A hawza is the establishment responsible for the training of Shia Islam’s imams, preachers, professors, and researchers. For hundreds of years, its educational model has involved the teaching of Fikh,Usul, philosophy, Quranic studies and Arabic language. Over the past few decades, the social sciences—the systematic study of man and society which had emerged in the West—have been slowly making their way into these institutions, alongside a number of other changes. This article investigates, qualitatively, the religious training of Shia men of religion in Lebanon in order to explore the changes taking place within this institution. Based on a triangulation of participant observation, interviews with professors, students, and stakeholders, as well as content analysis of certain course material, it claims a hawza in metamorphosis. While structural and material alterations have straightforwardly made their way into the institution, content and curricular ones have faced more difficulty. These changes reveal plenty about both Islamic education and Shia Islam in Lebanon’s public sphere. Additionally, the article raises questions and insights regarding decolonial theory, Lebanon’s future, and the geopolitics of the Arab world.
Across religious traditions, the “criteria, process and outcomes of selecting, training and grooming future leaders” is pivotal in the development of religion as both tradition and organization (Nesbitt 2007, 1).1 In the Islamic world, there are several institutions responsible for the formation of religious scholars. For the Sunnis, a number of madrassas, as well as academic universities and institutes, have long taken up the task. For the Shia, it is the hawza. Graduates of these establishments take up various roles within their communities: from mosque imams and preachers to teachers and researchers (Berkley 1992). Whatever their tasks, these graduates are potent social agents engaging and contributing to the establishment of hegemonic discourses and the formation of social order within religious communities. In a time where their rulings still hold a greater legitimacy among the faithful than the civil laws passed by the state, their belief systems remain central to both the formation and the understanding of said social order (Sindawi 2007, 3). In consequence, the training of religious scholars, a form of power capable of manufacturing consent and begetting hegemony, presents itself as an issue of great value and relevance (Heywood 1994).2
Lebanon, a small post-colonial multicultural Mediterranean country where no clear identity exists, presents itself as a captivating case study through which to shed a light on the training of Islam’s religious scholars in the twenty-first century. Further, the political power balance governing the nation makes it a rich landscape capable of suggesting plenty regarding the happenings in other parts of the Islamic world. This article will be limited to the Shia institution of the hawza, looking at changes within. Primarily, it is interested in investigating whether the social sciences have made their way into the training of Shia scholars. Also, it will scratch the surface of a serious gap in the literature by shedding a light on a number of different (changing) characteristics in the hawza: from curricular structure to the material setting of classes. The article will close with a brief discussion of the implications of its findings.
It must be realized that up until the Islamic revolution in Iran, religiosity was not the norm in Lebanon, particularly for the Shia (Deeb 2006). Today, the situation is drastically different. Scholars of religion have played a central role in bringing forth this transition and, naturally, any alteration to their training is bound to influence Lebanon’s socio-political scene. Additionally, investigating the institution responsible for the formation of religion’s scholars promises great insights into the Shia landscape as well as its relationship with Lebanon as a state. More important, perhaps, are the insights that might be brought forth by this investigation to decolonial theory.
It must be made clear that this article does not situate itself as an advocacy for the erasure of indigenous (here, Muslim and Shia) forms of knowledge in favor of those of the West and its modernity (here, the social sciences). This project is based on a dual claim. The first is that the social sciences are not exclusively a Western endeavour, as hard as Eurocentrism has tried to make it appear as such.3 The second is that, in a time of post-colonialism and continued imperialism, the social sciences, in both their Western and alternative versions (if any), are essential for all public intellectuals across the globe. This is for a multitude of reasons, including the general knowledge/awareness, the heightened ability to understand and engage the social world, and, most importantly, the critical thinking the social sciences have to offer their learner. Additionally, the project is tackling the inclusion of the social sciences alongside those fields of knowledge already present, not their replacement. Moreover, and even if one does not accept the above, debates on “authenticity” and “Western influence” are not foreign to the hawza and Muslim educational institutions. Rather, they are raging within these establishments under different forms and guises. This alone would justify such an inquiry.
Henceforth, the article begins by summarily touching on the history of Islamic religious seminaries. After a short discussion of the methods, it turns to the hawza and the fieldwork conducted in order to elaborate on the research data. Next, it briefly presents an analysis of the interviews with thirteen stakeholders/gatekeepers of the Shia religious educational institution in Lebanon to situate the data found within a more holistic framework. The article ends with a few analytical insights.
In terms of history, the birthplace of Islamic education was the mosque, where subject-specific study circles appeared with Islam’s appearance (Dodge 1962). The earliest documentation present, around the ninth and tenth centuries, describes the mosque as Islam’s focal educational establishment (Haskins 1965). Today, this is no longer the norm, and for both Sunni and Shia, specialized educational institutions have acquired the role.
According to Mottahedeh (2016), education in Shia seminaries historically has had the following structure: every student begins with “Muquadimat” where the Arabic language, logic, and theology are covered. After this period, students move on to Sutuh, where they learn a practical manual of law issued by one of the renowned Shia Marji’ of their time, complementing them with a number of books of Fikh. The students then begin taking Usul al-fikh (basis/origins of Fikh), which are the postulates upon which the formation of religious legal opinions is to stand. Arithmetic as well as the discipline of transmission of the Hadiths are also covered by this point. Additionally, considerable time is devoted to philosophy. Last, students enter a stage of Bahth al-Kharij, where a specific topic is discussed and counter-argued systematically by the study circle. The deliberations are usually heated, and it is the custom for students to try to contradict the professor. This is based on the assumption that it is through attempting to refute the views of the professor that knowledge may be advanced, and it is here that students advance in establishing scholarly worth, authority, and legitimacy.
With a pedagogy based on intimate tutorship, the schools consisted of simple rings whereby students sat in a circle on the floor: the closer to the teacher, the higher their scientific rank (Mervin 2003). No rigid curriculum existed and, throughout, the system was one where students unreservedly attended different lectures, where examinations and homework were nonexistent, and where course duration varied with the variation of professors/students in attendance. Overall, and funded by independent charitable trusts, Islamic education sought to graduate scholars capable of interpreting religious text, issuing religious rulings, and assuming vital public roles (Makdisi 1981). Up until the nineteenth century, the model had undergone little to no change (Mottahedeh 2016).
