Study Experience 3: Mahad at-Ta’heeli (at Abu Nour)

Abu Nour has two programs for foreigners: the Dawraat classes, which focus on the Arabic language (see my previous post); and Mahad at-Ta’heeli, a three year program that’s a combination of Arabic and Islamic studies, and that takes a person from the “alif ba taa’s” of Arabic to being fully prepared to enter an Arabic college of Shari’ah.

After I finished the Dawraat I took a placement test for Ta’heeli and was placed in their third year, which was what I was hoping. I knew a little bit about the program and had heard that the third year was excellent, and that the books they covered were really beneficial.

Mahad at-Ta’heeli is a whole other world compared to the Dawraat. First of all, it starts at 7:30am. SEVEN THIRTY AM! If you, like me, are someone who loved registering for afternoon and evening classes in college, and kept up a regular stay-up-til-fajr-crash-til-noon regiment through out your student days, you would not be happy about having to wake up at 7:30 in the morning every day. But, I thought to myself, this is a new phase in my life, in which I would be a “student of deen”, and I was really committed to taking my studies seriously, so I was sure that I would never be late.

Of course, I was always late. Alhamdulillah I lived about two blocks from Abu Nour, which helped me so much on those days when I would wake up and gawk at the clock for a few minutes, trying to figure out if it really was 7:15am like it said, and not 6:15am like I was hoping it said. The problem was, one, Mahad at-Ta’heeli is on the fourth floor of the building, so I think I lost a lot of calories climbing stairs two at once to make it to the top on time. Problem number two with Ta’heeli: they lock the doors once class begins. So, if you were late, you ended up having to knock on the doors and hope someone from the idara (principal’s office) would have mercy on you, and try your best ‘puppy locked out in the rain’ face to get in without getting yelled at.

And man, did we get yelled at. Somehow the mudeera (principal) of the program made all of us, most of us in our 20s, married, and some with a number of children, feel like we were school kids again, and about to get detention if we didn’t get our acts together. With time I got to see that the mudeera was actually pretty nice, but she liked to come across as tough, probably because of all the excuses she had to hear from students who were not serious about their studies.

One day in the beginning of the year I was really tired, and during our break time I wanted to get a soda from one of the small shops next to the masjid. I went to the exit door and saw that it was locked. Not thinking twice about it, I went to the mudeera’s office and asked her to open the door. “Open the door?” she said. “For what?”

I was really confused at this point. Wasn’t it our break time? It began to dawn on me that the door wasn’t locked by accident… I explained to her I wanted to get a pepsi, which she found pretty amusing. She poured me a cup of tea from the kettle on the table next to her desk, and sent me back to class. Translation: Being locked out in the mornings also means that you’re locked in during the day. For six hours.

Did I mention that the school day was about six hours long? From 7:30am until 1:15pm. There were times, especially in the beginning, when I would stare longingly out the windows at the sidewalk below, the busy street, and try to feel the sun and the breeze and think occasionally of jumping and making a break for it : ) I don’t think it would have been so bad if it weren’t for our desks. I don’t know where Abu Nour got these stiff wooden benches from, which would have been perfect for a class full of stick people. But for human beings, and for sitting for about five and a half hours a day, they are a bit tough on the back and other body parts, and some sisters would actually bring in sofa cushions to sit on.

Seriously though, you get used to a lot of these things, and they really are minor compared to the benefit that you can attain if you just embrace them. And compared to what the ulema of our past went through to gain just a small amount of knowledge, they are nothing.

The diversity of the students was one of the coolest things about the program. In my class there were students from Malaysia, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, Daghistan, Indonesia, Norway, the U.S. (just me), the Philippines, China, and there were other girls in the program from Mauritius, Italy, South Africa, Canada and other places that I never even heard of before! The sisters from Singapore and Malaysia blew me away with their incredible recitation of Quran and their tajweed, the Turkish sisters with their amazing memories, and the Somali sisters with their sharp-wittedness. I met many sisters who really inspired and humbled me. There was one sister who was expecting, but she still came to class consistently up until and even during the week of her due-date, and she sat on those same uncomfortable benches I’ve been talking about without any complaint… and just a few weeks after her delivery she was back, carrying her baby in a little bassinet, and would sit in the back of the class, sometimes nursing her baby on one arm and following along in the book with the other. These are the kind of *strong* women that remind me of my mother’s generation, women of fortitude, resolve, and passion. I want to be like them when I grow up 🙂

Seeing as I didn’t have an ethnic group of my own, I tended to chill with the Somali sisters. I don’t know why, maybe because I could blend in with them a little : ) Through them I came to know that there’s a huge minority population of Somalis living in Damascus, and most of them live in Masakin Barzeh which is like a “little Mogadishu” as one sister put it.

