Bright weather, warm smiles and heartfelt salams filled the room as the Hawza Ilmiyya of England opened its doors to prospective students on Open Day last Saturday.
A record crowd of parents and potential pupils gathered in the school and were impressed with the range of activities and experiences on offer. Theology, Quranic tafsir and history are just some of the many exciting subjects that the Hawza prides itself in teaching. Additionally, it cultivates a homey atmosphere that many academic institutions lack. This includes weekly Dua Nudba sessions, and gatherings and celebrations throughout the year to commemorate the life of the Prophet(s) and his holy family(a).
After a refreshing recitation of the Holy Qur’an, Sheikh Mirza Abbas, the internal manager and host of the programme, set the mood for the day by congratulating the attendees on the auspicious occasion of the birth of Hazrat Masumah(a) and introduced The Islamic College – – which offers undergraduate and graduate academic courses, validated by Middlesex University – to those less familiar with it. Sheikh Abbas then gave centre stage to Dr Isa Jahangir, principal of The Islamic College, to commence with his opening talk.
Dr Jahangir’s talk captivated everyone in the room. He reflected on both his personal experiences and the lessons taught by some of the greatest Shi‘i scholars, especially ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, whose wisdom and status most Hawza students strive to achieve.
The theme of his speech was hikmah – wisdom – which Sheikh Jahangir referred to as “the practical tool in one’s hands which is backed by deep knowledge and the very ‘know-how’ of what to say, how to say it and what to do.” Hikmah is the main element that contributes to the flourishing, prosperity, and success of a society and cultivating the beauty of one’s heart is only possible through attaining at least a basic level of this wisdom.
The second phase of the formal proceedings included some current students summarising their experiences at the Hawza, recollecting what they have learnt and achieved from being a student there. Safiya Hussain, a student of the pre-Hawza programme on Saturdays, described her experience as “what is missing in the cut-throat corporate environment.” She explained: I look forward to being among people who are learning things that are important for my hereafter. I value the opportunity each Saturday to be able to ask questions to develop oneself, as we have been guided by the Holy Qur’an to be proactive in gaining knowledge. Each day we need to be doing something which adds further to our knowledge and … how well it fits in with the Quranic perspective and teachings.
Another student who was eager to share his experience was Mohammed Yassir Khan:
A fascinating Power Point presentation was given that captured the glimpses of the experience at pre-Hawza – the key highlights being the consistent opportunity to learn each week, and have immediate access to scholars as well as to be among a community of learners.
The concluding speech was given by Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali, the Director of the Hawza Ilmiyya of England. Dr Shomali contemplated on the vision of Imam Ali(a).
Imam Ali’s vision is that God has structured reality in a way that the ladder for climbing towards God starts with good actions. But, in the end, what is crucial is how much you know of God and how much you reflect on God. That is when you have become close to Him. You don’t have to wait until you become an ayatollah, ‘allamah or great jurist in order to hope to get close to God. Even as a first year talabeh student (seminary student), this is possible; if you are accepted to join this group, you are together with the great “seekers of knowledge”. It matters less how much you know and matters more how much knowledge you seek!
Dr Shomali enlightened the attendees with a list of the many roles that the Hawza plays in one’s life. The first is to be “a place for people to come and seek a scholarly, systematically-integrated understanding of Islam.” A second refers to the collective nature of knowledge in Islam, as the role is “to develop a community of seekers of knowledge.” Another function of the Hawza is that it provides an opportunity for teachers to serve and be “seekers of knowledge” and to be engaged in Islamic education as well as providing educational packages.
The speech finished with a few words of advice to students, outlining the importance of attending, working hard and maintaining this hub of knowledge. Most importantly, students were urged to see that while God guarantees sustenance for His creatures and distributes it among them, knowledge is reserved only for the ones who pursue it.