For Shia Islam, the apex of scholarly achievement, which usually comes after multiple decades of study, is to reach the level of Marji’ya, becoming a source of legal emulation for believers (Aziz 2001). It is only then, after a very rigorous and lengthy path, that a scholar gains the right to issue rulings and be “followed” (Walbridge 2001). This must be preceded by Ijtihad, defined by Makdisi as being, literally, “the exertion of one’s efforts to the utmost limit” (Makdisi 1981, 3). Indeed, the Marji’ may, simplistically, be understood as the most knowledgeable of those who have reached Ijtihad. Based on the above, it might be stated that the hawza, translated by scholars such as Sindawi (2007, 4) as “the enclosure of learning,” is the customary, independent, and persisting institution of Shia religious higher education through which one enters the field of research, slowly and with time to establish their Ijtihad and, sometimes, later, their Marji’ya.4
THE CASE AND THE METHODS
While Lebanon would appear to be a country on the margin of Islamic religious education today, with Qom in Iran and Najaf in Iraq occupying centre stage, this has not always been the case. On the contrary, and as is often retold by Shia scholars in Lebanon, the Hawza of Jabal Amel (a historic geographic area covering parts of south Lebanese and the Bekaa Valley) was once the regional hub of education and religious training (Chalabi 2006; Hourani 1986). The self-proclaimed inheritors of this prestigious hawza, scattered across Lebanon today, is the subject here. As qualitative research, this article will seek to understand, interact with, and analyze to make sense of occurrences and transmit a story (Burawoy 1998). Seeking an interpretive understanding of action, qualitative research was, therefore, applied to fathom the current state of affairs in the hawza through the collection of data from its natural settings. This was pursued through a triangulation of participant observation, content analysis, and semi-structured in-depth interviews (Burawoy 1998; Rubin and Rubin 2011). Through this triangulation of methods, an attempt was made to look at the institution holistically, to produce a richer analysis, and to avoid reducing people and/or processes.
This study involved the investigation of six hawzas, four of which are in the greater Beirut region, one in the Bekaa and one in the south of the country. These included the three largest hawzas (Al-Rasoul Al-Akram/Al-Mustafa International University, Al-Maahad Al-Sharii, and Baqiyatollah) and three of the smaller ones (Al-Baker, Al-Montazar, and Imam Ali). The three large hawzas chosen were those sponsored, funded, or overseen by a major Shia religious figure (be it in Lebanon or in the region). The smaller hawzas were chosen based on responsiveness and availability. In addition to the practical impossibility of investigating all hawzas, the majority of small hawzas are marginal personal enterprises with little impact.5 The fieldwork was conducted between 2015 and 2016, over fifteen months in total. While registered as a student and attending classes at Lebanon’s major hawza (Al-Rasoul Hawza), data collection was pursued at all six institutions.
Theoretically, the same process was to be adopted at all the institutions, with the exception of participant observation as a student. Practically, data collection at some hawzas was aborted early on, while at others some elements had to be conceded. The approach was as follows: the collection of the curriculum maps for all years of study was done during the initial phase of the study. Once completed, the courses that had the potential of containing a social science component, such as history, or those that were outright social science subjects such as sociology, psychology, political science, and the like were selected. After having identified the courses of relevance, the syllabus/outline/description was retrieved from the administration, and the professor of the course was contacted for an interview. For each of these courses, the interview was followed by procurement of the textbook or material being given to students. In the case where there was no textbook and no material, lecture notes were chosen. In the case where such notes were unavailable, reference books specified by the instructor or the syllabus were selected. Naturally, full content analysis was only possible in the case where there was a clear textbook/material. Last, interviews with deans, professors, students, and stakeholders were conducted.6 Interviews were often conducted at the hawzas, particularly those with students and professors. These multiple visits allowed the more general observations to be made and are included below.
Before proceeding, a few notes on the methodology used need to be mentioned. First, all the methods used were non-obtrusive minimum-harm methods seeking to assess an institution in its dynamism. Participant confidentiality and voluntary participation were central tenets of the fieldwork. Whenever names are mentioned in this article, it is with the permission of the participant in question. On another hand, in terms of positionality, the author is a Shiite born and raised a few streets from the main hawza where over fifteen months he spent time as a participant observer. Indeed, the author knew at the outset that an understanding of the social role of religious scholars and their interaction with the Lebanese Shia community was essential to direct the research and assuring representativeness, just as it was essential to allow communication and establishing trust. Nevertheless, this affiliation may have, on the other hand, jeopardize objectivity. Conscious of such a bias, much care was taken to preserve reflexivity throughout the research process, from reporting to analysis (Ahern 1999; Burawoy 1998). Nevertheless, the author lays no claim to objectivity or pure induction, but merely the simple reflection of perceived social realities.
In Lebanon, up until the second half of the twentieth century, the hawza chartered student progress in terms of textbooks and subjects. Hence, the time allocated to a given subject/textbook could significantly vary to fit both students and professors. No examinations were held, and most institutions did not require any academic qualifications for entry, beyond literacy, with students often joining between the ages of nine and fourteen. A large number of those joining, although not all, came from renowned Shia families, and the track was seen as a challenging one. The objective of this training was uniform: producing mujtahids. Further, at least in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, no complete hawza education was available in Lebanon: after a certain time (which varied over the years) students were expected to travel (mostly to Najaf in Iraq) to complete their religious education. In the 1990s, this trend began to shift.7
Perhaps the most significant change is in terms of objectives with respect to what the education offered at the hawza was and what its objectives were. A few decades ago, it would have been a straightforward question relating to jurisprudential and philosophical training. How far back the trend of strict specialization goes is contested, but many of my participants claimed that it emerged during World War I, not before. Yet, no such clear answer is available today. In any case, the most important factor behind the current alterations has been, also according to many of the participants, the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran where in Qom in 2016 the hawza offered over 160 different fields of concentration, including various social and human fields of knowledge. This, like many other changes in the Islamic republic, has rippled in Lebanon.
In 2016, Lebanon’s hawzas functioned under the ’Ilmiya (Board of Matters of the Hawza). This board, established in cooperation between the various factions of Lebanese Shiism,8 has elaborated a vision of the hawza and specific guidelines to govern institutes, directors, and students. The board has accredited twenty-two hawzas in the country, distributed geographically with two in the Bekaa region,9 twelve in the greater Beirut region, and eight in the south. No hawza charges any tuition fees; on the contrary, they all reimburse their students.10 All those with dormitories offer free accommodation to all students (based on availability).