Occasionally Sh. Salah (the general director of Abu Nour) would come in with some diplomatic guests, and show them around the institute, and they would like to show the diversity of the student body so I would frequently be pointed out as the ‘American’. I never felt any hostility from students or teachers for being from the U.S., but everyone pretty much shared the same feelings which one sister expressed to me quite frankly: “America must be a beautiful country, but we don’t like what it’s doing to the rest of the world.”

There were times in class when I felt that a teacher’s statements were too broad, stereotyping all Westerners or Western culture in a certain light, but I felt that in some way it was understandable. Most of the images the Western media pumps out show a culture in which sexuality and violence are glorified, and so people assume that that is our culture. If we want to change our image in the eyes of the world, to be considered a moral people who value and respect others, then our media and our foreign policy have to change drastically.

The vast majority of the students in the program are from poorer countries and are really living the simple student life while they’re here. I remember once casually mentioning to some girls how much we paid for rent for our apt. and saw some jaws drop. When asked where they live a lot of the girls simply say ‘fawq’ (literally, ‘up’ or ‘above’) meaning on the mountain, where the houses are the cheapest and are the most difficult to get to, with no real roads and with tons of stairs. Visiting some of their homes made me feel ashamed for thinking that I was ‘roughing it’. In a lot of these houses the most expensive thing in the place is their collection of books on the deen.

An entire year of studies in the Ta’heeli program costs $250, and in the past it was free. I remember one day the mudeera requested that all of the married students come into her office. When we came in she gave each of us a bag of rice. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t need it and that she should give it to someone more deserving, but at the same time I didn’t want to make anyone who may have really needed it feel embarrassed. Another time she gave everyone a small cash gift, twenty dollars or so, as a type of assistance. I feel that this is one of the best things about Abu Nour… that they seek to make a good quality Islamic education accessible for people who don’t have a lot of money. If anyone out there is looking for a good cause for sadaqa (charity), helping to support these kinds of students of knowledge is definitely one of them.

The Ta’heeli program itself is excellent, as are the majority of the teachers. They come regularly, speak excellent fusha and rarely slip into ‘amiya, and they know the material and how to teach it well. Some of the books that we covered in the program are the following:

Qatr an-Nada (in Grammar)

at-Tahleel as-Sarfi (in Morphology)

al-Balagha al-Waadiha (Rhetoric)

Al-Arba’een an-Nawawiyyah (Imam Nawawi’s Book of 40 Hadith) with commentary by Dr. al-Bugha

al-Mandhuma al-Bayquniyyah (in Hadith terminology) with commentary by Sh. Abdullah Sirajudin

— the last two volumes of al-Fiqh al-Manhaji (in Shaf’ii Fiqh)

— An excellent small booklet in Usul al-Fiqh (Principles of Islamic Law), and another in ad-Dirasaat al-Adabiyya (Intro to Arabic Literature).

— We also had classes in Seerah (History of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him), Tazkiya (Spirituality), Khitabah (Speech), Fara’idh (Inheritence), Aqeedah (Theology), Quran (memorization and recitation), ‘Urudh (Poetry), Tafseer of Juz’ Tabarak (Exegesis), and Ulum al-Quran (Sciences of the Quran).

The best teachers in my opinion were: Aanisa Huda (the same teacher who made the grammar booklets for the Dawraat) who teaches Nahu, Sarf, and Dirasaat; Aanisa Muna who makes Balagha seem easy!; Aanisa Rufaydha who teaches Seerah from the heart; and Aanisa Zaynab for Fiqh and Usul al-Fiqh.

May Allah increase us in devotion and make us true students and seekers of sacred knowledge,

wasalaamu alaykum.

Published in: on May 26, 2007 at 1:43 pm  Comments (30)  

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30 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Shaz if you really want to learn the deen… you may as well stop taking your pepsi breaks every now and then lol

  2. SubhaanAllaah… this sounds *so* amazing. Must keep self restrained from jumping on next flight to Syria. 🙂

    Please keep the posts coming… btw… where do you go after you finish this program?

  3. As-salaamu alaikum,

    I am finding this EXTREMELY beneficial. Please keep sharing your experiences and insight with us! Is there a way we can contact you personally?

