Hawzah 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. It should be noted that Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i ( d. 1982 ) revived Islamic philosophy & Qur’anic interpretation ( tafsir ) in Qom.

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.

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)

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).

In the past, the text used at hawzas for mantiq was the Sharh al-Mandhumah fil Mantiq by Sabzawari. Whilst this classic text is still taught in some hawzas, the most popular work taught now is the Usul al-Mantiq by Shaykh al-Mudhaffar commonly called "Mantiq al-Mudhaffar".

Mantiq is usually one of the first subjects to be taught at a hawza because it is seen as a ‘tool’ (rather than an independent science studied for its own sake) that is necessary for correct thinking and deduction when studying all other Islamic sciences. In particular, it is vital in the study of Theology (kalam/aqaid) and is a necessary prerequisite to studying Islamic Philosophy (falsafa). Whilst a superficial knowledge of kalam or falsafa without logic may be beneficial, to truly be grounded in theology, the study of logic is vital.

The famous Muslim philosopher and logician, al-Farabi, defines logic (mantiq) as an instrumental, rule-based science aimed at directing the intellect towards the truth and safeguarding it from error in its acts of reasoning. Al-Farabi also compares logic to tools such as rulers and compasses, which are used to ensure exactness when we measure physical objects subject to the errors of sensation. Like these tools, logical measures can be employed by their users to verify both their own acts of reasoning and the arguments of others. Logic is especially useful and important to guide the intellect when it is faced with the need to adjudicate between conflicting opinions.

For Shi’ahs, not only is logic (mantiq) important in theology and philosophy, but it is a re-occurring theme in Shi'a jurisprudence too (which they refer to as ‘aql’ (the use of intellect) as a means of deduction, in addition to Qur’an, hadith and ijma). The Sunnis do not employ the use of logic to the same degree (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia) and instead rely on qiyas (reasoning by analogy) which Shi’ahs reject as a form of religious deduction.

With the rise of the Ash’arite school (to which the majority of Sunni Muslims belong today) and with the teachings of individuals like Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyya, the study of logic and philosophy was not favoured amongst the Sunnis; and yet, al-Ghazali too (who wrote against philosophy and is believed to have dealt a lasting blow to its study amongst Muslims) is believed to have said: "man lam ya'rifi al-mantiqa fa laa thiqata lahu fi 'l-uloom" ('whosoever does not know logic, he has no trustworthiness in (the matters) of religious knowledge.') This signifies the status of logic and the importance it should have amongst all Muslims who aspire to be scholars.

Note: Some hawzas may also begin with the primer Khulasat al-Mantiq of Sh. 'Abd al-Hadi Fadli before studying Mantiq al-Mudhaffar.

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'anic 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 or the 2 volume Al-Moojaz fi Usul al-Fiqh by Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani (which in addition to other books on Usul al-Fiqh is available online here). 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.

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-Duroos fi 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).

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. Two popular texts on this subject are the al-Qawaid al-Fiqhiyya (2 vols.) of Sh. Baqir al-Irwani (Qum) and the al-Qawaid al-Fiqhiyya Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi (Qum).

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 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'anic Sciences)

Unlike Tafsir al-Qur'an which explains & discusses the 6000+ verses of the Qur'an, 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, etc.

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 & classification
  • their collection & preservation
  • etc.

Useful works in English are:

  • Introduction to Hadith by Abd al-Hadi al-Fadli
  • 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 & the hadith texts are the building blocks and the most fundamental material on which all Islamic sciences rest. Without them, there would be 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:

  1. Tawhid (Divine Unity)
  2. Adalah (Divine Justice)
  3. Nubuwwah (Prophethood)
  4. Imamah (Imamate)
  5. 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:

  1. Tajrid al-'Itiqad of Khwaja Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (and its commentary (sharh) by Allama al-Hilli called Kashf al-Murad fi Tajrid al-'Itiqad)
  2. al-Bab Hadi Ashar of Allama Hilli
  3. Adle Ilahi of Shahid Mutahhari
  4. the 4 volume Ilahiyaat of Ayatullah Ja'far al-Subhani

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-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 & 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)
Vocabulary Building

Popular grammar works used at hawzas are

  • al-Hidayah fi al-Nahw
  • Sharh Ibn Aqil
  • al-Nahw al-Wadih

For Arabic morphology (sarf):

  • Mabadi al-'Arabiyyah
  • Kitab al-Tasreef

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.

Students whose primary language is English may want to consider the following texts as well (all of which can be purchased easily from Amazon and other online booksellers):
1. Al-Kitaab Fi Ta'allum al-'Arabiyya: A Textbook for Beginning Arabic (3 volumes with DVDs) by Kristen Brustad, Mahmoud Al-Batal and Abbas Al-Tonsi
2. An Introduction to Koranic and Classical Arabic: An Elementary Grammar of the Language by Wheeler M. Thackston
3. A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language by Haywood and Nahmad

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 literal 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 typically starts with Allama Tabatabai's Bidayah al-Hikmah followed by his Nihayah al-Hikmah.