With respect to the primary research question of this article (the introduction of new fields of knowledge and the value given to such fields in the training of scholars-to-be), the six hawzas investigated can be classified into two categories of an established model and an emerging model. Al-Rasoul Al-Akram/Al-Mustafa International University, Al-Maahad Al-Sharii, and Al-Baker Hawza are emerging models hawzas, while Baqiyatollah, Al-Montazar, and Imam Ali Hawzas follow the established model. It is to this classification to which the article will now turn.11
THE EMERGING MODEL
An elaboration of each of the three hawzas under this label now follows. Before proceeding, however, a few points need to be made. This labeling, like any labeling, is simplistic, especially as the hawzas discussed vary greatly. Nonetheless, labeling is useful, especially for the research question of this article. Second, what is presented here is based on an in-depth systematic analysis. Space limitations prevent an elaboration of the analysis to be made. Last, while a comparative structure has been adopted in presenting the ideas, it is lacking at many instances, mostly because of differences in the nature of the institutions, but also sometimes because of lack of data.
Al-Rasoul Hawza is the largest hawza in Lebanon and the main site of investigation for this research. It is considered to be the most prestigious for a number of reasons, ranging from its history to its sources of funding. More importantly, its teachers are the grand public religious intellectuals of the Shia religious community. Additionally, it often boasts fellows from the Qom seminary as visiting professors. It is located in the southern suburb of Beirut and is spread out over multiple buildings. Its student body comprises around 300 males, with over 150 of them living in hawza dormitories. As of 2016, a large complex was under construction to which the hawza is expected to move within the few coming years. The hawza offers tracks for both males and females, with some differences in curricula.12
The hawza was established in 1983 by a group of scholars (whose names are unclear today), and has been growing ever since under the patronage of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This has had a huge influence on the hawza, as manifested in its architecture and Persian-style courtyard. The hawza identifies the Marji’ya of Sayyed Ali Khamenei and complies with its views as its overarching tenet. Since its inception, it has always been headed by an Iranian scholar.
The hawza houses a significant library in comparison with other hawzas and institutions of higher learning in Lebanon (including academic universities). Within this library is a section dedicated to the social sciences and social thought. This includes books on sociology, psychology, political science, as well as a number of other related fields. Books covering Western thought and works by European and American intellectuals/scholars are also present.
In terms of program, the hawza has a structured program running over eight years, significantly fewer than the norm of ten to twelve years. Monday to Friday are teaching days and it observes a three-month summer vacation, again in breach of the old model where education was year round, and the weekly holiday was Friday. Yet, the hawza does not observe official Lebanese holidays. Its classes begin early, at 06.50 hours, generally ending at around 11.30 hours. Lessons are no longer held in rings or on cushions, but rather in a Western academic-style classroom with chairs, desks, and boards. All the courses offered are mandatory for all students; there are no electives and no choice of classes, again in stark contradiction with the established hawza model where the hawza had multiple professors teaching the same classes and where students chose the class they preferred, with no conditions/constraints.
In terms of admission requirements, the hawza does not admit students who have not acquired the Lebanese baccalaureate or an equivalent academic degree entitling university-level entry. Further, Al-Rasoul is known for its cooperation with International Mustafa University based in Qom. Over the past few years, it has practically transitioned into a branch of the university, keeping both names. As of 2017, it has not been accredited by the Lebanese Ministry of Higher education as a university. Owing to this fact, it continues its agreements of cooperation with the Islamic University of Lebanon, entitling its students with a degree in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Lebanon after four years of study in the hawza.
Al-Rasoul divides its program into three phases. The first of these is the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree (BA), the second the equivalent of a master’s degree (MA), and the third the equivalent of a doctorate. Bahth al-Kharij may be seen as a sort of postdoctorate training.
In the second and third stages, the student’s education is limited to a number of Usul and philosophy classes: the hawza student’s real specialty. No social sciences classes are taken during these phases; the general courses are given during the first four years of a student’s training. The organization of study at the hawza begins with a BA phase, which is four to four-and-a-half years long, followed by an MA phase, which is two to three years long. Once completed, the MA students may pursue a doctorate, which normally takes three to five years of study. Currently, two MA tracks are available in Lebanon: the MA in Islamic Fikh and bases and the MA in Quranic interpretation and sciences that was introduced in 2015.
An elaboration of the current curriculum being offered by the hawza follows. Note that this is not an analysis of the theoretical curriculum found in the hawza guidebook. This is an important distinction as there are substantial differences between the curriculum in the guidebook and the curriculum on offer. The major variance is the fact that there are four social science subjects stated as part of the curriculum, but which are not offered by the hawza, and have not been offered for over eight years: courses on sociology, introduction to psychology, educational psychology, and child developmental psychology. Additionally, courses on computer literacy, modes of preaching, and foreign languages all figure in the curriculum, but are not offered by the hawza. On inquiring, it was discovered that these courses had been on offer for a number of years starting in the early 2000s, were then cancelled, then reinstated, and then, around 2010, cancelled again.
The subjects are organized in terms of credits, with each course being around four months long, equivalent to a one-semester course in academic universities. The six subjects receiving most value and credits are, in decreasing order:13Fikh and Usul; Arabic language;14 Quranic studies; Islamic doctrine; history; and philosophy.
No course is directly related to the social sciences, except for history. This class was investigated (content analysis of material as well as an interview with the instructor), in addition to the three other classes on offer and of relevance: the courses on critique of Western social thought; the political thought of Imam Khomeini; and research methods. The content analysis of the material offered in these courses revealed three trends, including a very weak engagement with Western academia, theory as the only issue of concern, and the restriction of legitimate knowledge to a textual one. These trends were confirmed through the interviews with the professors teaching these courses.
Moreover, the interviews with the five professors teaching the topics of relevance revealed the thin line they were treading. All the professors agreed on the need for change and amelioration in the hawza curriculum. At the same time, all expressed a suspicion as to the validity of Western knowledge, stating a need to approach these sciences critically rather than as givens. The professors seemed encouraged to engage the West, refusing to accept its knowledge as a given and wary of how exposure to it might influence the students. Four of the five had academic training (the professor teaching history did not). One was trained in the social sciences, one in philosophy, and two in Islamic studies. Additionally, all professors stressed that a holistic education did not need to contradict a solid specialist training, but that this was difficult to achieve in practice.
