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Hawza: Traditional Islamic School of Advanced Studies

One of the greatest Shi'ah scholars to have lived was Shaykh al-Tusi (385 AH/995 CE – 460 AH/1067 CE). He established the Hawza 'Ilmiyya in Najaf (Iraq) which remained the main centre of learning for the Shi'ahs for over 1000 years until its decline in the last century. With the decline of Najaf, the city of Qum (Iran) rose to prominence and remains to date as the primary centre of traditional Islamic learning for Shi'ahs today.

The Lingua Franca at Hawzas
With the shift of the primary Hawzas from Najaf to Qum, the influence of Iran was inevitable. As a result, there now are an equal, if not more, number of Shi'ah Islamic resources produced in Persian (Farsi) as there are in Arabic, although the original sources (Qur'an and Hadith) continue to be preserved and studied in Arabic.
On this site you will find Hawza lectures in both Arabic and Farsi presented by some of the leading scholars in Qum today. We have also provided some material in English and will continue to add more lectures as we acquire them.

Hawza Subjects
Most of the traditional subjects taught at a Hawza are interconnected and they supplement each other. For example, one who strives to specialize in Jurisprudence (fiqh) must also study other sciences in depth such as the Principles of Jurisprudence (Usul al-Fiqh), Arabic language and grammar, the Sciences of the Qur'an ('Ulum al-Qur'an), Hadith, Islamic History (Tarikh), Theology (Aqaid), Qur'an Exegesis (Tafsir), Logic (Mantiq), and so on.
Whilst some may study at a Hawza for decades and devote their entire lives to the study and teaching of traditional Islamic sciences, others study for as little as 3-5 years at a Hawza and thereafter return to their hometowns (sometimes as a full-time Islamic missionary [muballigh]) whilst continuing to study on their own. Another common practice in recent years is for young men and women to take 1-3 month crash courses at Hawzas in Iran, especially over their summer holidays.
The need for individuals who are well-rounded in all sciences is also being realized, and so Hawzas today are also introducing secular subjects into their curriculum such as human psychology, sociology, current affairs & political science, English language studies, geography, comparative religions/world religions, western philosophy, and so forth.
This "Hawza Studies" section however 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:
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)

1. Mantiq (Logic)
This science bears a very close resemblance to the study of Logic at Western universities in the field of Mathematics or Philosophy. The most popular work taught is the Usul al-Mantiq by Shaykh al-Mudhaffar commonly called "Mantiq al-Mudhaffar". Some hawzas may begin with the primer Khulasat al-Mantiq of Sh. 'Abd al-Hadi Fadli. Mantiq is usually one of the first subjects to be taught at a Hawza.

2. Usul al-Fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence)
In the early days of Islam, scholars only relied on the Qur'an and hadith to understand the practical laws of Islam. They grouped all the traditions at their disposal based on jurisprudence issues. It has therefore been said that the early jurist (faqih) was in fact no more than today's expert of hadith (muhadith).
In time though, a jurist had to be skilled in other sciences as well because many practical issues arose that were beyond the scope of just a literal interpretation of the Qur'an and hadith. There was now a need for a science that, for example, 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. This science is The Science of the Principles of Jurisprudence ('ilm usul al-fiqh). Usually referred to as 'ilm al-usul (the Science of Principles) or usul al-fiqh (the Principles of Jurisprudence).
A student will typically begin with a primer such as Mabadi Usul al-Fiqh by Sh. Abd al-Hadi Fadli. Thereafter, the two most popular works studied are:
1. Durus fi Usul al-Fiqh (simply called the Halaqat) of Shahid Ayatullah Baqir al-Sadr. This is divided into 3 courses with the last course or Halaqa being further divided into 2 volumes.
2. Usul al-Fiqh of Sh. Mudhaffar (simply called Usul al-Mudhaffar). This is divided into 2 volumes.
The first Halaqa of Shahid al-Sadr is now available in English. Once Hawza students have completed studying these works, they are now ready to study the more advanced classic works of Usul al-Fiqh which are ar-Rasail, al-Kifayah and Ma'alim al-Usul.
Lots of newer works to complement the students' research are continuously being produced and some are becoming standard Hawza texts as well, such as the al-Qawaid al-Fiqhiyya (2 vols.) of Sh. Baqir al-Irwani (Qum).

