Study Experience 2: Abu Nour (The Dawraat)

pt 1. About Abu Nour

Abu Nour is a center for religious learning for Syrians and for foreigners. The entire neighborhood surrounding it, called Rukn ad-Deen, is filled with students from every part of the world. Abu Nour is a masjid at heart, but it is also a highschool and a Shari’ah college, and it offers a number of prepatory programs for foreigners who wish to master Arabic and study the Islamic sciences. They also run an orphanage and programs for the poor, widows, etc. and they have over a thousand workers in their various programs and branches.

Abu Nour is the product of the late grand mufti of Syria named Shaykh Ahmad Kuftaro, who was himself the son of a shaykh. The fact that he was able to establish Abu Nour at a time when the Syrian government was so suppressive of religious expression (under the regime of Hafez al-Asad) is a feat in itself; and there are people who take issue with the fact that Sh. Kuftaro chose to work *with* the government, instead of using his non-involvement as a statement of disapproval, which most of the ulema in Syria did during that same era. Even until today, the administration of Abu Nour is always trying to balance between good relations with the government and its goals as a religious institution.

This and the fact that the late shaykh met with the Pope (John Paul II) in 2001 are the two most controversial things about the shaykh’s life. (Why meeting the pope and taking him around Damascus would be a big deal I still don’t quite understand… in light of the present pope’s stance towards Muslims I think it was a positive thing… but perhaps it was considered a compromising stance by those in the Mid-east.)

Abu Nour is actually very big on inter-faith and dialogue, both religiously and politically, and this was one of the foundational teachings of the shaykh’s life. You’ll often find Abu Nour hosting guests, representatives of different countries or from different religious institutions, Christian, Jewish, Shia, etc. and giving them a platform to speak to the people. The Jum’uah khutbahs are often focused on the idea that as Muslims “all of us are in the same trench” and that we need to move beyond labels and work together, and that we need to develop relationships with others to become strong. The message is good, but it can actually get a bit repetitive and frustrating if you are looking for something more substantial or scholarly.

Sh. Kuftaro was and is loved by the Syrians. His janaza was prayed over by hundreds of thousands of people (he passed away just a few years ago) and he is presently buried on the ground floor of Abu Nour. His photo is everywhere, in every classroom of the institute, and sold on the steps out front. The teachers are all his former students or people who were greatly inspired by him and his message. He definitely accomplished something great in building Abu Nour. In these days, when the avenues to learning Islam are increasingly being blocked, Syria is one of the few places left for people to study in the Muslim world and this is due in large part to Sh. Kuftaro’s efforts. May Allah accept his life’s work, and that of all the ulema, and forgive them for any mistakes or missteps they may have made, ameen.

pt 2: the Dawraat

After studying at the U. of Damascus I did about four levels in the Dawraat of Abu Nour. The Dawraat are a series of two month courses on the Arabic language; three hours a day, with an hour and a half or grammar and an hour and a half of reading. I think each course is around 7000SP ($140) and the program goes from Level 1 to Level 6 or sometimes 7 or 8, if enough students are interested.

The strength of the Dawraat program is in their excellent grammar (nahu and sarf). Strong grammar is important for someone who wants to understand the Quran or classical texts. They use a series of booklets made by an amazing teacher at Abu Nour, Aanisa Huda, that go from very basic ideas to quite complex (ending with some of the material found at the end of Qatr an-Nada, like tanaazu’ and ishtighaal). The ideas are summarized and presented with simple explanation, examples, and exercises. The grammar teachers in the Dawraat are all very good, but Aanisa Huda is just awesome, and probably the best teacher I’ve had in my time here in Syria. For the reading classes they use al-Kitab al-Asaasiy for the first two levels and then switch to a series from Saudi. The reading classes are good, but not at the same level as the grammar.

They teach in a traditional way with a lot of lecture from the teacher and a lot of emphasis on memorization. When I started in the program I happened to be in a class with a big group of Turkish sisters and it was just crazy how quickly they memorized everything… they could read the assigned story twice and then be able to recite it like it was al-fatiha! You’ll start to see that there’s a big difference in the learning style we grew up with in the West and the rest of the world. This is where your self-initiative has to kick in and you need to use your creativity to make the material more digestible for yourself, by making study guides, charts, etc. Also there is really no emphasis on conversation, so that’s something that you have to get from outside the program, like with a private tutor.