In parallel, twenty students from the hawza were interviewed. There was unanimous agreement for the need to include the social sciences within their training. The students generally expressed satisfaction with their training, but also stated that the hawza was an establishment in need of reform. Echoes of the calls of Sayyed Ali Khamenei were particularly significant as many students referred to him when legitimizing their claim for change and progress. Nevertheless, most students did not see conducting fieldwork as something a man of religion can/should do. Somewhere, it also appeared that the students placed great emphasis on academic specialty and asserted that sheikhs are not experts in everything; they should not be in charge of everything.15 This was accompanied by the feeling that different sheikhs ought to be experts in different fields. The majority of these students were jointly registered at an academic university, mainly the Islamic University of Lebanon or Al-Maaref University.16
Al-Maahad Al-Sharii is a significantly large hawza, with around 200 students, located in Beirut’s southern suburb. It is part of a large complex affiliated with the institutions of Sayyed Mohamad Hussein Fadlallah, including a television and a radio station. The hawza itself is composed of multiple buildings, including gardens and a library. The hawza was established in 1983 by Sayyed Mohamad Hussein Fadlallah. Its board of directors was at the time of investigation, as it had always been, made up of both Lebanese and Arab scholars.
The hawza’s library is not a large one, encompassing around 3500 books, according to the hawza administration. Its main themes are those of Hadith, Fikh and Quran. Nevertheless, one can locate sections designated for psychology, political sciences, and contemporary issues/sociology.
The academic year is structured along the lines of Western academic universities. The hawza runs its classes early in the morning, starting at around 07.00 hours and ending at around 11.00 hours. It encompasses a dormitory and runs its programs for both males and females, who are segregated. It has abandoned cushions and adopted chairs, desks, and whiteboards.
Its official curriculum runs for nine years, after which the student begins the Bahth al-Kharij stage. Throughout these years, a total of 115 courses are offered, with varying values. Each course is around four months in duration, equivalent to a one-semester course in academic universities. The six subjects receiving most value, in decreasing order, are: Fikh and Usul; Arabic language; philosophy; Islamic doctrine; Quranic studies; and logic.
Of these courses, four may be classified as social sciences.17 Together, they make up eighty credit hours out of around 5100 credit hours (1.56 percent of total credit hours offered). The courses titled methods of thinking, scientific research, and world religions were investigated in depth. These revealed attempts to widen the scope of knowledge the students receive by offering them information on different cultures, religions, and civilizations. It also revealed the weak engagement with academia, the fact that textual knowledge is held supreme, and the fact that these courses are considered as second category/service courses by the establishment.
In addition to the above, the hawza administration stated that it had two weekly recurring events, including a general discussion every Wednesday and a gathering every Thursday, where a selected student gives a speech. Their purpose is, according to the administration, to get students to improve their social and presentation skills. Of particular interest is the weekly general discussion that treats a different topic each time. There is no pre-assigned list of topics, but issues on contemporary thought and social theory have often been debated, according to the institution’s academic director.
Seven students from Al-Maahad Al-Sharii were interviewed. All interviewees stated that the hawza must introduce its students to the social sciences. Three students expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the hawza has been introducing non-traditional fields of knowledge into its curriculum. They claimed that this has been done with little planning and organization, making it quite cumbersome for the students, as well as inefficient. Most students were registered at academic universities. Most also asserted they were seeking to become “specialists,” perceiving their academic degree as a supplement.
Additionally, three professors were interviewed from Al-Maahad Al-Sharii. Al-Maahad seemed to have a very heterogeneous faculty with some professors holding doctorates (including one from a British university), and others not having had a high-school education. Despite this, all three lecturers interviewed asserted the need for change within the establishment and the need for the introduction of the social sciences into the curriculum. Two had reservations as to the introduction of fieldwork or social research methods, explaining that this was not the role of a religious scholar. These two professors also expressed their fear of the hawza becoming a place too loose where what once had been a solid training was now turning into a slack one of general culture. This was accompanied by the assertion that the scholar was already perceived generally as someone who is expected to know everything, and that this should not be the case. Interestingly, one of them lamented how he had recently received a call from a woman asking for marital advice saying that she should be seeing a psychiatrist or a marriage counselor, not a sheikh.
While hawzas such as that of Al-Rasoul are spread over a complex of over six buildings and developing, smaller hawzas such as Al-Baker are limited to single apartments in residential buildings. In the case of Al-Baker, this is an apartment with no more than six rooms located in the Rweis region in Beirut’s southern suburb. The hawza’s entire student body does not exceed the forty-student benchmark, spread over two schedules with one in the morning (06.30–10.30 hours) and one in the afternoon (16.00–19.00 hours).
The hawza was established in 1999 by a group of independent scholars. In terms of admissions requirements, it does not admit students without an official degree equivalent to the Lebanese baccalaureate entitling university-level entry. Monday to Friday are teaching days. It observes a three-month summer vacation and does not observe official Lebanese holidays.
Al-Baker, for a number of practical reasons, is currently not offering classes beyond the fifth year of study. While it holds many features in common with the emerging model, especially in terms of the inclusion of new fields of knowledge, it has preserved some features of the established model. For example, it uses the mainstream classification of “stages,” unlike the larger hawzas where the terms of the academy have been adopted. It also has some classes where students still sit in circles on mattresses.
Over approximately seven years of study (theoretically speaking), students undergo a program that is somewhat divided into seven study cycles. The hawza measures the progress of its students in terms of books, and there is no rigidly set time for the completion of any single book. The topics covered are the same as in any hawza, from the Arabic language to Fikh and Usul, logic, Islamic doctrine, Quranic studies, and philosophy. Nevertheless, some textbooks covered in the hawzas following the established model are omitted here. Owing to the absence of any accurate and clear curriculum map, especially since the hawza is constantly mutating, changing, and adapting, both adding and removing subjects (in the words of its director), a numerical analysis of the courses offered was impossible. Nevertheless, it may be stated confidently that the six subjects receiving most value, in decreasing order, are: Fikh and Usul; Arabic language; logic; philosophy; Quranic studies; and history.
On the other hand, the hawza’s published curriculum-map lists many courses related to the social sciences (principles of sociology, principles of psychology, principles of Islamic economics, principles of Islamic education, introduction to law, theory of knowledge, and teachings methods). Currently, and for more than five years now, none of these courses has been offered. The hawza administration said that it has recently introduced a program by which the contents of these courses, complemented by other subjects, which may be classified as “general requirements” in academic terms, have been shaped into workshops to be given to students, distributed over the years of study. The hawza was not cooperative in providing references or material for these workshops.
Eight students of Al-Baker Hawza were interviewed for this research, covering the various levels of study. The students were not very satisfied with their experience at the hawza and were found to be attending it because they thought it was less demanding than other hawzas; it worked well with their other commitments. The students were asked if the hawza offers them any training in the social sciences and if they thought the social sciences were essential to their formation. All interviewees said that there were no subjects in the social sciences on offer. All students also expressed that they would have liked to learn about the social sciences in the hawza as they deem the topics important for their formation.
