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A rare look inside the 'heart of society' for Iraq's Shi'ites

A rare look inside the 'heart of society' for Iraq's Shi'ites
From Reuters - October 12, 2017

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - For more than 1,000 years, the al-Hawza al-Ilmiyya south of Baghdad has been one of the hearts of Shiite Islamic scholarship, training the clerics who lead Shiite communities across the Muslim world.

Thousands of students, from teenage boys to university graduates, study Islam at its schools in the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala.

Shiites, who are the majority in Iraq, were repressed under dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, but now lead the Iraqi government since Saddam was overthrown in 2003. Clerics trained at the Hawza have wide social and political influence, both inside Iraq and abroad.

This year, around 200 fully fledged clerics will graduate, completing a process that requires at least ten years of study.

In the Najaf school, a typical day will see clerics in flowing black robes and white turbans giving lectures to groups of students sitting on the floor of a great hall, lined with pointed arches and elaborate mosaics.

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