For two weeks in August, this year courses on the Islamic Belief System and Lessons of Islamic Belief were held in Qom and Mashhad, organised and hosted by the International Institute for Islamic Studies (IIIS) in conjunction with the Risalat International Institute.
The course brought together participants from different parts the world, male and female, of all ages and backgrounds, each one sharing in the desire to gain knowledge from some of the best teachers in the field of Islamic studies. Among the participants, this year, there were also the winners of the ‘Allamah Tabatabai Award’ – an organisation which awards students for excellent academic achievement. In addition to visiting Qom, Tehran and Mashhad for exhibitions, tourist visits and ziyarat (visitation to holy places), they engaged in lessons with senior scholars and mentors including Dr Mohammed Ali Shomali, Hujjat al-Islam Hasan Duagoo, Sister Zahra Farzanegan and Sheikh Mahdi Rastifar. The followings are the testimonials of some of the attendees:
“… I learnt many things from the lectures and the mentors that made a huge impact on me. They were knowledgeable, kind, patient, modest and humble. They touched our hearts before our brains.
From early stages, we received a warm welcome. At the place where we stayed ‘Yaravan-e Mahdi(atfs), in Jamkaran opposite Jamkaran Mosque, we witnessed utmost hospitality. Everything was well organised and even our names were on the doors. Everything we needed was ready and available to us… It is said, “You will know a person when you travel with them”. We had the privilege of coming to know many good sisters and brothers and we became one family. On reflection, I would suggest to the organisers to prepare a one day class or meeting to familiarise the student about the trip, such as what would they do during the trip, the topics of lectures, and finally the accommodation where they will stay. Another point is that I found a two-week period very short for such a course. Hopefully, if it is extended to 3/4 weeks students would benefit more. I recommend this course to everybody and send my appreciations and duas (supplication) to all the organisers, lecturers, mentors, helpers and students alike.”- Zainab Meftah
“The Risalat Summer Course 2017 on Islamic Belief System has invoked a loud introspection in the realm of our self-recognition. This is due to the teachers’ competency and the curriculum’s scientific structure and content which classify the different compositions of an individual (self) and all creation. Our perspective on our souls and the capacity of our fitrah (primordial nature) has been altered, forever nourishing us with more love and submission towards our Creator, God.
We realised the second part of the course on Imamate and Wilaya was an integral part of the curriculum because it awakened a fervent connection between us and our Imam Al-Qaem(atfs). The fruit we bear in Islamic Belief System is a necessary foundation to comprehend where and how to build that connection with our Imam as we journey to find our role in his advent and reappearance…” – Salam and Dima
“Thanks and gratitude to God for this life transforming experience! Entering the place [Yaravan-e Mahdi conference facility] gave me an immediate feeling of a deep peace of soul and mind! Within a few days, the people who seemed so different became close friends. I particularly enjoyed the social Wilaya part.
The lessons were excellent, given by outstanding teachers and educators. They delivered the topics through discussions which made us all absolutely engaged to the extent that I didn’t want the sessions to end. Honestly, it’s the first time I enjoyed being a student. I wished we had received more lessons. The learning process was continuous throughout the day, from our fantastic sheikhs and teachers, who were role models in their manners, knowledge, wisdom and hard work to our supervisors and mentors. I would like to thank them. The programme combined learning and tourism. The choice of places to visit was excellent. We enjoyed those trips knowing that not many people are lucky enough to get such a chance. The food was very good and nutritious. The staffs of the cafeteria were polite and helpful. The nutritionist gave us good advice.
Coming back home all I was interested in doing is to carry on studying and revising the material to make sure I do not forget a word. Looking forward to a continuation of this course and meeting all those great people again.” – Yasmin.
“This was my first time attending an Islamic course in Iran and I can safely say that it was a life changer that gave me a new, improved perspective and unveiled new realities about the self and its surroundings. Our stay near the blessed mosque of Jamkaran in Qom really strengthened my relationship with the Imam of our time and left me motivated to get closer to him. We were very lucky to have such a wide range of excellent teachers who would not leave us until we were satisfied with the course material. The balance between studies and ziyarats (visitation to holy places) as well as sightseeing made the trip an even more unforgettable one and I would really recommend everyone to go on this spiritually uplifting journey!”- Afnan Alkhafaji
A trip of a lifetime
This course was ideal for all those who wished to experience the practical spirituality of visiting the shrines whilst gaining ma‘erifa (understanding) of its significance, something which serves to enhance one’s overall spiritual experience. With the opportunity to make cultural visits to places such as Golzar-e-Shuhada (The Garden of Martyrs), Mount Khidr and Ayatollah Najafi’s library, our time was balanced well between socialising, gaining further insight into the historical and cultural significance and heritage of Iran, as well as listening to the beautiful stories of the martyrs, scholars and their sacrifices.
