Shiʿa Seminary or al-Ḥawza al-ʿIlmīyya (Arabic: "الحوزة العلمية", Farsi: "حوزۀ علمیه") is the title given to the Twelver Shi'a educational institution which involves teaching religious ideas and educating religious students. Due to the importance of religious teachings including fiqh (Jurisprudence) , theology and Quranic sciences, a special educational system has been developed for this institution during Shi'a history.
Usually financial expenses of seminaries are covered through obligatory religious payments and donations of religious authorities.
There are relations between minor and major seminaries. Religious students usually begin their studies from smaller schools and later go to bigger schools to complete their education.
Seminaries of Qom, Najaf, Baghdad, Hillah, Jabal Amel and Isfahan have been the most important Shi'a seminaries and each has been the total authority of all Shi'a for a while. Every seminary usually manages some schools.
The term "al-Hawza al-'Ilmiyya" (Arabic: الحَوزة العِلمیَّة; meaning: place of knowledge or gaining knowledge) in later usage has been used for Twelver Shi'a educational institution even though the essence of such an institution existed for centuries. The word is a common name among Shi'a and refers to the religious learning center.
There are evidences suggesting that such a usage dates back to a hundred years ago when Shaykh 'Abd al-Karim Ha'iri established an institution in Qom in 1313 Sh/1934, and called it in Farsi "Jami'a-yi 'Ilmiyya-yi Qum" (scholarly university of Qom). Usage of the title "al-Hawza al-'Ilmiyya" started years after that.
Shi'a seminary's teaching system has always been text-based and the first step for a student is to acquire the power to properly understand the text. Shia Seminaries focus on certain texts and use commentaries on text-books. These texts have been written by top teachers of seminaries and have often had complications in understanding which are explained by teachers so that mastery of teachers is evaluated by their competence in explaining the complications and the students are evaluated by their competence in interpreting these texts.
Shi'a seminaries teaching system which is based on the teacher-student interaction and working on a text has been developed through methods below. More than anything, these methods have been based on Imams' (a) teaching method for their companions and students:
Mubahatha (lit. discussion) is one of the most important teaching methods in seminaries. An important feature of such an educational system is preventing misunderstanding, increasing scholarly humbleness, and inhibition against hurried and careless assessments. This tradition of mubahatha continues to the advanced level (Kharij). Also, after that, sometimes top people of a generation who have reached mastery and ijtihad continue their mubahatha. In recent years, due to methodical developments and facilities including recording of classes and the access to class contents, the tradition of mubahatha has been weakened.
|Main Sciences||Main Sciences||Related Sciences||Common Sciences in Islamic Civilization||New Lessons|
|The Qur'an||Fiqh||Arabic Literature||Medicine||Criticism and Study of New Philosophies and Schools|
|Tafsir||Usul al-fiqh||History||Astronomy||Knowing Religions and denominations|
|Hadith||Ethics||Rijal||Mathematics||History and Interpreting Hadith Texts|
Stages of Education
- The preliminary level (Muqaddamat): Arabic literature, logic, semi-analytical fiqh, and Usul al-fiqh.
- The intermediate level (Sath): Text-based analytical fiqh and usul al-fiqh.
- The advanced level (Kharij lesson):
Kharij lessons are advanced classes in Shi'a seminary. Traditionally, this course begins after passing the preliminary and intermediate levels (Muqaddamat and Sath). In this course, the teacher explain different opinions about the topic under discussion without focusing on a certain text and finally give their own opinion accordingly and students evaluate their capabilities in criticizing opinions of scholars.
Teachers decide to teach a certain lesson based on their own taste and announced the title and the hour based on students' demands. The main condition of teaching has been scholarly competence and popularity and since students have been free in choosing lessons, the mentioned prerequisite have automatically been provided.
- Seminary schools: schools are the most important teaching places in seminary educational system. In the last centuries, Shi'as have had many schools. Their founders were sometimes government officials, businessmen, landlords, and sometimes Islamic scholars. Sometimes, it is seen that people from other classes such as physicians, artists, etc. have built schools. Library was the greatest benefit of schools in addition to their educational activities. Teachers' payments and students' stipends have been paid from donations to the school. Students' rooms for living have been another privilege of seminary schools over other educational institutions.
- Mosques: one of the functions of mosques at the beginning of Islam has been educational. Using mosques for teaching different Islamic sciences has always been a good option for Shi'a scholars. Especially when Shi'a has been experiencing difficulty and lack of schools, mosques have been used to maintain circles of teaching and learning. Despite the convenience of seminaries, Shi'a scholars and authorities have always preferred mosques over seminaries for the spirituality of mosques.