No professors, except the director, could be reached for an interview. The director, who was also a teacher at and a graduate of Qom Hawza, expressed his belief in the need for change and reform. Adamant that the old model was not for current times, he lamented the difficulty of changing habits and tradition. According to the students, the majority of their professors held university degrees and believed in the need for a higher interaction between the academy and the hawza. These claims could not be further examined.
In terms of courses, the emergent model of hawzas offers a variety of courses, changing values as a student progresses. The central subjects in these establishments are Fikh and Usul, language and doctrine/philosophy. These hawzas have generally drifted away from the longstanding hawza model with the introduction (or attempts at the introduction) of a number of fields of knowledge, such as theory of knowledge or introductions to the social sciences, just as they have changed the value offered to some fields, such as ethics/Irfan and history. All three hawzas have chosen to shorten the length of study, with the largest two having chosen to take up the academic model of set years, semesters, and credits. This has often been accompanied with structural and physical changes of different types.
Within these hawzas, engagement with academia is weak, while efforts are being done to promote a research approach to knowledge and learning. Courses other than Fikh, Usul, and their affiliates are considered to be second/service-level courses by the establishment, and they are treated as such by students and professors. Yet, there is a strong call for change and the social sciences are perceived as central to this (still) expected change. While it might never happen in the way planned, it has already begun changing the way professors and students perceive their establishment.
Indeed, in terms of students, the students of these hawzas all agreed on the need for change and for the need to link the social sciences with the religious ones. Students sought to become specialists, often of religious jurisprudence. Yet, even when this was their purpose, they expressed that social sciences should figure in their training.
As to professors, it was clear that there is no homogenous identity for the hawza lecturer, particularly across subjects. Further, many professors saw the definition of a hawza as the establishment that should be graduating mujtahids, and, based on that, the fields of knowledge it introduces are to be those which would serve this purpose. For many of the professors interviewed, the social sciences did serve that purpose. Also, even for those who did not take such a stance, the inclusion of the social sciences was rarely shunned. The professors appreciated academia and asserted the need to connect the hawza to the Western academy. Nevertheless, they also expressed a deep suspicion of Western sciences and warned that they could not be taken and projected onto Islam and Islamic societies as they are; a call to humanize the social sciences emanated throughout. Finally, they were clear about the social role of the scholar who is a social agent with a specific sphere of action rather than a leader whose authority covers all aspects of society.
THE ESTABLISHED MODEL
Hawzas classified under the second model will now be discussed. Owing to constraints of geography, availability, time, and resources, professors were interviewed at only one and the largest of these hawzas (Baqiyatollah). At the other two, interviews were limited to students, the general/academic director, and some administrative staff. None of these hawzas charges any tuition fees, with their students receiving monthly remuneration.
Imam Ali Hawza
Imam Ali Hawza is said to be the most conservative hawza in the nation. It is composed of a building located near the Iranian embassy, although it is not affiliated with it. It houses a significant library and a dormitory, where most of its students reside, including those whose original place of residence is nearby (such as in Beirut’s southern suburbs). This is meant to create a certain safe environment of learning18 where the student only focuses on the acquisition of knowledge, away from life’s mundane distractions. The hawza houses a significant library, mainly focused on issues of Islamic studies and lacks coverage on the social sciences.
The hawza was established around the year 2000 by Sayyed Jaafar Mortada, a renowned Lebanese scholar upon his return from Qom. It currently has around fifty-five students and over twenty-five professors. All students receive a monthly stipend. Besides the fact that its teaching days are Monday to Friday and it uses chairs and desks, the hawza appears to share nothing with the Westernized university model. There is no two-term division, and the summer vacation is much shorter than that of the Westernized university model of two to three months. Also, the hawza does not identify a sharp or determined set of years or semesters over which the curriculum must end. Normally, the hawza requires around eleven or twelve years before a student can begin the Bahth al-Kharij stage. It follows the structure of Muqadimat, lower Sutuh, upper Sutuh and Bahth al-Kharij. The hawza runs its classes early in the morning, starting at 6.30 hours and ending at around 10.00 hours. It does not offer its program to females, and places a huge emphasis on a full-time status (tafarogh, literally, meaning to empty oneself from any other commitments). Additionally, the hawza obliges its students to present weekly written reports on every class they attend, in addition to monitoring the student’s notes regularly. These reports must include what the professor had presented in addition to an in-depth discussion, including reference to multiple other sources.
As the hawza does not officially follow the academic model of credits, comparison based on credit distribution is not possible. Overall, the Muqadimat phase at the hawza lasts around four years, followed by around seven years for both Sutuh combined. Based on the hawza’s curriculum, it covers a little over thirty textbooks. The time it takes to cover each book is not predetermined or constrained.19 The five20 subjects receiving most value, in decreasing order, are: Fikh and Usul; Islamic doctrine; Arabic language; philosophy; and logic. Imam Ali Hawza does not offer any courses that may be classified as social sciences.
Seven students from the hawza were interviewed. All agreed with the statement: “Islamic scholars must be aware of, learn and engage with the social sciences.” Whether or not such a duty is the responsibility of the hawza was not agreed upon, with two students stating that it was not. They all agreed that the hawza was not offering them anything in terms of the social sciences or of an engagement with academia.
Baqiyatollah Hawza is the principal hawza of the Lebanese south. This hawza is composed of multiple buildings over a significantly large piece of land located on the edges of the southern village of Toul. With multiple dormitories, most of its students live on campus. The hawza has three libraries, with huge collections of books on issues such as Fikh, Hadith, Quranic studies, and philosophy. The social sciences are not completely absent from the libraries, but their presence is meager.
The hawza was established in 2006 by numerous scholars who had just returned from Qom. The study year is not officially structured along the lines of Western academic universities, but it is in practice; a two-semester model with a summer vacation is followed. Progression is structured around Muqadimat, Sutuh, and Bahth al-Kharij. The hawza runs its classes early in the morning, starting at 07.00 hours. Classes end at around noon and are only run for male students. The hawza reimburses all its full-time students. It has abandoned the model of mattresses in favor of chairs, desks, and boards.
In terms of admission requirements, the hawza requires its students to have reached, but not necessarily finished, high school or its equivalent (approximately nine years of study). Its curriculum runs for nine years, after which the student begins the Bahth al-Kharij stage. As the hawza does not officially follow the academic model of credits, comparison based on credit distribution is not possible. Overall, the Muqadimat phase at the hawza lasts three to four years, followed by three to four years for primary Sutuh and four to five years for secondary Sutuh. Based on the hawza’s curriculum, it offers sixty-three subjects, with varying value (time, number of textbooks to be covered, relationship to other subject, etc.), over the nine years of study. Each course lasts approximately four months, roughly equivalent to a one-semester course in academic universities. The six subjects receiving most value, in decreasing order, are: Fikh and Usul; Arabic language; ethics; Quranic studies; Islamic doctrine; and philosophy. Baqiyatollah Hawza does not offer any courses that could be classified as social sciences.
