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Living and Studying in the Holy City of Qom

ImageImagine how my emotional state was all over the place as I had just left everything I had, everything and everyone I knew, behind. And here I was in a new country, where I didn't know the language, culture or customs and effectively was starting life in many ways all over again. Alhamdulillah, though, I was welcomed by some other Western brothers with open arms, and this made the early days much easier.

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Shaikh Yasin Devji

No matter how you look, analyze, and dissect it, living in the holy city of Qom and going to the seminary (Hawza Ilmiyyah) revolves around one thing – the holy shrine of the Blessed Lady Sayyida Fatema Ma'suma – Sister of Imam Ali Ridha (peace be them). It was for this reason that when I arrived in the holy city of Qom to settle and pursue higher Islamic studies, the first place I went to was to her blessed grave.

When I arrived at her blessed resting place, I called out to her and said the following: "Oh my Blessed Lady, it is only through your permission and invitation that I am here, and as such, I am asking you to intercede for me with Allah and that you take care of me while I am in your blessed presence." I can safely say that she did not disappoint and took very good care of me – and still does! Not once have I come to her for any reason where she didn't make sure my request from Allah would go unheeded.

We are in Qom to study, but if you come to Qom and do not make this connection with Sayyida, then you are depriving yourself of perhaps the biggest blessing of the city and your time there.

In February of 2006, after much deliberation, I left the only place I have ever lived and everything I had ever known and made the move to Qom, Iran, for the purpose of pursuing Islamic studies at the seminary there. Coming from the West and moving to the East was quite an adjustment for many reasons.

Imagine how my emotional state was all over the place as I had just left everything I had, everything and everyone I knew, behind. And here I was in a new country, where I didn't know the language, culture or customs and effectively was starting life in many ways all over again. Alhamdulillah, though, I was welcomed by some other Western brothers with open arms, and this made the early days much easier.

While there is no official support system for people settling in Qom, there is an unofficial one in that if people from the West find out someone else from the West has come, they will go out of their way to come and say hello and offer whatever help is necessary to ease the transition. I guess this is because everyone remembers what it was like when they arrived for the first time and what challenges they faced. I was very lucky as I had some wonderful people to help me through the process of getting settled and started on my studies.

When I had made the decision to go to Qom, and while I was looking at possible living options, I was determined to live like a real "Talabe", and by that I mean live at the Hawza amongst the students. It was an interesting experience. Here I was, a 30-year-old Westerner who is used to coming and going as I please, independent in my affairs, used to living on my own, and now all of a sudden I am in a situation where I have to share my room, use public toilets and public showers, and live under a curfew!

When I got to Madressa Al-Mahdi, which is the name of the Farsi school where all male foreigners go first to study Farsi before they go to the Hawza itself, I was put into a room on the fourth floor where new arrivals stayed until they got permanent rooms. It was a room that would normally fit about 4-5 comfortably, but I guess I was just unlucky, and there were about 11 of us. I was the oldest in the room and the only Westerner, so it was quite an experience. Our bedding was literally side-by-side, and I managed to squeeze in between two brothers, one from Bangladesh and the other from Rwanda.

I was especially fascinated by the brother from Rwanda, as I had just finished watching Hotel Rwanda and was curious about his background. Turns out the brother had suffered like I saw in the movie and was actually a Sunni before who had turned Shia just a few years back. This is another beauty of Qom. You get to meet and live with people from all corners of the world who are Shia just like you. I found that to be such an enriching experience, and it made me realize that I knew so little about my fellow brothers.  

Finally after about three weeks, I got my permanent room and moved in with two other people. One was an Azerbaijani brother, and the other was an Indonesian brother. They welcomed me with open arms. Bear in mind we shared no common language other than the Farsi we were learning, and this was not only a help in learning the language but also a greater help in forming a close bond with each other.  

A typical day at Al-Mahdi would begin with your written Farsi class at 8:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. You would then have a 15-minute break and then attend verbal Farsi until noon. At noon you would wash up and get ready for noon prayers. You'd pray in the prayer hall, and then it was downstairs to the dining hall for lunch. Coming from an Indian and Western background, the food was definitely an adjustment, but you get used to it. After lunch you would retire to your room to rest or study until an afternoon class, which usually began at 5:00 p.m. This class would last an hour and, depending on what level of Farsi you were at, the content of the classes would vary. The evening time was a chance to relax, go to the holy shrine and, of course, study.

All throughout the school, you could see little study groups scattered, with some doing Farsi, some doing Qur'an, and some doing other Islamic sciences. At 10:00 p.m., the gate to the Madressa would be locked (11:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays), and if you were out, you had to be back in the Madressa compound by then. Lights out was 11:00 p.m.. At Fajr (morning prayer) the next day, the cycle would start all over again.

My fondest memory of my time thus far in Qom and specifically my time at Madressa Al-Mahdi is the friends I made and long discussions about life, Islam, and other things we used to have on the roof of the Madressa. Many of us would sit for hours on end, sharing our stories and plans for the future. It was as though we were family, and this is what made it special. I felt at home and at peace. It is was as though we were all children living in the shadow of our Mother: the Blessed Lady Sayyida Fatema Ma'suma (peace be upon her).


This article originally appeared in a previous issue of
Islamic Insights.