The students are from a range of countries and backgrounds, including large numbers from Turkey, Daghistan, Malaysia, and Somalia along with a handful of Westerners. The vast majority are Muslim, though you may find one or two non-Muslims in the program wanting to get a feel for learning in an Islamic institute. I remember on my first day in the Dawraat an Italian girl in the class decided to take the shahada. The whole class was in an uproar. The teacher and a lot of the girls in the class were crying when they witnessed it… for many of them, who grew up in Muslim countries, it was their first time seeing someone embrace Islam. The teacher sent everyone out to buy some sweets or a small gift for her, and we had an on-the-spot party, which was really nice.

I also remember that I was fasting that day, and when someone offered me some cake, I couldn’t figure out how to say ‘I’m fasting’ in Arabic! Man, I thought to myself, I know how to say parliament in Arabic, but not how to say I’m fasting! I must have been studying in the wrong place…😛

Another thing about the Dawraat program is that it’s extremely laid back (you can start in the middle of the term, be absent for days, etc), the classes are huge (especially in the beginning levels) and they are slow. It definitely has its imperfections, but like everything else, the best thing to do is just focus on the positives and make the most out of your experience there.

All the teachers and the administrators in the program are really nice, and they’re young, in their 20s and early 30s, so in a lot of ways they were like older sisters to me. They would organize trips for the students to different places, have ‘daff parties’, and other things that helped make it fun and I really felt a sense of sisterhood there. Looking back I can say that I enjoyed my time studying in the program, and I benefited a lot, alhamdulillah.

btw I’m speaking solely from my experience on the sisters side of the program, so I can’t really say much about the teachers or quality of classes on the brother’s side since they are pretty independent of each other. (but they do use the same books and materials).

w’Allahu a’lam.

Published in: on May 22, 2007 at 1:42 pm  Comments (29)  

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29 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting to read about your study and experiences in this programe. This is such an important thing when we need to cross culture more while, there are so many pressures to reduce, not increase these opportunities.

  2. Masya Allah, your experiences are priceless. I went to Syria twice and it is impossible to forget about the cities, especially Damascus.People who studied there benefitted from numerous scholars, awliya and the ‘barakah’ of Sham itself.Keep posting about Damascus and life therein. May Allah reward you.

  3. SubhaanAllaah… female teachers. That is exciting in and of itself🙂

    Jazaks for the post, of course🙂

  4. jazakallahu khair for these posts, they bring back memories of my own short spell abroad. You should really cherish & value this time abroad because once you return home, only Allah knows if you’ll ever go back.

    Since i returned – even up till 2 days ago – it has been a frequent experience for me to be busy at some task perhaps sitting at my desk in the office when i’ll have a flashback of my time in Egypt. Perhaps sitting with a teacher. Perhaps the dusty road outside our flat.

    But sometimes there is also regret in my heart that while i was there, i was so focussed on religious education and wanting to achieve so much, yet five years later i’ve got stuck in the rat race and become a family man😦

    Hope all is well with you and your husband!

  5. as salaamu alaykum,

    Max: That is def. true, we really need to bridge the gaps of misunderstanding between us… It’s ironic really that we’re living in the ‘communication age’ but these basic ideas of understanding one another are not being exchanged…

    Dr. Shafiq: Jazak Allahu khayran, may Allah bless your efforts and give you the opportunity to return to Shaam soon!

    EE: That’s one of my favorite things about Shaam, that there are so many knowledgeable women here.

    Br. Kashif: Jazak Allahu khayran for dropping by! That’s def. very good advice… I haven’t been back home yet since we’ve come abroad to study, but I’m sure I will have similar feelings and memories when I go back..

    wasalaam

  6. Asalaamu alaykum!

    Jazaku Allah khayran for this wonderful blog – I will iA be studying Arabic at Abu Nour this fall (I’m currently filling out the application) and am glad to have some idea of the experience beforehand. I wanted to learn Arabic in the Middle East but not among European tourists who learn Arabic because it’s the “hot” language of the era.

    Wasalaam.

    • Assalaam ‘Alaikum

      1) Where exactly is the application?
      2) One of the sisters suggested living with sisters in a nearby apartment. Does anyone know how to find out if people are looking for roommates?
      3) Does anyone know if they accept U.S financial aid?
      4) Did anyone take Islamic law there?

      I’d really appreciate if anyone can get back to me. My email is shahzeenk at gmail.com

      JazakAllah khair.