Three professors from Baqiyatollah were interviewed regarding the changes taking place. As to non-curricular changes, all three considered what had taken place as something completely normal. As to curricular changes, they all endorsed the changes occurring in Qom, although they stressed the need for the hawza not to lose its identity. No answer as to why Baqiyatollah had not introduced any changes could be obtained, with excuses ranging from circumstances to the need for more time. They did not see the social sciences as an element for the training of someone who is only a mujtahid, but rather as an element for the training of a preacher/orator who deals with people: a scholar with a public role. According to the interviewees, the more social sciences are included, the more public the expected role becomes. In that light, they spoke of a proposition to open a parallel track, where training aims at producing a preacher and where the social sciences would be a main and central element. According to the interviewees, the hawza is in the process of updating its curriculum to include new fields of knowledge.
Eleven students from the seminary were asked as to whether the hawza offered them any training in the social sciences, and as to whether they thought the social sciences were essential to their formation. All eleven students stated that the hawza did not offer any such training. Five students said that a slight element of the social sciences could be found in the ethics class, and three stated that such elements could be found in the history class, although indirectly. Nine of the eleven said that the hawza should cover such topics, while two said that it should not, as doing so would shift it off course. For these students, such topics should be covered through individual readings in which the hawza could play a supervisory role. For them, this should not become a matter of courses and classes. It was also noteworthy that three students, in an effort to legitimize their opinion, referred to the speeches of Sayyed Ali Khamenei to criticize this deficiency at their hawza, and to justify why such knowledge was to be taught at the hawza. Nine students were registered in academic universities, mostly in Islamic studies or other humanities courses at the Islamic University of Lebanon.
Al-Imam Al-Montazar Hawza
Al-Imam Al-Montazar Hawza is the most renowned hawza in the Bekaa region, and one of the most prominent in Lebanon. The current head of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, is a graduate of Al-Montazar Hawza, a fact on which the hawza prides itself. It is located in the city of Baalbek, composed of multiple buildings with a large campus surrounded by lush greenery. Its student body is composed of around 100 learners with a faculty of around fifteen professors. Its general director was Sayyed Abbas Al-Moussawi (former Hezbollah secretary-general) in the early days of the rise of the Islamic resistance. Currently, it is headed by Sheikh Mohamad Yazbeck, head of Hezbollah’s Sharia Council.
Its program runs anywhere between eight and twelve years, making it slightly longer than most hawzas in Beirut. Its teaching days are Monday to Friday and it observes a three-month summer vacation. It runs its classes, like all the other hawzas investigated, in the early morning. It has abandoned the model of mattresses in favor of chairs, desks, and boards.
In terms of admission requirements, the hawza does not admit students who have not reached the secondary level of education (approximately no fewer than nine years of schooling). Al-Montazar has a cooperation agreement with the International Mustafa University based in Qom. It has not, nevertheless, transitioned into becoming a branch of Al-Mustafa University, in the way Al-Rasoul has. At the time of writing, it offered two tracks: its own and that of Al-Mustafa University. Students are free to choose which track they wish to take. As the Al-Mustafa University track (which is theoretically identical to that found at Al-Rasoul) is new, and as most students were not registered for it (no precise numbers could be obtained), the original Al-Montazar track is the one described here.
For this track, there are no social sciences, no research methods, and no techniques of writing scientific research. Indeed, there is no focus besides Fikh and Usul and their associated fields. The six subjects receiving most value, in decreasing order, are: Fikh and Usul; Arabic language; Islamic doctrine; logic and philosophy; history; and ethics.
Seven students from Al-Montazar Hawza were interviewed. All seven stated that hawza students need to study the social sciences, with five stating that it should be an obligation. They all agreed that the hawza was currently not offering them anything in terms of these sciences or of engaging academia. Four were registered at academic universities, all seeing it as a supplement to their “true” study path.
The established model of hawzas are understood as being those establishments where the relationship with academia and with the social sciences is either weak or nonexistent, and where the institution is making no substantial practical effort in the direction of change. The courses they offer are limited to core training in jurisprudence and subjects falling strictly under the label of Islamic sciences. Their programs are longer, as they see shortening them as a loss and a compromise. Their student body is smaller, as are their classes, and it is possible that they are attracting less and less students over time. They all place a great value on students living in hawza dormitories, seeking to immerse them in the hawza scholarly milieu. The structure of their training is very weakly influenced by the academic Western model, but none has kept the study-circle-on-mattresses format.
While a few of the interviewed professors and administration members were clear in that the social sciences could not have a central position in the hawza, this was certainly not the majority view. Many nuances existed, and it appears that the views of faculty members were not a reflection of the extant curricula. The apologetic tone found in the emerging model of hawzas, although weaker here, was also found. Yet, many at these hawzas (particularly administration members presented in the section on stakeholders below) stressed that the hawza has a clear model that it should not abandon, especially as this model has proven successful.
Even though students at these hawza felt the need for change, they were unclear as to how this should be done. When expressing such opinions, the students seemed confident and at ease; they were not worried about the fact that they were disagreeing with their establishment’s administration. It is possible that the work being done in Qom, and the recession of the Najaf establishment (the hub of the conservative discourse), has granted much legitimacy to the call for change.21 Nevertheless, many of these students exhibited skepticism as to the inclusion of the social sciences within curricula, with many perceiving them as something a student acquires through personal work, such as readings. Most students were jointly registered at a university but saw their occupation as that of, strictly, Talib Ilm (a seeker of knowledge). In this sense, the university was perceived as a supplement to the hawza.
Members of the administrative boards of Lebanon’s hawzas, alongside the lead faculty members, are understood as being the interpreters, gatekeepers, disseminators, and guardians of the Shia educational institution in Lebanon.22 They are, therefore, identified as the stakeholders of Shia religious education in Lebanon. Based on renown, and restricted by availability, interviews from these stakeholders were solicited. Fifteen were contacted and thirteen interviewed. Based on a synthesis of these interviews, a few points of relevance are now mentioned. Regarding the background of stakeholders, most received an academic training. Of thirteen stakeholders, nine had an academic training with seven having academic doctorates.
