The Concept of Ijtihad in Accordance to Shi’i Islam, Written by Samir Al-Haidari, Monday, 25 December 2006 20:53
  15. ^ What is Islam? Beliefs, principles and a way of life, by Abdelmalik Badruddin Eagle (translation of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad al-Husayni al-Shirazi's work Ma-huwa ’l-Islam? first published in 1960s)

External links[edit]