    Jazaki Allah Khair.

  4. as salaamu alaykum,

    Aya: Hey only people who know me in real life can make fun of my pepsi breaks 🙂

    EE: you’re so funny, but alhamdulillah I don’t feel guilty anymore, after reading your comment… I was thinking that this post might make people think twice about studying in the program, but it seems to have done the opp. with you 🙂 After finishing the program you’re ready to enter the college of Shari’ah!

    Asmaa: Jazaki Allahu khayran, alhamdulillah I’m so happy to hear that the posts are helpful to people. You’re welcome to post up any questions that you have here so that other people can benefit from it as well… 🙂

    wasalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah

  5. Salaams and all best wishes. I hope you can comment: A friend told me he heard on al-Jazeera that within the last week the government had closed down Abu Nour Foundation because of something to do with an American convert and spying (? details were not clear). Please if you can, email me directly. I am a friend of Syrian and lover of its SaaliHiin!

  6. as salaamu alaykum,

    From what I’ve seen it seems like Abu Nour is running normally, alhamdulillah. I haven’t heard anything about what your friend told you, wAllahu a’lam.

    wasalaamu alaykum

  7. As salaamu alaikum,
    thank you so much for your postings. i completed the ta’heeli program at Abu Nour in 2003. I miss studying in Damascus very much, it is such a blessing. The knowledge of the deen is so vast that still I feel I touched on the tip of the iceberg, subhan’Allah. May Allah reward your efforts and bless you with understanding and wisdom. Ameen.

  8. Salaam’alaykum sister..

    It’s such a pleasure to read a very sincere post about seeking ‘ilm in Damascus- for insya Allah I’ll be studying there too very soon[and can’t help worrying :/]
    but I’m feeling very much better now after reading this. Alhamdu lillah. Jazakillahu kheir.

    May Allah bless you, sister. =)

  9. As a prospective student of the deen (insha’llah next year!), this is very inspirational reading – admittedly, I read this about once a week to help me keep my eyes on the prize. Jazakallah khayr!

  10. Hey Shaz, excellent posts mash`Allah!!!

    Jazak`Allah Khayr for sharing dear:)

    Take care,


  11. What about exams? What were the placement exams like? What were the midterm/finals like?

    Thanks for all the info…

  12. as salaamu alaykum spire,

    The placement exam has an oral part and a written part. In the oral part they ask you to read a few sentences from a book (to see if you can read and if you can recognize words), to recite a particular surah from juz ‘amma, and then they ask you a few fiqh related questions, related to fiqh ul ibadaat (which was studied in the 2nd yr, which you should try to study if you can before the placement exam)

    The written exam has a reading comprehension portion, some grammar questions, an ‘imlaa (dictation) question where they will ask you to write out a portion of a surah, and some questions related to fiqh ul-ibadaat.

    For the midterms/finals:
    I honestly can’t remember the exact percentages, but the midterms account for a small portion of the final grade while the finals weigh much more heavily. Some teachers also give periodic quizzes and homework assignments that also factor in to your final grade. Basically if you are consistent with your studies and attendance throughout the year, and you do study for the finals, you should be fine. The biggest challenge is probably in memorizing the adillah, pertinent ayaat and hadeeth for things that they may ask.. but in general I wouldn’t worry too much about the exams 🙂 I found that they’re challenging enough to make you study the material well but not too overwhelming.

    take care,
    wasalaamu alaykum

  13. asalaam alaikum

    i came across ur blog whilst searching for tajweed and arabic courses aboard. every one has recommended abo nour to me. so it was a pleasure to read ur blog. one of my worries is i keep hearing how expensive the housing has become. i will be travelling with 2 children alone and im looking for cheap housing, as well as a cheap arabic course that also does tajweed, as im lookimg to get m,y ijazah. oh also looking for a school for the kids. gosh im not looking for much am i. cud u please tell me a bot more about these or head me in the right dirction. oh is it safe in syria being a non arab and single sister wid kids. i dread running out of money or something happening as i have no contacts there

  14. also im not looking to spend more than a year there, so any courses u reccomend

  15. Salaam
    Cool description of your experineces.
    I’m also looking to go to syria in a couple of months, inshallah. And I can’t figure out if it would be best to study only at abu nour or if I should tke arabic courses at damascus uni while taking deen-classes at abu nour. Any suggestions “damascucdreams”??
    Also can you tell how it is with visa if you are not enrolled at Damascus Uni? I it possible to get a visa for more than 1 month.
    I’m probably going to stay for about 1/2 year.

    and hey ageless maybe we will run into eachother!! who knows?