On another note, interviewed stakeholders did not consider the West as being the “other” with a different epistemology. For them, the social sciences are based on rational reason, and on that basis, they may and even should be included in the training of future scholars. Acknowledging that the social sciences have a problematic genealogy, the fact that they are based on reason/rationality (an element they perceived as foundational to the Shia Islamic belief system) rendered this a surmountable handicap. Hence, there were claims that these sciences needed to be “humanized” as they are too imbedded in the West’s history and culture and mixed with its problematic beliefs and politics. They are not to be rejected. They all expressed an epistemological divide separating the hard sciences and the social sciences. The hard sciences give facts, and for hawzas they are without consideration. The social sciences give viewpoints and perspective; thus, they are within the hawza’s intellectual realm. Yet, this was not unanimously agreed upon, and the claim that the social sciences also give facts existed. None of those interviewed expressed the view that both sciences do not give facts. Referring to the current state within the hawza, there was an apologetic tone whereby the absence of the social sciences from the curricula was justified by referring to circumstances and the need for time. It was claimed that these sciences would slowly make their way in, as the “Old guard diminishes in influence” and the “Qom-led current strengthens.”23
|Hawza .||Interviews .||Participant observation .||Content analysis .|
|Administration .||Faculty .||Students .||Textbooks/handouts .||Student notes .|
|Al-Maahad Al-Sharii Hawza||3||3||7||None||Four||None|
|Imam Ali Hawza||1||1||8||None||None||None|
|Hawza .||Interviews .||Participant observation .||Content analysis .|
|Administration .||Faculty .||Students .||Textbooks/handouts .||Student notes .|
|Al-Maahad Al-Sharii Hawza||3||3||7||None||Four||None|
|Imam Ali Hawza||1||1||8||None||None||None|
Source: Ali Kassem, email@example.com.
The sense that change is ahead, led by Iran, under the patronage of its supreme leader, was unanimous. It was found amongst the stakeholders affiliated with Hezbollah and Iran, just as it was found amongst the stakeholders affiliated with the Najaf Hawza, with Sayyed Mohamad Hussein Fadlallah or with other factions of Lebanese Shiism. Overall, of thirteen stakeholders, eleven insisted on the need for curricula changes and endorsed the current changes taking place. The two others stated that change was necessary, but disagreed on the way it was currently being done. Their main objection was with respect to the “blind inclusion of the social sciences” and the increasing fragmentation within the institution.24 The participants also expressed an appreciation of academic study and its role in shaping scholars of Islam, just as they expressed an affirmation of the value of specialization, in terms of both training and occupation. This came with the rejection of the notion that a sheikh was someone people should refer to in all matters.
Overall, despite this kaleidoscope, there was general agreement as to the value of increasing students’ engagement with their social reality. Further, there was undisputed agreement about the need to better the state of research within hawzas. This included an inclination toward the production of grounded knowledge, using, perhaps amongst others, some research methods of the social sciences.
While what has been presented brings forth multiple insights to our understanding of Islamic education, its implications resonate far beyond the classroom. In this section, three main axes covering both the theoretical and the lived will be elaborated upon. Yet, before doing so, a brief note is in order. Today, Lebanon is a dysfunctional country with a weak state exercising feeble governance. Certainly, this is the result of decades of colonialism and neo-imperialism laying the ground and rendering the present reality possible. Historically, I am referring to the French having built the Lebanese state on corruption, dysfunctional apparatuses, and confessional fragmentation, all forged under French paternalism. More recently, I am referring to the regional and global power struggles that unfold and reverberate in the country. In this sense, the intersection of these factors is what allows the field of the hawza to proliferate, multiply, and branch out into the multiplicity described in this article. In other words, the hawza context in Lebanon is only possible as a result of the failure of the Lebanese state, of its various weaknesses, absences, and deficiencies. Had it not been so, the educational sector would have been regulated, structured, and oriented.
The first of the three points made here is one of a theoretical nature. Over the past years, the question of indigenous forms of knowledge and the resistance against the hegemony of Western epistemology has been receiving increased scholarly attention. Indeed, multiple academic traditions now disown modernity and its project, from Greek rationality to its conception of history (Mignolo 2011). Yet, it appears that Shia scholars take no such stance. For the interviewees, their indigenous knowledge is not situated in a paradigm inherently distinct from that of modernity. Rather, it is a modified version of it. This conclusion does not only build on the fact that efforts are being made to include “Western” sciences; it is equally based on the nature of those subjects that constitute the hawza education, both historically and contemporarily. For example, philosophy, at the hawza, is based on Greek logic, while history diverges very little from modernity’s understanding of time. As these institutions grow and spread, they shift the frame of reference, of legitimization, and of knowledge forms within the Lebanese Shia community. Yet, they are shifting it to a model not too dissimilar, in both its form and content, from that of modernity and the West. Hence, these insights reveal that the decolonial project in Islam is significantly more complex than it might first appear. Overall, as decolonial theory has not yet been put into sufficient conversation with Islam, this work demonstrates the need for a cautious treading and making a distinction between an Islamic decolonial project and other decolonial projects.
The second point relates to the relationship between Iran and the Shia of Lebanon. While this relationship is certainly not new, the hegemony achieved might be claimed as so (Abisaab 1994). In the field of religious education, Iran has certainly made huge efforts to reshape Islamic education since its establishment as an Islamic republic. Realizing that all but one of the hawzas investigated are headed by graduates of the Qom seminary, in stark contrast to occurrences as recent as the 1990s when all hawza heads were graduates of Najaf, the shift is manifest. At the level of subjects and textbooks, huge variations toward the Qom model have also taken place. Additionally, the hegemony achieved by Sayyed Ali Khamenei’s discourse stands as a striking example: his words are consistently and universally brought forth, by both students and professors, to legitimate claims, challenge the institution, and denounce the old Najaf model of education. Present throughout, in those hawzas funded by and affiliated with Iran, as well as those belonging to other schools, this research (re)affirms and elaborates on Iran’s increasing command in Lebanon.
The third and final point concerns Islam in Lebanon’s public sphere. While a classic mujtahid offers religious legal opinions, with a role limited to extracting knowledge from text, it was clear, at least for the participants of this study, that the “new model” hawzas are offering a training that goes well beyond such limitations. While this is not (yet) the current reality, the ripples of the calls for change are, even now, observable. If this project of change in the hawza succeeds, its effects could be colossal, as changing the hawza and its curriculum is bound to alter the identity of graduates from being scriptural scholars to ones with both a broader, more critical, understanding as well as a heightened aptitude at engaging the public. In a post-modern time of media and globalization, such attributes are bound to lay the ground for scholars to exercise increased power over the Shia community. As religion and politics are deeply intertwined in Lebanon, the increased sway of men of religion on the Shia population will certainly lead to an increase in political Islam’s hegemony and, by consequence, that of Hezbollah.
