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Najaf's Shiite seminaries enter 21st century

Throughout its history, the Shiite seminaries in Najaf, Iraq, have witnessed massive changes in curricula, with an expansion in the number and scope of subjects offered.
NAJAF, IRAQ:  An Iraqi Shiite scholar (2nd L) lectures a student while another one (R) reviews his lesson at a religious school for clerics, known in Arabic as Haouza, in the holy city of Najaf, 160 kms (100 miles) south of Baghdad, 05 August 2006. The teaching method at the clerical school in Najaf has not radically changed since its establishment in 1056 AD, with the exception of adding natural sciences subjects to the curriculum.  AFP PHOTO/ALI AL-SAADI  (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty I
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The Shiite seminary (hawza) in Najaf witnessed huge developments in its educational program in the mid-20th century, especially between the 1940s and 1960s. The number of students ranged between 15,000 and 20,000, and they came from various countries that have Shiite populations. More than 1,000 students used to attend the lessons of Sayed Abu al-Qassem al-Khoei alone. Khoei is considered the founder of the doctrinal approach that has prevailed in Najaf and Qom to a large extent. Coincidentally, the first academic faculty in Najaf was founded by Mohamad Rida al-Mozfer in 1958, and many prominent Najaf scholars graduated from it.

Since the 1970s, with the Baath Party’s rise to power, the hawza in Najaf slumped due to the political clampdowns targeting it. The suppression tightened following the Shiite political awakening (Sahwa) in Najaf and its supporters’ clashes with the ruling regime at the time. Moreover, due to the Iran-Iraq war, the number of foreign students significantly dropped. Finally, the crackdown on the 1991 Shiite uprising resulted in an almost complete paralysis of the hawza’s activities.

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