  16. Asalaamu alikum wa rahamatullah,

    Jazak’allah khair for posting study experiences 1, 2 and 3. I enjoyed reading them- as someone who as quite often considered to study abroad.

    On another note, I’ve been a silent reader for a long time. I can’t remember when I saw (and read) such an e.l.e.g.a.n.t blog.

    I’m new to the blogosphere- just started out at Don’t be sad, you are most welcome and please remember to comment!

    Don’t be sad

  17. as sallamu alaikum

    which book/s are studied in usul fiqh at abu nour

  18. Salaam,
    could someone please give a breakdown of the 3 year course.

    and is year 1 &2 just Arabic and year 3 Fiqh, hadith etc?

  19. As salamu alaikom sister. Do you know it Abu nour is taking foreigner students? I heard that they are no more accepting us, and I wished to go there next year…

  20. Salaam ,
    I’much intrested for Isamic studies in Seria espcially in Abu nour bt i had nomerous complains from some brothers who were student there be4 pertening the “Visa”. Pls could u mind to supply me with the general info for that school as well as the visa saga .

  21. assalamu alaykum,

    I “grew up ” at Abu Nour and now live in the U.S. It is hear-warming to know people from all over the world still find shelter in that warm nest. Your notes are inspiring. You brought the tears to my eyes as I sense the dedication and sincerity in seeking knowledge. May Allah bless you. Keep up the good work.

  22. Assalamu Alaikum,Thank you for posting such important information about Abu Nour, for a long time now I wanted to study there but never quiet find the right time until recently. I’m planning to go this summer inshallah and is waiting for more information from Abu Nour! If anybody up there have last minute advice for a sister in Islam, please contact me.

    Maa Salaamhi

  23. Assalamu Alaykum wr,

    Jzk for the great posts. I am travelling to Syria v soon iA and wanted to know a bit more about Abu Nour. I will be studying at another institute in Damascus (UK uni requirements) but am keen to take some courses there if poss.

    I have a couple of questions which I’d be really grateful if you (or anyone else with some experience) could answer:

    1) Where abouts in Damascus is Abu Nour situated, I know its in the Rukn al-Din area but is this north, south, near any important land marks? I cant find it on my map!

    2) Is accomodation available to part-time students, or students just doing courses a couple of days a week?

    Huge jazakullahu khair for your help, hope to hear from you soon insha Allah.


  24. Salaam,

    I really need someone’s help (preferably someone who has been to Abu Nour/Kuftaro Foundation). I wanted to learn Arabic in Syria and was told that Abu Nour was a good place to study the ‘year long’ Arabic course. However, I am confused as to whether Abu Nour and ‘Kuftaro Foundation’ are the same place?

    Secondly, I have done research and found that Ahmed Kuftaro’s beliefs are based around the deviant Naqshabandi’s!! Can anyone elaborate on this. Is it wise to study there? Please help!

    • wa alaykum as salaam wrt,

      Yes, Abu Nour and the Kaftaro Foundation are the same place. I am not sure why they’ve transitioned into calling it a foundation, but it may be because they’ve extended their focus to include things outside of being an educational institution, like doing outreach with the poor, orphan sponsorship etc. Allahu a’lam.

      Brother, if you know anyone who has been to Syria it may be a good idea to talk to them and get to know a little bit about the methodology that most of the scholars and institutions in Syria hold fast to (namely, a focus on following one of the four madhabs, the Ash’ari Aqeeda, etc) and see if you would feel comfortable studying there.

      May Allah guide you to the best decision.


      • Thanks bruv. I’ve done some research (i was a bit naive when i initially wrote my chaotic comment) and feel that Abu Nour is a good place to study the ‘1-3 year ITALIS programme’. does anyone have any idea if they’re doing this? Is Abu Nour running courses. I ask because of word through the grapevine that things have slowed down due to the civil war etc. I’m looking to go Syria in the next 3-6 months.

  25. Masha’Allah, love your blog, sister! Brings back such wonderful memories…I was in Damascus from 1996-2000 and completed the Ta’hili and Tamhidi programs when the latter was still offered with the Syrian and international students together.

  26. Tremendous blog post!

  27. What a really incredible blog!!

  28. Today, I went to the beach front with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter
    and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.

    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I
    had to tell someone!

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