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Imam Khomeini Seminary in Qum

Hawza (Arabic: حوزة) or Hawza Ilmiyya (Arabic: حوزة علمیة) refers to a seminary of Islamic school of higher learning. It is a term used mostly by the Shia Muslims, to refer to institutions where clerics are trained. Presently, the hawzah in Qum and Najaf are preeminent, though smaller hawzahs exist in various other regions around the world. Some of these locations include, Karbala in Iraq, Mashhad in Iran, Damascus in Syria, Pakistan, India, Europe and North America.




The first formal hawzah was established in 1054 by Shaykh Tusi in Najaf, Iraq. He began training students in various branches of Islamic studies, such as jurisprudence, theology, tradition & the interpretation of the Qur’an. The hawza ilmiyya remained the main centre of learning for the Shi'as for over a thousand years until its decline in the 20th century starting with the establishment of modern Iraq in 1921. Furthermore, the Ba’th government attempted to weaken the authority of the hawzah & the marji’iyyat in Najaf. Many senior clerics were arrested, killed or exiled. During that period the number of religious students in Najaf fell from 10,000 to 2,000.[1]


Though smaller Shi'a schools have been prevelant in Iran back as early as the 10th century,[2] during the Buyid Dynasty, it was primarily during the Safavid Dynasty that the hawza of the city became prominent. After the Safavid dynasty the hawzah was inactive. However the 20th century saw a re-establishment of the hawzah in Qum, when Ayatullah Abd al-Karim Haeri Yazdi settled in Qom in 1920.

Subjects and Levels

Many of the traditional subjects taught at a Hawza are inter-connected and supplement each other.[3] There is no set syllabus as such, as each Hawza tends to create its own. However, there are some standard texts in each subject area that are considered classics and that all Hawza students are expected to study.

While studying in a hawza, a student goes through the stages of one goes through the stages of muqadamat (introductory studies), sutooh (intermediary studies) and Dars al-Kharij,[4] without any formal titles.


Mantiq (Logic) is a similar science to what is called Traditional Logic at Western universities. It is usually one of the first subjects to be taught at a hawza as it is seen as a tool that is necessary for correct thinking and deduction when studying all other Islamic sciences.

Usul al-Fiqh

See main article: Usul al-Fiqh

Usul al-Fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence) is the study of principles used by Islamic jurists to derive legal rulings. It is a specific discipline within the Shi'ite seminary system; next to Islamic law itself, it is the center-piece of a seminary education in the Sh'ite world. Mastery of it is one of the most important requirements for being a religious jurist.


Fiqh (Jurisprudence) is one of 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 Qawaid al-Fiqhiyya.

Tafsir al-Qur'an

Tafsir al-Qur'an (Qur'an Exegesis) is widely studied by all Hawza students and one who chooses to specialize in this field becomes a commentator of the Qur'an.

Ulum al-Qur'an

Ulum al-Qur'an (Qur'an Sciences) is a science where students study 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 verses vs. abrogated verses, and so forth.

Ilm al-Hadith

Ilm al-Hadith (Science of Hadith) is a field that discusses the history of traditions, their compilation and classification, their collection and preservation, and so forth.

Ilm ar-Rijal

Ilm ar-Rijal (Science of People) 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.


Tarikh (History) is the study of pre-Islamic and post-Islamic history.


Aqaid (Theology) is also called Ilm al-Kalam or Usul al-Din. Shi'a theology usually discusses issues around five principles: Tawhid, Adalah, Nubuwwah, Imamah and Ma'ad.


Lugha (Language Studies) is the study of the Arabic language and consists of grammar, syntax/morphology, rhetoric and vocabulary ruilding.


Falsafa (Philosophy) allows students to get a deeper understanding of the philosophy of Islam. A large part of Islamic philosophy deals with theoretical metaphysics and mysticism, the practical aspects of which are covered in Irfan.


Irfan (Islamic Mysticism) is generally divided into theoretical irfan and practical irfan. Theoretical Irfan is the study of Islamic metaphysics and Transcendent Philosophy. Practical Irfan is sometimes called sayr wa suluk (Spiritual wayfaring).


  1. A History of the Hawzah
  2. Thinkin ahead: Shi'ite Islam in Iraq and its seminaries, Christoph Marcinkowsi, Nayang Technological University, Singapore; pg. 17
  3. A Beginner's Guide to Hawza Studies, Hawza - Advanced Islamic Studies
  4. The Howza Education System
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