Howza System



A theology student has three levels to go through to become an mujtahid or a faqih. These are as follows:


I. Introductory Level (muqaddamat)


This level of theological education concentrates an Arabic grammar, syntax, rhetorics etc., as well as some literature and logic. Theological seminaries mostly teach general books in this level. The reason for the emphasis on Arabic is that the

Quran and all the important Islamic books and the ahadith are in Arabic. It would normally take seven years to complete this

stage. The following books are taught in this level in the order of priority:


Jami’ul-Muqaddamat is in 14 small volumes, in Farsi and Arabic. Arabic grammar, syntax, logic, method of reading and exercises in conjugation are taught. The objective of the course is to teach introductory Arabic syntax to the student and to prepare him for learning the subsequent courses.


Books recently used for this course are The New Arabic, and simple Grammar.

Siuti explains Arabic syntax. The new book used for this course is Al-Qava’id ul-Assassi (Basic Principles).

Mughani completes the grammar and syntax courses and teaches the student Arabic grammar in relation to literature.

Tahzib is the new book used for the course.

Hashieh teaches the student basic logic. The new book used in the field is Al-Mantiq (The Logic).

Mutaval, or a summary of it, teaches rhetorics and speech. The objective of the course is to familiarise the student with the art of speech and rhetoric and to enable him to understand the Quran and more difficult texts. The new books used for the course are Balaghat (Eloquence) or Javahir ul-Balagha (Essence of Eloquence).


II. Inetermediate Level (sat’h)


Sat’h means superficies, and is referred to reading directly from the books and learning from them. When a theology student completes the requirements of the introductory stage, he is promoted to the intermediate level. Here, he is taught Islamic theology and principles which he learns to reason out.

It normally takes eight years to complete the intermediate level. Only the larger and more important theological seminaries run the intermediate course.


The following books are taught in this level in order of priority:

Ma’alem ul-Usool teaches the student basic theology in a reasoned manner.

The new book used for the purpose is a summary of Ma’alem.

Qavanin, authored by Mirza-e Qummi, teaches theology in more depth. The new book used is Usul ul-Fiqh.

Lum’ah, by Shahid Thani, teaches the foundations of canonical theology (ijtihad).

Makasib, authored by Sheikh Murtadha Ansari, teaches canonical problems and profound answers to them and aims at getting the student to master the rules of Islamic theology and its application.

Rasa’il teaches rational reasons of theology and aims at getting the student to master the rational reasons of theology.

Kefayat ul-Usool, authored by Mulla Mohammad Kazem Khurassani, teaches theology and its principles as well as its problems, and establishes full mastery of theology and its problems. Theology students may also take selective courses at this level, in the following order of priority:

Manzuma teaches a series of basic philosophy lessons and is a prerequisite for theology students who plan to read philosophy. The length of this course together with isharat is three years.

Isharat teaches philosophy and gnosticism.

Bidayat ul-Hakama teaches a summary of philosophical titles and topics in one year.

Nahayat ul-Hakama teaches philosophical topics in the intermediate level in two years.

Assfar is a descriptive course of philosophical topics at the advanced level, taught in three years.

Sharh-e Tajrid teaches natural sciences and divinities as viewed by orators and aims to teach the theology student the arguments in two years.

Maqamat-e Hariri and Maqamat-e Hamedani familiarise theology students with Arabic literature. Each would take two and a half years but Mu’alaqat-e Sab’a may also be read together with one of them.


III. Advanced Level (kharij)

Having mastered the lower courses and understood the narrations and hadiths, the theology student enters the advanced level with the permission of his teachers and upon sitting some kind of examination.


This level, in fact, is the stage of research for a theology student, leading him ultimately to become an Islamic jurisprudent or theologian. (marja’ taqlid) themselves.

On this level, the teacher discusses the opinions of the important Islamic canonists and those of his own and allows his students to enter debates with him. This stage of theological education may go on for as long as needed for the theology student to acquire the power of interpreting theological issues , and form his own opinion and judgement about them.

Nevertheless the students may leave from theological seminaries at any stage they wish. Only a smaller number continue their theological education to become scholars and a larger number drop out after completing one or two stages. No certificates of graduation are issued by the seminaries.

However, when a theology student becomes a scholar, his teacher or teachers issue a certificate at his request which authorises him to use his own judgement concerning theological issues. Ijtihad) means the power to refer to the four sources of reason, the Quran, Tradition, Concensus and Wisdom, and interpret the theological issues on their basis.


As explained before, topics of study in theological seminaries consist of Arabic literature, principles of theology, theology and rational sciences which include logic, arguments and philosophy. The first three are more in demand than the last in which works by Islamic philosophers such as Mulla Sadra and Mulla Haadi Sabzevari are taught.

In the advanced level, other courses are also taught. These include:

Rijal, which is a research into biographies of hadith tellers.

Diraya, which discusses the documents on the basis of which hadiths are told, and the course through which a document is traced back to the original text.

History of Islam, Ethics, Interpretations, astronomy are other courses taught. Moreover, studies of sociology, psychology, English or other foreign languages have become more common in the past few years.


Characteristics of Theological Education


Education in theological seminaries has certain characteristics which distinguish it from modern education. The most important of those is that neither the period of education, nor the manner of graduation is pre-planned and compulsory. The theology student chooses his own teacher ever since he begins his theological education and continues to study with the same teacher as long as he himself deems fit.


Moreover, in the absence of a system of issuing graduation certificates, theology students are free to take their courses at their own pace. The same freedom is apparent in teaching. A theology student who has been studying for a few years, has the right to enter debates with his teacher and take fault with his statements. To prepare for lessons, theology students usually consult various theology books and go through the opinions of theological authorities. Upon receiving a lesson, they debate the lessons among themselves in order to master essence of the lessons. This method of studying helps theology students to develop in debating and discussions.

They gain more skills by preaching to the public, usually to earn an income.