What is Hawza
“Hawza” is an Arabic term used for a shia institution of higher religious learning. Its full form is “Al-Hawzat Ul-‘Imliyya”. Usually, several teaching centres (madrasas), libraries and research centres situated close to and loosely inter-connected to each other comprise a Hawza – for e.g. the “Hawza of Najaf” or “the Hawza of Qom” – but this word can sometimes also be used to denote individual teaching institutions too.
The historical roots of today’s Hawzas can be found during the time of the presence of our Holy Imams’ (a.s.) among us. Each Imam (a.s.) would teach and instruct a set of pupils whenever circumstances permitted, and when the period of Ghaybat began, this system grew and expanded into what we now know as the Hawza. Over the centuries, Hawzas have grown, flourished and occasionally, declined and disappeared, in many places such as Hilla, Najaf, Lucknow, Qom, and Mashhad. In today’s age, the two most prominent Hawza institutions are believed to be in Qom (Iran) and Najaf (Iraq).
Special Features of the Hawza
A Hawza is not just another educational institute. It sees itself as the inheritor of the heritage of our Ma’sumeen (a.s.), and of the great Islamic scholars of the past 14 centuries. Therefore it is not surprising that matters such as ethics, purity of intention, absence of attachment to worldly matters, prayer and ibaadat, respect for elders and scholars, and maintaining an Islamic lifestyle are all very important aspects of life as a Hawza student.
A special emphasis is placed in the Hawza on understanding things in deep. More than at any other place, knowledge and ability value much more at the Hawza than degrees or qualifications do.
The Hawza is the nerve-center and unofficial leader and guide of shia societies. Shia societies have always sought and found leadership in personalities from the Hawza – personalities such as Ayatullah Sistani (h.a.), Imam Musa Sadr or Imam Khomeini (r.a).
The Hawza of Qom
The Hawza of Qom today is the world’s biggest and most important centre for Islamic Studies and Research in the entire Muslim world (shia or sunni); even followers of other religions do not have anything comparable. Never before in the history of Islam have so many people gathered in one place to learn about Islam and spread its message. Qom today has about 70,000 students, teachers and researchers residing in it, of which about 10,000 are non-Iranians. The city has hundreds of madrasas, libraries and research institutions spread out over it.
Though the Hawza of Qom is more than a thousand years old, it is only in the last 90 years or so that it began to rise to prominence. Its size and importance have grown meteorically since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979; today it is the world’s pre-eminent centre for Islamic thought.
With this growth and the ever-increasing demands and expectations from the Hawza of Qom, this Hawza has entered a challenging and exciting period of change and transformation. New subjects, courses, methodologies and technologies have entered the Hawza, while at the same time there is a constant effort to ensure that the Hawza’s strengths – its Islamic character and values, its time-tested traditional methods of teaching and training etc. – are not lost.
For more information you can visit Al-Islam’s Hawza Studies page