3. Fiqh (Jurisprudence)
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. For more information on the divisions in this science, see Fiqh and Fuqaha.
Beginners usually commence their studies in Fiqh with Mukhtasar an-Nafi followed by Sh. Jawad Mughniya's Fiqh al-Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq [a] although the latter is fast being replaced by other works like al-Fiqh al-Istidlali of Sh. Baqir al-Irwani.
A higher text that every Hawza student 'must' study is Shahid al-Thani's 9-volume al-Zabdat al-Fiqhiyya fi Sharh Rawdat al-Bahiyya popularly known as Sharh Lum'ah. This work is a commentary of the Lum'ah of Shahid al-Awwal.
Additional texts that may be studied on the side are the Shara'i al-Islam (al-Hilli), Ayaat al-Ahkam (al-Irwani), and the books of laws (tawdhih al-masail) of present and past high-ranking jurisprudents (ayatullahs).

4. Tafsir al-Qur'an (Qur'an Exegesis)
'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. Both Shia and Sunni scholars have written literally hundreds of Tafsir works over the ages. Some Shia scholars limit the word tafsir to being the interpretation of the Qur'an by the Prophet [s] Himself and his special household members (the Ahl al-Bayt). They consider all other interpretations as being simply a personal reflection (tadabbur). It is also common for students to form small study groups to share and discuss their understanding of the Qur'an's verses (i.e. to engage in tadabbur).
In the last two decades, the most popular tafsir work has been the 20 vol. Tafsir al-Mizan of Allamah Tabatabai. Some English translations of this work also exist today. Of late though, other, newer, tafsir works are emerging and gaining prominence.

5. 'Ulum al-Qur'an (Qur'an Sciences)
Unlike Tafsir al-Qur'an which explains and discusses the 6000+ verses of the Qur'an themselves, this science 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. The most popular 'Ulum al-Qur'an work studied at Hawzas is the 2 volume Talkhis al-Tamhid by Sh. Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifah.

6. 'Ilm al-Hadith (The Study of Traditions)
'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. A useful work in English is the Introduction to Hadith by Abd al-Hadi al-Fadli including the Dirayat al-Hadith of Al-Shahid al-Thani translated by Nazmina Virjee.
Needless to say, familiarity with the traditions (ahadith) themselves is indispensable just as familiarity with the Qur'an's verses is indispensable for one studying 'Ulum al-Qur'an or Tafsir. A student therefore needs to read works of hadith all the time and gain familiarity with the multitude of ahadith available.
The verses of the Qur'an and the hadith texts are the building blocks and the most fundamental material on which all Islamic sciences rest. Without them, there would nothing to study.
The four most important Shi'ah hadith works that are referred to by jurists are:
1. Al-Kafi of Shaykh al-Kulayni (d. 328/9 AH)
2. Man La Yahdhuruh al-Faqih of Shaykh al-Saduq Ibn Babwayh (d. 381 AH)
3. Tahdhib al-Ahkam of Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460 AH)
4. Al-Istibsar of Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460 AH)
In addition to the above, there are other invaluable classic works of hadith that a student will come to use as references such as Wasail al-Shi'ah, Mustadrak al-Wasail, Bihar al-Anwar, Tuhuf al-Uqool, etc.

7. 'Ilm ar-Rijal (Science of Narrators)
'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.
A popular work on 'Ilm ar-Rijal which lists all the narrators in major Shi'ah hadith works and their trustworthiness-status is the Al-Mu'in 'ala Mu'jam Rijal al-Hadith of Marhum Ayatullah Abul Qasim al-Khui.

8. Tarikh (History)
There are numerous works of Islamic history - both Shi'ah and Sunni. A work that is popular at Hawzas is the Al-Milal wa al-Nihal by Shahristani. Other popular books are the works of the famous Shi’ah historian Sayyid Murtada al-Askari.

9. Aqaid (Theology)
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.
Popular theological works studied at Hawzas include: Tajrid al-'Itiqad of Khwaja Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (and its commentary (sharh) by Allama al-Hilli), al-Bab Hadi Ashar of Allama Hilli, Adle Ilahi of Shahid Mutahhari, and the 4 volume Ilahiyaat of Ayatullah Ja'far al-Subhani. An early English translation of the al-Bab Hadi Ashar (Hilli) exists and can usually be found at university libraries that have an Islamic collection.