- Class of Sayyid Ahmad Khwansari in Sayyid 'Aziz Allah mosque in Tehran, Imam Khomeini's class in A'zam Mosque of Qom are two examples. Today, many Kharij classes of great seminary scholars are held in mosques.
- Private places: In addition to public places, seminary classes have been sometimes held in private places. Most common private places for holding classes have been the houses of teachers. Using private places instead of schools have sometimes been because of the special rank of the teacher and sometimes because the class has not been put among common programs, or because schools' regulations did not allow including those classes; for example, lessons such as philosophy has been taught in private classes in those cities where teaching philosophy has been prohibited. In the last centuries when teachers made living through business and not just teaching, their classes were also held in their workplace in the market where was also used by students as the place of gathering as well.
- Other places: Sometimes, classes have been held in other public places such as the courtyards of the holy shrines of Imams, their progeny and graveyards of Shi'a scholars.
Class on Islamic Morality
Classes on Islamic morality (Akhlaq lessons) have been some of most popular side lessons of seminaries. The purpose of such classes has been familiarizing students and drawing their attention to virtues and manners of the people of knowledge which they sometimes called it "Ziyy Talabegi" (the clergy's lifestyle). At the time of al-Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari, Sayyid Ali Shushtari, who himself participated in the fiqh class of al-Shaykh al-Ansari, began teaching akhlaq (morality) every week following the order of al-Shaykh al-Ansari. (He even had a special akhlaq class for al-Shaykh al-Ansari himself.)
At the beginning of immigration of Shaykh 'Abd al-Karim Ha'iri, there was no official classes on Islamic morality and he had included teachings of akhlaq (morality) in the seminary lesson program. Mirza Jawad Maliki Tabrizi was among those who taught akhlaq following Shaykh 'Abd al-Karim Ha'iri's request. After Maliki Tabrizi passed away, Imam Khomeini held class of akhlaq on Thursdays afternoon in Faydiyya school and he would not go on the pulpit as a sign of respect to 'Abd al-Karim Ha'iri. Even businessmen participated in his class. Some teachers of Kharij classes (advanced level) used to assign a part of their class hour on the last day of teaching for a moral advice, often in the form of reciting and explaining a hadith.
Most Important Moral Advice
- Advising on personal and social manner
- Self and spiritual disciplines
- Reminding death and judgment of the hereafter
- Perseverance in education and removing obstacles of learning
- Making efforts regarding different aspects of the rulings of worship
- Observing recommended acts and avoiding any extremism which would be harmful for learning or maybe in manners
- Sincerity and correcting intention and continuous remembering the goal of learning Islamic sciences to keep away from any worldly intentions
- Believing the necessity of learning such knowledge in spite of financial and social problems
- Constant attention to the main goal of this educational system which are acquiring knowledge and conveying it to people
- Respecting the importance of religious knowledge and the process of learning it
- Emphasizing on spiritual connection with Imam al-Mahdi (a)
Most Important Textbooks of Akhlaq
Since long ago, some great scholars have written texts on manner and akhlaq for their seminary audience such as:
Elements of Establishment and Declination
- Existence of great scholars and holding classes, have been the most important factor of establishment and survival of the seminary; for example, the seminary of Najaf began when al-Shaykh al-Tusi left Baghdad and sought refuge to the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a). Actually, the spiritual attraction of the Holy Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a) has always been the cause of prosperity, coming, and settlement of groups of Shi'a. However, coming of Muhammad b. Hasan al-Tusi attracted Shi'a to come from different places (Baghdad, Rey, Aleppo, Tripoli, Qom, Khorasan, and Transoxiana) to Najaf and establish the most effective and lasting Shi'a seminary.
- Holy shrines of Shi'a imams (a) and some of their progeny have provided a suitable place for establishing seminaries due to the gathering of Shi'a around them. Seminaries of Qom, Mashhad, Karbala, Kadhimiya, and Samarra are in this group.
- Political centralization of some cities at the times of Shi'a rulers resulted in establishment of some seminaries in Isfahan, Tehran, Qazvin, and Tabriz.
- Educational needs: There have been some seminaries which were established due to educational needs in a Shi'a city such as the seminaries of Kashan, Shiraz, Sabzevar, Shushtar, Jabal Amel, and Bahrain.
Causes of Declination of Seminaries
- Whenever, for any reason, the presence of top scholars has been limited or it became empty from enthusiast students, that seminary has declined; especially, if a great scholar held his classes in another city and attracted students there.
