The subjects taught in the Four-Year Hawza Programme are based on modified versions of the curriculums contained within the Hawza programme that is studied in the traditional Muslim educational centers of Qum and Najaf. Apart from the fact that Al-Mahdi Institute’s Hawza Programme is delivered entirely in English and Arabic, another central feature of this programme is its self-critical tone allowing for the training of students capable of the much needed creative and well-grounded scholarship that can serve as platform to addressing the diverse and changing needs of contemporary society. The four year programme adopts an intensive and focused mode of study, allowing the course to cover aspects of traditional seminary studies generally lasting between eight or nine years in the Hawzas of Qum and Najaf, in a manner ensuring that the quality of learning is not compromised in any way.
The intensive Arabic training at the Al-Mahdi Institute is focused on allowing students to develop the advanced philological skills required to independently understand, analyse, and critically engage with the Arabic of the Qur’an and Muslim scholarship. Accordingly, the course is constructed of modules dealing with language (lugha), grammar (sarf wa nahw), Arabic rhetoric (balagha) and Qura’nic morphology (i’rab al-Qur’an). No prior knowledge of Arabic is assumed beyond the ability to recognize and pronounce the Arabic alphabet. In the first year, students commence with introductory texts designed for non-native speakers. By year three, students are capable of studying the advanced classical works traditionally employed for the teaching of Arabic, such as the Sharh of Ibn Aqil.
In scholarly terms, fiqh is defined as a detailed knowledge of Shari’a laws with their specific evidences and justifications. Throughout the four years of the course, students are given a comprehensive and progressively detailed study of these laws and the debates surrounding their justifications. After introductory modules on the historical development of fiqh alongside reading of Alllama Hilli’s classical Tabṣirat al-mutalimin, students go on to study Baqir Irwani’s al-Fiqh al-Istidlali. Here, they will critically engage with the justifications of the entire breadth of fiqhi laws, ranging from the method of wudhu (ablution) to the conditions governing the validity of financial transactions. In the fourth year, students will move on to read selected themes from more advanced texts, such as Sharh al-Luma’a and al-Maqasib.
Usul al-Fiqh is a discipline that studies the general principles involved in the inference of the laws of fiqh. An in depth study of Usul al-Fiqh has been a central part of the training of scholars throughout the history of Shi’i scholarship. Following this tradition, students are given a comprehensive grounding in all the theoretical discussions of Usul al-Fiqh based on a traditional curriculum, supplemented by relevant discussions from philosophy of language, hermeneutics, moral philosophy and epistemology. Introductory courses are based on Abd al-Hadi al-Fadli’s Mabadi al-Usul, and Baqir al-Sadr’s Halaqat al-Uwla. This is followed by a close and complete reading of Muhammad Rida Muzaffar’s text Usul al- Fiqh.
The Hadith are defined as the reports that transmit the sayings, actions and tacit approvals of the Prophet Muhammad and his impeccable progeny. Above and beyond extensive analyses and contextualisation of the content of traditions, the study of Hadith at the Al-Mahdi Institute entails a further detailed study of both the classical disciplines involved in the categorisation and authentication of these traditions i.e. ‘ilm al-diraya and ‘ilm al-rijal. These theoretical studies are supplemented with supervised practical training in the application of the rigorous traditional method of authenticating Hadith, ensuring that students gain the skills required to independently conduct this process. Through this practical training, and with reference to broader studies, students can engage with the criticisms leveled at this system, as well as gain a thorough firsthand experience of the meticulous nature of the traditional approach.
Although not a central part of the traditional Shi’i Hawza curriculum, the course at Al-Mahdi Institute places great emphasis on the study of history. The central themes and periods covered include Pre-Islamic Arabia, The Life of the Prophet, Post-Prophetic Period and The History and Development of Shi’ism and its schisms. Beyond the subject specific knowledge that this study brings, students are equipped with the bibliographical and analytical tools needed to critically engage with a breadth of primary source material in Arabic, as well as with the secondary surveys written in the English language.
This course examines the origins, history and development of Mysticism in Islam. Students will be taught the central motifs of its divisions (theoretical and practical) in the mystical literature, with a critical reading of key texts. The major themes in theoretical mysticism are taught from the renowned works of Jalal al-Din al-Rumi and Ibn ‘Arabi, and practical ‘Irfan from Abu Nasr ‘Abdullah bin ‘Ali al-Siraj al-Tusi’s al-Luma’a fi Tarikh al-Tasawwuf al-Islami.
Ilm Al-Kalam (Theology)
After an introductory module surveying the different schools and historical development of Muslim theology, students undertake a close reading of Allama Hilli’s classical Shi’i text, al-Bab al-Hadi ‘Ashar. The central themes of Muslim theological doctrine, including the arguments for the existence of God, debates over predestination and freewill, theodicy, Prophethood, Imamology and Eschatology, are then further critically examined with reference to both the contemporary work of Jaffer Subhani’s Illahiyat and the classical work of Kashf al-Murad fi Tajrid al-Ittiqad, by Allama Hilli and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.
This course introduces students to the historical origins of Muslim philosophy, including the major philosophers and their works. It critically examines the philosophical ideas of the Peripatetic, the Illuminationist and the Transcendental Schools of philosophy in Islam. After the first year, students undertake a comprehensive study into the transcendental philosophy of Mulla Sadra, through a close reading of al-Tabatabi’s Bidayat al-Hikma.
The Institute has a Qur’anic Studies program, which is composed of two key elements. The first of these consists of a study of ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, a classical theoretical discipline which tackles questions such as the authenticity of the Qur’an and its compilation, the nature and manner of revelation and the structure and themes in the Qur’an. The course is based on readings from al-Talkhis wa al-Tamhid of Hadi Ma’rifa, combined with extensive reference to works of the most prominent Orientalists and contemporary scholars of Qur’anic studies. The second element introduces students to ‘Ilm al-Tafsir, studying the theoretical principles and different approaches to the exegesis and interpretation of the Qur’an. With this background, students begin their study of Tafsir al-Qur’an itself. This not only involves the traditional atomistic and thematic approaches to Tafsir, but also allows a critical engagement with the application of emerging hermeneutical approaches to the Qur’an at a stage where students are expected to draw upon the theoretical skills acquired in their studies of Arabic, Hadith, Usul al-fiqh, Theology, Mysticism and Philosophy, to enrich their appreciation of what Muslim’s believe is the Word of God.
Logic is defined as the study of the rules and principles governing sound thinking. This classical science is taught throughout Shi’i seminaries as the epistemological framework for the Muslim intellectual disciplines. The course at Al-Mahdi Institute gives students a deep insight into this framework, critically engaging with all the major themes of the discipline including ‘Concepts’, ‘Assents’, and ‘the Five Arts’ based on readings from Muhammad Rida Muzaffar’s al-Mantiq.
Due to the fact that Al-Mahdi Institute places great emphasis on training creative scholars who can employ the skills and resources of traditional Muslim learning to issues of contemporary concern, the core subjects are supplemented by a variety of modules that are not taught in traditional Muslim educational seminaries. These modules include:
- Issues in Contemporary Philosophy and Ethics
- Political Economy and International Politics of the Islamic World
- Moral Economy & the Phenomenon of Islamic Banking and Finance
- Women and Gender Studies
- Comparative Religion
- Islam and Pluralism
- Islam and Human Rights
- Methodological Issues in the Study of Religion and Islam