We also made a day trip to Tehran and as university students from the UK coming from several academic backgrounds including engineering, dentistry, medicine, history and law, we had the opportunity of visiting one of the top universities in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Sharif University of Technology, where we learnt about the projects and courses undertaken by some of their students and researchers.
What was also unique was the bond of love created between one another; between the teachers, students and mentors. Living together whilst studying and engaging in personal talks is a wonderful way of benefiting and learning from one another, allowing us to practice the social Wilayah that our religion places so much emphasis on.
For students and individuals living in the West, such an exposure and intake of spirituality is vitally needed as it is very easy to stick to a life of day-to-day routine as opposed to one where we constantly contemplate and strive to fulfil our potential to the greatest degree possible. The meaningful and resonating lessons provided by our dear scholars, as well as their emphasis on Imam Mahdi(atfs) and our role in this movement are something which resonated with us deeply.
I am truly thankful to God for giving us the opportunity to unite in the way we did and to benefit from one another. May God reward all the organisers, scholars, mentors and group leaders for their sincere efforts and devotion.” – ATA winner Batool Subeiti, Chemical Engineering Student, University of Birmingham.
Amongst the Hawza student ranks
“… After arriving in Qom, I recall being taken aback after learning that there were some 50,000 students studying at the Hawza. Through lectures from scholars in the Holy city, we were ready to gain some insight into what these students were experiencing. There was no delay in us delving into the intensive Hawza-style course. Topics such as theology, anthropology, the Hereafter and the Prophethood were explored in magnificent detail as we basked in the proficiency of teachers who were well-educated, skilled and fully aware of the reality experienced by young Westerners.
Forming the basis of our experience was the religious and historical significance of our environments. Being in a constant state of ziyarat (visitation) at the holy shrine of Lady Ma’sumeh(as) in Qom, and later the shrine of her brother, Imam Reza(a) in Mashhad, provided a rare and exceptional spiritual experience. The perfect mix of knowledge attainment and spiritual connection was exemplified with lessons in the holy shrine in Mashhad.
Beyond the remarkable experiences and knowledge, we were blessed with making firm friendships, be it by the exquisite fountains at Lady Ma’sumeh’s Shrine, at the former residence of Ayatollah Khomeini or atop the majestic Khidhr Mountain.
We gained the knowledge, experiences and friendships we had come to seek while simultaneously strengthening the connection with our Creator. This culminated in us leaving Iran with an exponentially more profound sagacity and that will undoubtedly be a valuable personal asset in the participants’ futures.- ATA winner Rida Shaban, A-Level Student, West London.
A two-minute walk from Jamkaran Mosque
“Starting the day by praying fajr prayers in front of the blue dome of Jamkaran is something that I will never forget. The atmosphere almost forces one to become peaceful and spiritual, the air itself is calm and relaxing. Walking in a place where Imam Mahdi(atfs) has walked, praying in a place where he has prayed is something that will never become repetitive or boring. On the Allama Tabatabai Award trip, during our stay in Qom, we were blessed to have our accommodation just a two-minute walk away from Jamkaran. The late-night trips and the thoughtful conversations have truly shaped me as a person. It is almost impossible for me to now walk without thinking about my Imam(atfs), for being in Jamkaran gives one the opportunity to build a connection with Saheb al Zaman (Imam of our time) like no other.
This was combined with frequent trips to the shrine of Lady Masoumeh(as) Anyone who has visited this lady will agree that her company is like no other; her motherly love has turned her shrine into a refuge for all hearts. The Allama Tabatabai Award trip allowed us to not only experience the warmth of her love but the lessons and lectures we had allowed us to learn more about her personality so that we are able to appreciate her.
Our experiences on this trip were ones which allowed souls to connect through constant meaningful discussions. Though I have learnt many things from ziyarat, true love will always be something that I learn more about every time I visit a shrine – a love that does not ask for anything in return; a love that is for the sake of God. When we love for the sake of God, we love purely, we do not get disappointed nor do we disappoint others.
Our final destination on the trip was the shrine of Imam Reza(a) in Mashhad. We were welcomed generously by the Office of Foreign Affairs in the shrine. Everyone was touched by their kindness; they gave us a lecture about the Imam and offered us many beneficial books. These experiences have allowed us to see how we should act as lovers of Ahlulbayt(as).
Although leaving the heart-warming company of Imam Reza(a) was difficult, we were reminded that the Ahlulbayt remains with us no matter where we are. We were taught by our teachers how to maintain a relationship with the holy personalities that we had visited. Even if we are physically away from their shrines, our souls can always be with the Ahlulbayt. As Ayatollah Bahjat says, “visiting the shrines is not the most important thing, what is important is that the personalities in the shrines visit you”. – ATA winner Kauthar Al-Kaaby, A-Level Student, Surrey.