- Sometimes, natural disasters and political and cultural difficulties caused a seminary to shut down or decline such as Mahmud Afghan's attack to Isfahan stopped the seminary of this city from working; or in the time of Pahlavi, the serious policy of the government was to dismiss Islamic scholars from preaching activities and even banning wearing the common clothes of clergies and this declined the seminaries of most cities of Iran and especially Tehran.
Each seminary is usually managed under supervision of the highest scholar of that seminary which sometimes include some persons (for example some Mujtahids and Marjas of similar rank) sharing the management. Management of the seminary is usually for general issues:
- Managing students' issues (residence, stipend which has been paid monthly and called "shahriyya", facilities for education such as the library and official issues such as military service)
- Taking care of holding classes for different levels
- Taking special care of teachers
- Inviting teachers of other cities for strengthening the seminary
- Supervising general issues of the seminary, social and moral manner of students and their relationship with people
- Regulating seminary relations with government officials regarding different situations
- Announcements, declarations, and participation in social, political, etc. participation in certain cases
Usually, seminaries are being using the religious payments (Wujuhat) given directly by people or representatives and agents of authorities. Also, sometimes donations or the earnings of some donated properties (waqf) have been used for the mentioned purpose. The same tradition continues to the present and fulfilling financial needs of seminaries is still done by Marja's.
Shahriyya (Students' Stipend)
Shahriyya is a monthly financial help paid to students by Marja's. Paying stipend to students of Islamic studies is an old tradition practiced since long time ago. Shahriyya is paid from khums payments.
Seminaries have been independent during history; not just during the rule of the governments who were opposite to Shi'a but also during Shi'a governments such as Safavids and they were never controlled by political powers. They have been independent from the governments so that they could have been free to declare their opinions.
- Thursdays and Fridays
- Certain occasions (demise of the Infallibles (a) and Eids)
- Month of Ramadan, the first half of the month of Muharram, and the second half of the month of Safar, so that students can go to different regions for preaching.
- A part of summer, or all of that is also holiday time for seminaries.
The class programs of main teachers of seminary have always been important in determining the holidays.
Meanwhile, those students who did not go for preaching, used to engage some academic activities (teaching, writing, etc.) during holidays. Some others have engaged similar academic activities during their preaching journeys too. One of the programs of holidays in some seminaries has been holding weekly sessions for general speeches; since, one of the educational goals of seminaries have been training students for public speech and propagation.
- Thiqat al-Islam: It is a general title for respecting Twelver Shi'a scholars, particular title of Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni and in recent years, shows a certain level of education.
- Akhund: A Persian word, meaning scholar, is a title for religious leader and teacher which was first used in Iran as an respectful title for seminary scholars of Timurid era. In Qajar period, the usage of this title was extended and included instructors of Maktabkhanas [elementary schools in the past]. Among scholars of that time, Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani was called Akhund. Now, this is a general title for clergies.
- Hujjat al-Islam||It is a special title for some Muslim scholars and among general titles of Shi'a clergies in contemporary era. Using this title for Shi'a clergies began from Fath Ali Shah and sometimes was lengthened as "Hujjat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin" to show more respect. Today, "Hujjat al-Islam" is used as a title for clergies who have passed some of the advanced lessons of fiqh and Usul al-fiqh and contrary to Mashruteh period, it is not used for high rank clergies.
Ranking of Seminaries
In most Shi'a cities where clergies and graduate students of seminary went for preaching, educational seminary tradition would form according to scholarly positions of those clergies, the importance of the city, and people's interests. Graduates of these smaller seminaries usually were connected with larger seminaries and would go there if wanted to continue their education. Sometimes, this scholarly journey happened in two levels: students would go from smaller seminaries to larger seminaries and from there, they would go to central seminaries.
In Safavid era, Isfahan had the largest and most authentic seminary and students from different regions such as Bahrain, Shiraz, Khuzistan, Lahijan, Qazvin, Kashan, and Khwansar went there. In the time of Qajar, from different cities of Mazandaran province, students came to Tehran and then went to Isfahan. Also, some students would go to Najaf after finishing their education in Isfahan. Students from different cities of Caucasus first went to Tabriz or Zanjan and from there they went to Tehran and then went to Najaf. Coming and going from and to Shi'a cities of India and then between Isfahan and Najaf existed from long ago.
In recent decades, due to development of the position of the Seminary of Qom, students from India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Bahrain, and many other places including different cities of Iran would go to Qom to continue their education at high levels.
In fact, there has been a kind of ranking between different seminaries due to the connection between major and minor seminaries since beginning of their history.