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  • John

    Very inspiring article

  • umair ali shah

    i waz compelete my associate degre in electronics.now i can get admission in qom or mashad.plz gave me information about it.
    my id is bukhare14@gmail.com

  • abdalla

    Hi, great article. How does one register for the Hawza, if your a Westerner, can you please share with me some of the administrative work that needs to be done. Thanks. my email is jahrawe51@hotmail.com.

    peace.

  • Mohammed Ali Ghaddar

    I was studying in Qom, Iran. I lived there for 2 years. Its just as you have described it. The hardest part is adjusting you will be away from your home country, you friends and your family and their food (for lebanese people especially) is not so great. But go to the shawarma place in Boulvar Amin, down the street from the Al-Mahdu school before the bridge) for very good shawarma and down the road under the bridge is a nice Iranian restaurant I use to go to. I work as a realtor now which is funny but still Qom to me is the most wonderful place I had ever been and still is. It is not a place for much vacationing but for my soul I still call it home. Bless you all brothers and study hard 🙂

  • Azar Ali Zain

    Wonderful and inspiring!

    Do write more please! I am fond of learning about studying in Qom.

    May Allah reward you for your writings.

  • Musa Ahmed Bajwa

    Ya Ali Maded(A.S.)
    Please mail me the information at musa_21238@Hotmail.com

    Wa Alaikum as salam.

  • Zia Hussain Syed

    Salams brother,
    I absolutely loved ur article MAshallah…very well written.
    Brother, i am a student doing my A levels from PAkistan and would like to study in Qom. BT i would like to get a professional degree aswell!!..
    So could u plzz tell me abt how to apply to Qom, n is it better fr me to go after my bachelors or is there a way to study Islamic studies at Qom and at the same time obtain professional education?
    my email is ziahussainsyed@gmial.com
    Allah Nigheban!!

  • Aliraza

    Salamun alaikum brother,may allah(swt) bless you for sharing your experience in qum,i am searching for guidance to start my study in qum hawza from few days,still i didnt found clear information about how can i start my study,plz reply me soon in my mail id,,,za_25m@yahoo.in,may allah(swt) bless you,kindly waiting for soon reply,iltemas e dua ,khuda hafiz.

  • zuhaib haider

    slam bro!
    i want some information about islamic education institutes in Qom and about taking admission there..
    kindly give me some details about it.. i shall be grateful to you.
    email: zuhaibhaider@gmail.com

  • David Dawud

    Hello, I am a Muslim convert in Canada. I am interested in studying Islam in Qom.
    Can somebody with experience there please e-mail me some information regarding Islamic Institutions in Qom and where I should start? my e-mail is dawud_david@hotmail.com. JazakAllah Khayr.

  • syed umair bukhari

    sir am umair from islamabad….i employer in nayatel optical fiber company.now i want to get admission in qom in islamic study.please tell me how i can get admission in qom……

  • danish ali

    as salam u alaikum i am looking to do my clerical studies in qum plzz give me the website or the place to contact them

    alisyed@ymail.com plzz give me their information

  • Asad

    Assalamu Alaikum borther, currently Iam living in Canada and I am in first year of university studying engineering. However, after I graduate in about 4-5 years, I want attend the hauwza and study there. I did some research and found some places where I can apply. On the following site http://www.studyinqum.com/Home/StudyingInQum/ApplyingToStudy site it is mention that if you have a university degree the only place I can study is at Madreseh Massomiyyah. However, I could not find anything on how to apply to study at this madreseh. There was another option of applying to al-Mustafa International University (Formerly known as: MarkazeJahani) but I dont know if by studying here I will be studying at hauwza or studying at a university. Can you please guide me in the right direction, where should i go. My main goal is to study at the hauwza in Qum in itself. It will be greatly appreciated if you can help find an application form or anyrhing in order to study at the hauwza. Please help me out you can contact me through email which is asad_flames@hotmail.com as I really want to go to Qum and study at the hauwza.
    Wasalam

  • Brother Amran

    Salam Brother,
    how do you apply studying in Qom?

    amranibs@hotmail.com

  • Salam Brother

    Salam I wanted to know how to apply studiyng in Qom and do u have to Pay that u can stay thier Crazy_styler@Live.ca i hope u will answer

  • shitu muazu

    salam, i am a nigerian citizen from jigawa state wishing to further my religious knowledge. can you help me?

  • muhammad adnan

    sir i want to settle in qom for study i have done my fsc.. sir plz help me bcoz i m very worry. my id is adnan_mehdi1214@yahoo.com,, ok sir i wait ur ans.

  • Zahraa

    Allah bless You all people who have left ur everything behind and have passed thousands of miles to know more about ur Mazhab….that definitely needs a big amount of courage and perseverance as u have clearly both …Ajrokom endAllah

  • Momina

    ASA. i am interested in islamic hawza training in Qom, Iran. i just graduated high school [from USA] … if anyone can please tell me female training schools for becoming one, please, email at unezaabid@gmail.com.

    Shukran

  • Muhammad1

    Salam alaykum,

    All foreign male students have to attend Al-Mustafa International University
    http://en.miu.ac.ir/

    All female students (foreign and Iranian) have to attend Jamiatul Zahra:
    http://jz.ac.ir/images/jzen.htm
    (women will attend the foreigners section, managed by the ‘Department of International Affairs’ at Jamiatul Zahra)

  • Hi, how I can study Qom? Please help me.
    Sharaf.aliyeva@gmail.com