Damascus University, Department of Sharia
20-sep-03, early afternoon
We visit the University of Damascus, which looks much like any
We go to an older building and enter a meeting room in the
Department of Sharia. The weather is hot, we are in
suits and ties, and there is no air-conditioning.
We are scheduled to meet with the Dean, but he is detained elsewhere.
We instead talk, over tea, with his assistant.
Bashar is not with us, so Aziz translates.
The department offers a 4 year program covering 54 topics including
History and Civilizations.
There is a 2-year series on Hadith.
(The Koran is the primary authority for Muslims, but on the many issues
not covered, the faithful look to Hadith. This is the collection of
the Prophet's sayings that are not in the Koran -- that is, not dictated
They also study Christianity and Judaism, which are
Islam decrees different courts for Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
(Upstairs from us, Jewish and Christian Law are taught.)
There is a separate discipline for "personal Islamic law", covering
subjects like birth, death, and marriages.
The role of the Imam is narrow; the government "handles everything".
We ask about pastoral counseling and mental illness.
These are unfamiliar topics here; there is not much understanding even of
disorders like schizophrenia.
We also ask about the role of doubt.
The school does have a special course on "suspicions", where certain
dangerous questions are entertained. For example, what if Mohammed, rather
than God, wrote the Koran?
However, the goal of the course is to allay all doubts; an Imam
cannot have suspicions.
Philosophy and Theology are taught only after the 4-year undergraduate
The School of Sharia has more women students than men, and there are
women on the faculty. There is no movement to allow women to be Imams.
We are told that women can't pray or fast during menstruation, which
would make them inappropriate Imams.