With an increase in numbers, and with sheikhs inhabiting dominant roles in Shia political life, it appears that Shia men of religion in Lebanon are headed toward an increased public and socio-political presence. Hezbollah’s nomination of a sheikh for the 2018 Lebanese elections—a first—is clear evidence. Also worthy of note are the characteristics and identity of those who choose to undergo a hawza training. While becoming a religious scholar was historically, often by default, one of being born into a “scholarly” family, new rules are being laid. Today, people from different backgrounds, materially and other, are entering the hawza with various objectives; the Hawza is already no longer limited to graduating scholars occupied with Islamic jurisprudence. Hence, while the interviewees complained of a public perceiving them as “experts in everything,” and as they claimed to want their role circumscribed, if the hawza continues the path it has begun to tread, the role of a Shia scholar is inevitably headed towards an increase in both breadth and depth.
An institution functioning outside Lebanon’s mainstream, observing different holidays, following a different educational model, and without any coordination with any Lebanese ministry, the hawzas of Lebanon have historically been institutions seeking to produce mujtahids who are religious scholars capable of issuing religious rulings. While this continues to be the case, the institution is certainly on the path of change. In this direction, many hawzas have adopted the Western academic model of set years, semesters, and credits. This model has also been accompanied by the modification of multiple material. Interestingly, both material adjustments and structural modifications to the curriculum have been easily absorbed. Changes to content, however, have not been as smooth. At the time of writing, the hawza mainly offers courses in Fikh and Usul, the Arabic language, logic and philosophy, Quranic studies, and history. In attempts at change, some hawzas have introduced courses in the social sciences. Yet, the standing of such subjects remains infirm, especially as they are repeatedly removed and reintroduced. Broadly speaking, the social sciences in the hawzas of today, as an element of training, have not yet gained significant recognition, nor have they gained substantial legitimacy. Further, only theory has managed to break through. Nevertheless, the dominant discourse within the hawza is one of change. This holds true for stakeholders, professors, and students, quasi-unanimously for the latter group. Overall, between an institution manacled by its heritage, encapsulated in the yellow books and the drained methods of old, and a hawza which is a “Westernized university” in Islamic dress, the ongoing transmutation is ambiguous, and the threats are huge. Yet, so is the potential.
Beyond Islamic education, this article has raised serious questions for Lebanon. What would the changes being proposed in the hawza mean for the future of religious scholars, to their formation, identity, and role? What would the inclusion of the social sciences do to the general knowledge, the awareness, the skills, and the critical thinking of these men of religion? What would such changes mean to religion and its presence in Lebanon’s socio-political public sphere? While the answers are complex and unclear, it is certainly in the direction of greater public presence and an increase in the socio-political role of Lebanon’s Shia men of religion. This has only been possible as a result of the Lebanese state’s absence, whereby hawzas freely diverge and converge to form an incoherent, heterogeneous, and dynamic field. It is a rich example of how colonialism, neo-imperialism, and geopolitics intersect to produce contemporary reality. What was described is also an empirical (re)demonstration of the Iranian model’s mounting hegemony in the Shia world. To close, beyond Lebanon, these findings raise serious questions and challenges to what has come to be known as decolonial theory: showcasing the complexity of an Islamic decolonial project while simultaneously demonstrating its indispensability.
The deepest gratitude is extended to Professor Sari Hanafi for all the support and invaluable feedback he provided throughout all the phases of this project.
Islam has no “clergy” that can be compared with that of Christianity.
Finke and Dougherty (2002) have theorized what they call “religious capital.” While this is of great relevance, there are many differences between the context in which they worked and the context of this work. As exploring these differences is beyond the scope of this paper, such theorizations were not incorporated.
This discussion is beyond the scope of this article. For further information, see Bhambra (2014).
This is based on an ethnographic observation and conversations throughout the fieldwork. While there is no literature on the issue, it is clear that a hegemony of the major hawzas, backed by the major Marji’, is well established.
No hierarchy of credibility was assumed between students, professors, and the administration.
This information is based on interviews with the administration of Al-Rasoul Hawza cross-referencing in all six hawzas.
Mainly Hezbollah, the higher Shiite Council, the Amal movement, the Institutions of Sayyed Mohamad Hussein Fadlallah, among others, have acknowledged/been involved with this board.
A professor at Al-Montazar Hawza claimed there were over ten hawzas in the Bekaa region. According to Sheikh Amin Termos, a member of the board of trustees, only two were found that met the criteria for accreditation; these are the ones mentioned in the guidebook.
This is a very small sum for Lebanon’s cost of living and was in the range of US$75–150 per month.
Owing to the baggage that comes with terms such as “progressive” or “traditional,” the terms “emerging” and “established” are used instead.
The differences often relate to structure and added substituted courses. They are beyond the scope of this article.
All such lists in this article, unless specified otherwise, were generated through the calculation and ordering of values allocated to subjects/books.
The books used to teach Arabic grammar are mostly those written by scholars belonging to the Sunni denomination. During one of the classes attended at the hawza, the professor stated that knowledge is to be sought-after, “regardless of the personal views of he who holds it.” This came as a reaction to a student inquiring as to why they study books authored by Sunni scholars where examples and stories are sometimes contradictory to Shia beliefs, leading to a class debate on Islamic unity. The sheikh claimed that students should not view the Sunnis as “others” (he explicitly used the term “not to ‘other’ them”).
In the Shia communities of Lebanon, “Sheikh” is only used to refer to a religious scholar.
They are often students of Islamic studies or of philosophy. At the time the fieldwork was conducted, Al-Maaref University had just opened and, being directly related to Hezbollah, many students had chosen to transfer to it instead of staying at the Islamic University, which is affiliated to the Amal Movement and the Higher Islamic Shiite Council in Lebanon.
It was made clear through interviews that courses titled “Introduction to Psychology” and “Introduction to Sociology,” as well as other social science courses, had been introduced to the hawza a number of years previously and were offered to students for a period somewhere between three and five years. They were later removed.
These are the words of its general director, Sayyed Ali Hijazi.
This can range from five months to two years of study for a given book.
There is no sixth subject given value. All other subjects are given briefly.
Quotations are from interviews with hawza general directors.
These were the general directors of Al-Imam Ali Hawza and a small hawza in the south. This was also found among some administrative staff members at other hawzas (all administrative staff at all hawzas are graduates or advanced students).