Instead of the Bidayah (of Tabatabai) some Hawzas prefer to start with Al-Manhaj al-Jadeed of Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi – ( Farsi: Amoozish-e-Falsafa; English: 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.

12. 'Irfan (Islamic Mysticism)

'Irfan is generally divided into theoretical (nadhari) 'irfan and practical ('amali) 'irfan. Theoretical 'Irfan is the study of Islamic metaphysics & '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.

Hawzah FAQ

Q1: Where can I purchase Hawza books and how much do they cost?

Q2: Are there any Hawzas in the West? Where can I study fulltime?

Q3: How long does it take to complete Hawza Studies?

Q4: How do students studying fulltime at a hawza support themselves financially?

Q5: Is there a standard syllabus or curriculum for Hawza studies?

Q6: Where can I download the classic texts of Hadith, Tafsir, Aqaid, etc. in Arabic and/or Farsi, that are taught or used as references by Hawza students?

Q7: What is "mubaahatha"?

Q8: What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying Islam at a Hawza as compared to a university?

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?

Most students interested in Hawza studies migrate to Qum (Iran). Although hawzas can be found all over the world, include India, Africa, etc. Syria is slowly but surely becoming a popular place for hawza studies and many hope that in the coming years, Najaf (Iraq) will once again become a centre for hawza studies as it was several decades ago. For hawza studies in the West (Europe and North America), here are some websites you might find useful:

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 do students studying fulltime at a hawza support themselves financially?

If a student is resident at a hawza or registered with a hawza programme fulltime, then tuition fees, accommodation, food and basic needs are either provided or paid for through monthly stipends (called shahriyya). The shahriyya for one who is married may be higher than that for one who is single.

Given the comparative lower cost of living in places like Iran, Syria and Iraq, hawza students from the West who migrate to such places in the Middle East for hawza studies, may even find it affordable to support themselves and pay for their own expenses (at least in part) in exchange for better living circumstances or the independence of their study programmes, tutors, etc.

In some places, offices of the maraji’ may also offer monthly stipends to students who register themselves with their offices. Other students may even be supported by Islamic organizations and/or their own local Islamic communities with an agreement to come back and serve the community/organization for a few years upon the completion of their studies.

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.

Q6: Where can I download the classic texts of Hadith, Tafsir, Aqaid, etc. in Arabic and/or Farsi, that are taught or used as references by Hawza students?

Here are some websites you might find useful:

Q9: 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.

Q10: What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying Islam at a Hawza as compared to a university?

This will depend on your personal circumstances and what you seek from that knowledge of Islam.

Studying at a university might be possible without migrating to a foreign country or quitting your job whilst migrating to Iran, Syria or Iraq for hawza studies could mean a radical shift in lifestyle but with the advantage of greater acquaintance with Islamic languages and culture. But that difference is just the start.

A hawza environment will focus not only on studying classic texts but also on self-development and personal spiritual growth. A university, on the other hand, will only offer a degree (that is perhaps more relevant in the West as a ‘career’ in Islam).

The issue of asceticism, non-materialistic simplicity of life, living in a spiritually purer environment or serving the Muslim community is more present in a hawza. At a university, research and study, writing and lecturing are more the focus. It goes without saying, the teachers will usually be of a very different mindset (unless they come from an influence of both backgrounds – hawza and university). In a hawza, the tutors will always be Muslims and usually Shi’ahs. Their personal character and piety is as important as their knowledge and ability to impart it. The tutors teaching Islam at a university, may not even be Muslims and are often regarded as Orientialists. Some may have the impression that university lecturers are more objective in what they teach, but this is not necessarily true and often not the case. In fact, those who only study Islam at Western universities, with no traditional Islamic studies (hawza) background, are often regarded with suspicion by the Muslim masses - who would rather be taught and guided by one with at least a mix of traditional hawza background. The general masses recognize the importance of a spiritual mentoring as being equally (if not more) important as the acquisition of knowledge.

The prerequisites for entering a hawza are usually not as stringent as that for a university, although this is changing now, with hawzas demanding better qualifications from potential students.

Hawzas in the Middle East are usually full-time and the cost of studying is much lower than that of a university. A hawza student is supported financially through various forms of tabligh funds (such as khums) in the expectation that they will give back to Islam in service. A university might offer part-time Islamic studies but will usually cost a lot more in tuition fees. This is, of course, just the general trend and there may be exceptions to all cases (e.g. a hawza might offer part-time studies, etc.).

The texts used at the both places are usually very different. Hawzas will often study crucial texts in detail and in their entirety whereas a university will skim through the work and use it as reference material or study 1-2 chapters only. In a university, the text may often change depending on the lecturer but in hawzas, there are mandatory classic works that all must study, regardless of the tutor. In fact, one’s level at a hawza is often measured by what text one is currently studying or what one has completed.