10. Lugha (Language Studies)
Arabic is the language of the Qur'an and hadith. No amount of English translation will help you truly appreciate the Qur'an and hadith. They simply have to be read and understood in their original language, if they are to be fully appreciated. So while it is very tempting for the non-native-Arabic-speaking student to take shortcuts in this science, it is not advisable. The more time one invests in learning the Arabic language (especially classic Arabic grammar and vocabulary), the faster one can progress in their Hawza studies of other Islamic sciences.
Studying the Arabic language will usually consist of:
1. Grammar (Nahw)
2. Syntax/Morphology (Sarf)
3. Rhetoric (Balagha)
4. Vocabulary Building
Popular grammar works used at hawzas are the al-Hidayah fi al-Nahw, Sharh Ibn Aqil, and al-Nahw al-Wadih. Students whose primary language is English may want to consider A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language by Haywood and Nahmad.
For Arabic morphology (sarf), there is the Mabadi al-'Arabiyyah and Kitab al-Tasreef. And for Rhetoric, al-Balagha al-Wadihah is used. At advanced levels, the Nahjul Balagha (sermons, letters and sayings of Imam Ali [a] compiled by Sayyid ar-Radhi) is used.
Vocabulary building comes with time. Get yourself a good Arabic-English dictionary and learn how to look up words based on their root verb. The best dictionary for English-speakers is A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic by Hans Wehr.
This subject is one where having a teacher is highly recommended. Finally, keep in mind that you need to study Classic Arabic. This is the Arabic used in the Qur'an and Hadith and is somewhat different from the literally Arabic that many language schools and universities teach.

11. Falsafa (Islamic Philosophy)
Having studied Mantiq, those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of the philosophy of Islam will study Falsafa. This typical starts with Allama Tabatabai's Bidayah al-Hikmah followed by his Nihayah al-Hikmah. The first work is available in English. It first appeared in the Al-Tawhid journals and has since been revised and republished by ICAS.
Instead of the Bidayah (of Tabatabai) some Hawzas prefer to start with the Amoozish-e-Falsafa of Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi – also available in English under the title Philosophical Instructions.
For English readers, the two-volume History of Islamic Philosophy edited by S H Nasr and Oliver Leaman is highly recommended.
At the hawzas, a large part of Islamic philosophy deals with theoretical metaphysics and mysticism, the practical aspects of which are covered in 'Irfan (see below).

12. 'Irfan (Islamic Mysticism)
'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.
At Hawzas, one of the most advanced texts studied in theoretical 'irfan is the 9 volume magnum opus of Mulla Sadra called al-Hikmah al-Muta'aliya or simply the Asfar of Mulla Sadra.
For English readers, the two-volume Islamic Spirituality vol. 1 (Foundations) and vol. 2 (Manifestations) edited by S H Nasr is highly recommended.
Supplications are also a very important part of practical 'irfan. In addition to the Sahifa al-Sajjadiya and the popular Mafatih al-Jinan of Shaykh 'Abbas Qummi, Hawza students also like to refer to the works of Ibn Tawus such as his 3 volume Iqbal al-'Amal.

Q1: Where can I purchase Hawza books and how much do they cost?
The best deals for Hawza texts, CDs, etc. in Arabic or Farsi are from Iran, especially Qum and Tehran, followed by Damascus (Syria) and Beirut (Lebanon). There are however lots of online booksellers as well, such as Fadak Books. You can also order books directly from Iran via Ansariyan Publications.

Q2: Are there any Hawzas in the West? Where can I study fulltime?
Here are some websites you might find useful:
The Hawza Ilmiyya of London (UK)
Imam Hussain [a] University (Windor, Canada)
Hawzat al-Qaem [AF] (USA)

Q3: How long does it take to complete Hawza Studies?
That depends on how far you want to go. 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) (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 and, of course, Divine support (tawfiq). 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.
You should be aware however that while 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.

Q4: How should I use the audio lectures in studying a related text?
The Hawza audio lectures on this site are divided according to the text they discuss. A Hawza lecturer will typically first explain a passage or chapter in the textbook using his own words. Thereafter, he will read out the chapter or passage in the book to reaffirm what he explained earlier. It therefore makes sense to listen to the lectures sequentially, for each text you choose to study. As you listen to the lectures, you will undoubtedly need to take your own notes down, either on the margins of your textbook or a separate notebook.

Q5: Is there a standard syllabus or curriculum for Hawza studies?
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. We have listed many of these on our main Hawza Studies page.

Q6: What is "mubaahatha"?
Mubaahatha is a debate or discussion that Hawza students engage in amongst themselves, whilst studying a text. Traditionally, one student will read a passage and explain it while others would argue, question or comment on his explanation. This enriches the learning experience as it helps everyone add new perspectives and points-of-view to the text being studied. Hawza students are therefore highly encouraged to form such study groups.

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