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School of Qom, The


The School of Qom refers to the tradition of theological institutions of Shiʿa learning in Qom, a city in southern Iran. Along with Meshhad in North Eastern Iran and Karbala and Najaf in Iraq, Qom is a major center of Shiʿism, which houses the golden domed shrine of Fatimah, the holy site named for the sister of the eighth Imam who died in 816 in Qom and was buried there. Recently a few speculative theologians of this school proffered the theoretical foundation for a theocracy commonly labeled as an "Islamic Republic"; their views have become a cause célèbre in the Muslim world in a challenge of and a confrontation with the European cultural, economic, and political dominance in many predominately Muslim states. In spite of its political charisma, Qom continues to be the source of research in the scholarship of the Shiʿa philosophical heritage and exports a number of both young and seasoned scholars to the most prestigious European academic centers.


(a) Following the teachings of Nāir Khosrow (b. 10034) and Nāir al-Dīn al-ūsī (12011274), traditional curricula of the school of Qom and its approach to Islamic studies integrate religious studies with philosophy and mysticism.

(b) In their ethics of self-realization and in their social philosophy, members of the school of Qom focus on philosophies of intentional processes and on analyses of mystical virtues (instead of "the golden mean"); they praise the use of archetypal memory (dhikr ) and empathetic intimacy (uns ) with the ultimate being. A key explicit view is the rejection of the Aristotelian depiction of time as an accident and the replacement of substance-event metaphysics with the so-called "process" ontology, expressed in Mullā adrā's so-called theory of "substantial motion."

(c) Members of the Qom school are actively engaged in an encounter with Europe; they do appreciate the development of European science as a continuation of Islamic sciences, and have mastered the art of application of computer technology to the humanities, such as the scanning of basic Shiʿa literature and internet communications.

Major Figures and Contributions

A majority of Iranian theologians were educated and taught in Qom. Salient doctrines of four major thinkers of this school follow:

hussein tabataba'i (19031981)

The most prominent thinker of this school is ʿAllameh Seyyed Muhammad Hussein Tabataba'i (hereafter "Tabataba'i"), a scholar of Shiʿa theology and teacher of recent major thinkers of the school of Qom. Although not directly involved in politics, his writings established the school's theocratic agenda with key political implications.

A major aim of human actions is happiness, according to Tabataba'ia desire that is only partially achievable in societal contexts that are regulated by laws that focus on external interrelations among human beings. Religious beliefs connecting the internal, intentional, and spiritual bases of persons to the cosmos create an intimacy with the creator that complements the deficiencies of secular laws by providing total fulfillment of persons' needs, balancing tolerance with praxis. According to Tabataba'i, Islamic society goes beyond tolerance in recognizing the religious practices of other peoples of the book (Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians) who live under the rule of an Islamic state and contribute to it through their taxes. However, the Muslim community is committed to jihad against those who knowingly reject the principle of unity, namely against rebellious Muslims, against enemies of the faith, and against those who transgress against Islam by occupying the Muslim homeland by force. Following Islamic traditional belief, Tabataba'i considers homicide a major sin against all humanity. For pragmatic purposes, truth may be hidden (the principle of taqiyya ) when the expression of truth endangers the cause of religion. While speculation about religion is normally not recommend, Islam is open to new visions, inviting learned scholars to make innovations (ijitahd ) in deducing philosophical points from archetypal monotheistic truths.

murttaza mutahhari (19201979)

Mutahhari's major achievement was the dissemination of a clear, rational justification of the political views of the school of Qom to the Iranian Shiʿa masses, as his books were printed by the tens of thousands and circulated as textbooks in many schools. Although Mutahhari is known primarily for his plan to refute communism, no less well known is his open acceptance of the advancement of European science and his caricature of the claim of supremacy of European secular philosophy. His research focuses on a number of politically important reforms. For example, he criticized the literal interpretation of sacred texts and advocated the rational adoption of religious archetypes to solve contemporary problems; he advocated the education of women; and he was receptive to the progress of science and technology. Significantly, he preferred political action as a specific innovative application of religious precepts carried out under the guidance of an exemplary political leader, and he eternalized the ethos of the martyrdom of Karbala, and in so doing providing an energizing rationale for the Islamic revolution.

rohallah khomeini (19021989)

More than any member of this school, Khomeini permanently influenced the course of history of the Islamic world, claiming execution of basic Islamic principles such as Prophet Muhammad's agenda in the transformation of persons from a tribal self to a member of a community of the faithful. In this tenor, a salient feature of Khomeini's political theory was his emphasis on how persons need to feel an intimate existential allegiance to Islam's spiritual nature in order to experience their religious societal self. The faithful are guided by the juridical authority in their participation in a revolution that has the following agenda: (a) to create a continuous confrontation with secular nationalism; (b) to challenge European secular capitalistic political and military imperialism that supports European puppet regimes in predominately Muslim countries; (c) to issue directives against the lives of those who transgress against Islam in any place in the world; and (d) to constitutein the absence of an Imam (spirited leader)a juridical authority that supercedes the authority of monarchs or even that of the elected president of a country.

Present Status

Qom remains the major center of academic Shiʿa research, where, in addition to Islamic studies, both male and female students study the works of philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Martin Heidegger, and where mastery of computer technology applications to the humanities is expected of students.

See also Islamic Philosophy.


Dabashi, Hamid. Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

Khomeini, Rohollah. Islam and Revolution. Translated by Hamid Algar. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1981.

Misbah Yazdi, Muhammad Taqi. Philosophical Instructions: An Inquiry to Contemporary Islamic Philosophy. Translated by M. Legenhausen and A. Sarvdalir. Binghamton, NY: Binghamton University, 1999.

Mutaharri, Mortiza. Fundamentals of Islamic Thought: God, Man, and Universe. Translated by R. Campbell. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1985.

Tabataba'i, ʿAllameh Sayyed Mohamad Hosayn. Islamic Teachings: An Overview. Translated by R. Campbell. New York: Moustazafan Foundation, 2000.

Parviz Morewedge (2005)

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