A common misconception amongst those living in the West is that hawza students do not go through the rigorious analysis and objective research process as that of university students. This is definitely not true. That said, the lack of a university background is unfortunately seen as an obstacle to the ‘traditional’ (hawza) scholars who wish to engage in tabligh in the West. The real obstacle though is their lack of familiarity with the Western culture and languages. Many hawzas are therefore now trying to introduce programmes that combine traditional hawza studies with university courses and even introducing ‘secular’ subjects like foreign languages, western philosophy and culture, and other arts and humanities university courses. Some hawzas are endeavouring to affliate themselves with western universities so that their students graduate with university accreditiations as well.

This is commendable because unfortunately one of the disadvatanges of the hawza system is the informal style in which courses are conducted and the lack of a disciplined and organized study process. This has changed quite a bit in the last decade and as hawzas begin to benefit from the unversity system of conducting studies, offering exams, promotions, etc. they may ultimately provide the best of both worlds and the perfect student – one who is God-conscious and well versed in both, traditional Islamic texts as well as the university curriculum.

Lastly, a university will typically offer a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D in Islamic Studies. 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 equivalent to a Ph.D at a university, though many would argue it is far more rigorous than the university’s Ph.D process. The titles for Hawza graduates will vary from a talaba (student) to Shaykh, Ustadh, 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.

Education at the Hawzah

The major educational schedule in the hawzah is comprised of 3 stages:

( 1 ) the preliminary stage ( muqaddamat ) - Lasts 2 – 3 years

Hawza students begin their studies by learning:

( 2 ) the intermediate stage ( sutuh ) - Lasts 4 - 6 years

  • Involves studying from textbooks in fiqh, usūl & philosophy

( 3 ) the higher stage ( dars-e kharij )

  • Devoted to fiqh & usūl
  • Education at the third level is not restricted to textbooks. Rather, instructors give analytical lectures presenting significant views on the subject matter & evaluating those positions. This stage is intended to increase the intellectual power of the students. One who wants to attain the qualification of ijtihād ( expertise in fiqh ), should pass this course, which lasts from 7 - 10 years depending on the amount of effort displayed by the student. One who successfully completes this stage is then called a mujtahid ( expert in fiqh ).

For more on the Hawzah's educational system, click here

The 3 major ranks in the hawzah

(1) talabah (religious student)

Talabah is the name for a student of a hawzah. It means the one who seeks to learn the Islamic sciences.

(2) mujtahid (an expert in fiqh)

Mujtahid refers to the one who can derive and deduce the laws and decrees from the authentic sources of Islam, namely the Qur’ān, the hadīths, reasoning (intellect) & the consensus of ulamā ( religious scholars ).

Those who complete the higher education may reach this rank. A cleric before ijtihād is usually called hujjatul-Islām (the proof of Islam) and after ijtihad is called Āyatullāh (the sign of God).

(3) marja’ (supreme religious leader)

Marja’ refers to the person who has attained the high level of piety & justice in addition to ijtihād & can attract a number of followers among laypeople. According to Shī’īte jurisprudence, everyone reaching adolescence should start following a fully qualified marja’. A marja’ is normally called by the title Āyatullāh al-uzma (the biggest sign of God).

Marja’iyyat is the office of supreme religious authority in Shiism, and maraji’ are in charge of the hawzahs, supporting the students both spiritually & financially. Shī’ah pay them their religious tax, known as khums (one fifth of the annual income), and they manage the hawzahs financially with it.

The Lingua Franca at Hawzas

This depends mainly on where you are studying. If you choose I.R. Iran, you will obviously have to take courses there in Farsi AND Arabic. In hawzas in the Middle-East, it would obviously be Arabic.

It should be noted that with the shift of the primary Hawzas from Najaf to Qum, the influence of Iran is inevitable. There is now a wealth of Shiite resources produced in Farsi. Some would argue that there is a lot more Shiite resources in Farsi as there are in Arabic. However, the original sources (Qur'an and Hadith) continue to be preserved and studied in Arabic.

Hawzah subjects

List of Hawzahs




  • Sur Hawzah
  • Saida Hawzah
  • Jabal Amil Hawzah
  • Hawzahs in Baalbeck

There are many Hawzahs for Sisters in Lebanon & they can be found in every major city. In addition to the major cities, the Hawzahs in Baalbeck are recommended [ which has a great spiritual atmosphere, perhaps thanks to the holy shrine of Sayyidah Khawlah bint Husayn ( SA ) ] & the numerous ones in Southern Lebanon.
The best thing is to go to the Hawzah of one's choice & apply. You won't find much unless you go there yourself. Most of the time it is a 100% free, and you will be provided with free medical care, food, a place to stay [ at the Hawzah, if you are not staying with family members or friends ], a monthly payment so that you can buy some necessities like clothes, books etc.


  • Halab Hawzah, Syria
  • Damascus Hawzah, Syria



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