Most Important Shi'a Seminaries
Seminary of Qom
Seminary of Qom is among the most important Shi'a seminaries which was established in the middle of the second/eighth century and immigration of al-Ash'ari family was influential in its establishment. Seminary of Qom flourished in the third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries, but after seminaries of Rey and Baghdad were flourished in the fifth/eleventh century and the Seminary of Qom was less interested.
After the attack of Mongols in 621/1224, it declined; however, when Shaykh 'Abd al-Karim Ha'iri entered Qom in 1921, the seminary was re-established and when Ayatullah Burujirdi entered the city, the seminary became as important as the largest seminary of that time which was the Seminary of Najaf. After the revolution in Iran, it was more developed. Today, many students from different parts of the world go to Qom for seminary education.
Seminary of Baghdad
Establishment of the Seminary of Baghdad dates back to the time of Imam al-Kazim (a). Seminary of Baghdad became the the scholarly authority of Shi'a at the time of Buyid when scholars such as Ibn al-Junayd, Al-Shaykh al-Mufid, Al-Sharif al-Murtada, and Al-Shaykh al-Tusi emerged. However, when Seljuk Tughril entered Baghdad in 447/1055-6, the seminary declined and the scholarly authority of Shi'a shifted to Najaf.
Seminary of Najaf
With the presence of al-Shakh al-Tusi, Najaf became the scholarly and intellectual center of Shi'a. But in the sixth/twelfth century, when Ibn Idris al-Hilli emerged in Hillah, Seminary of Najaf declined and the scholarly center of Shi'a shifted to Hillah. The presence of al-Muhaqqiq al-Ardabili in seminary of Najaf, helped it flourish again. Since the middle of 11th/17th century, like other seminaries, Seminary of Najaf suffered from Akhbari movement. Since 13th/19th century , when al-'Allama Bahr al-'Ulum and students of al-Wahid al-Bihbahani began teaching in Najaf, the Seminary of Najaf regained its glory and position and again became the scholarly center of Shi'a.
Seminary of Hillah
Seminary of Hillah was established in 5th/11th century by Banu Mazid Shi'a government. Since the middle of 6th/12th century and all 7th/13th and 8th/14th centuries, it was the most authoritative Shi'a seminary. However, mostly because of recurrent wars happened to seize Hillah during feudal period after Ilkhanate, the Seminary of Hillah declined and Seminary of Najaf took its position. Ibn Idris al-Hilli, al-'Allama al-Hilli and al-Sayyid b. Tawus were among top scholars of the Seminary of Hillah.
Seminary of Jabal Amel
Seminary of Jabal Amel included some scholarly and educational Shi'a centers in some cities and villages of Lebanon since the middle of 8th/14th century until middle of 10th/16th century. Al-Shahid al-Awwal, al-Shahid al-Thani, Al-Hurr al-'Amili, and al-Muhaqqiq al-Karaki were most famous scholars of the seminary of Jabal Amel. Graduates of that seminary and works published there were most influential in establishment of the Seminary of Isfahan, other seminaries and even the Seminary of Najaf recently.
Seminary of Isfahan
Seminary of Isfahan was established after Shi'a became the official religion in Iran during Safavid era, when Isfahan became the capital. Great scholars including Mirza 'Abd Allah Asfandi, Baha' al-Din al-'Amili, Muhammad Baqir Sabziwari, Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, Aqa Jamal Khwansari, and Sayyid Abu al-Hasan Isfahani were educated in that seminary.
- Seminary of Rey: Seminary of Rey was established in the second half of 3rd/9th century when Alavis immigrated to Rey. Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni, Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Ibn Qiba al-Razi, and Abu al-Futuh al-Razi were famous scholars of that seminary.
Seminary of Rey
Seminary of Tehran
It was established at the time of Aqa Muhammad Khan Qajar. Seminary of Tehran was the link between major seminaries of that era such as the Seminaries of Najaf, Karbala, Isfahan, and minor seminaries of other cities in Iran. Muhammad Hasan Ashtiyani, Mulla 'Ali Kani, Shaykh Fadl Allah Nuri, Muhammad Taqi Amuli, Sayyid Ahmad Khwansari, Muhammad Mahdi Ilahi Qumshi'i, and Abu al-Hasan Sha'rani were most famous scholars of that seminary. Seminary of Tehran was active in political issues such as Tobacco Protest, uprising for Constitution, fighting with anti-religious actions of Reza Pahlavi, Nationalization of Oil, Uprising of 15 of Khordad (June 5th, 1963) and the Islamic revolution in Iran.
Seminary of Mashhad
- The material for writing this article has been mainly taken from حوزه علمیه in Farsi wikishia.