  7. wa alaykum as salaam wa rahmatullah Maya,

    that’s great, I hope that you have a really beneficial experience there… just keep in mind that you should focus on the positives… there are always negatives and frustrations to be found but if you dwell on them you’ll really miss out on the beauty of the experience…

    salaam🙂

  8. Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah,

    Jazak’Allahu Khair for the informative post, masha’Allah. I just heard about the institute from a friend who had studied in Sudan.

    I had a few questions, which insha’Allah, you won’t mind answering.

    Are the classes mixed? Is there an hostel for female students to stay at? Is there a website for the institute?

  9. Also what is the duration of the program and what’s the tuition like? Sorry if these are too many questions.

    Jazak’Allahu Khair!

  10. As-Salaam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaathu,
    I am very interested in attending the I.T.A.L.I.S Program that they have at Abu Nour. However I will not be able to attend without obtaining employment in Syria first. If you or anyone who reads this can help me I would really appreciate it.
    Salaam alykum

  11. im maybe the biggest lover of damascus and my school abu nour i love them very much the poeple there is amazing i love them much i was 2 years ago in damascus i will go back inshallah in januari this year make dua for me plz its amazing study in damascus in abu nour

    massallamaa

  12. as salaamu alaykum,

    you can check out more information about the programs on the Abu Nour website: http://abunour.net/english

    All the classes are separate, and there is a hostel for sisters but the living quality there is not s good so I wouldn’t generally recommend it. An apartment in the nearby area with a group of other sisters may be more suitable.

    take care,

    wasalaamu alaykum.

  13. I attended arabic summer courses there in Damscus university on July 08′. Like you, I decided to share my experience. So I created a website: http://etudier.a.damas.free.fr/en/index.html

    Visit it, you will find photos that will remind you your trip in Syria!

  14. Does anyone know if abu nour is accredited by the US and do they teach islam traditionally or are they specific on things. For example do they teach like salafi, sufi, etc or do they just teach right out of the book with hadith and quran.

  15. Assalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh. Thank you for your account of your studies at Abu Nour in Damascus. I would like to seek the path of true knowledge and to be amongst an ummah and community of scholars. I would like to ask you some further questions, if that’s okay. My email address is desertflowereditorial (at) gmail (dot) com. It would be very helpful to ask you a few questions if you have the time. Thank you sister.

  16. I’m from malaysia and I was graduate Kuliah Dakwah Mujamma’ Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro in 2007… Welcome to my blog… Thank You

  17. Does anyone here know about the ITALIS program at Abu Nour? How different is it from the Dawrat program? Thanks for the post and responses.

  18. Assalaam ‘Alaikum.
    I’m interested in applying but I can’t find the application anywhere. I also can’t find how much the tuition is per year and how much it is to stay in the dorms/halls.
    I’d also like to know if Abu Nour accepts U.S financial aid.

    JazakAllah khair.

  19. […] kata hati sendiri. Semalam, saya bersantai agak lama dalam sebuah Cyber Cafe berdepan dengan Jameah Abu Nour, Ruknuddin, Damsyik. Di situ, saya melepaskan walah pada satu musibah permusafiran. Saya menulis di blog dan […]

  20. Salaam Sister,

    I’ve been looking everywhere to try to find some info about enrolling in Abu Nour Islamic Institute. So far I haven’t had much luck. And their website is down, so I couldn’t see any info there.

    Would you please advise?

    Thanks

    Parama

  21. slam,
    dear sir plz inform me about free courses

  22. in mujamma abu noor 2010

  23. mubarak..
    i would like to knw the fee for this course coz im sooo interested to continue my study in arabic language and of coz in arab country.. futhermore syria nowadays become more popular among singapore student.

  24. Assalaam alaykum,
    i have heard from a friend that abu noor is good for arabic but that it is not good for islamic studies as it is a sufi school.is this true?

  25. Assalamu aleykom, this report about Abu Nour is accurate…I’m still studying there, now in kulliah…Good luck to all to going to go there!

  26. assalam alaykum.i’m very interested with islamic studies in Qur-an,hadeeth,shariah,tareekh.can i get free scholarships from.and when do application for the studies of 2012?

  27. Salaam alaykum,

    Im wondering if someone can help me. I want to continue my studies at Abu Noor (when the political situation in Syria settles down inshAllah), but I can’t find their website or contact info. Does anyone know where I can find this? And if you studied there and would kindly be able to answer some of my questions please let me know. My email is rfslenes@gmail.com. Thank you.
    Salaams, Rebecca

    • I am very interested in doing a summer course there to start and possibly a whole year if i like it. That being said, is it safe to go to syria right now???!


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