Shrine of Sayyida Zaynab bint 'Ali, daughter of the first Shi'i Imam, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, and sister of the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn bin 'Ali, who was martyred in 680 C.E. at the Battle of Karbala in a failed revolt against the Sufyanid Umayyad caliph [ruler] Yazid bin Mu'awiya (Yazid I). The honorific title "sayyida" (masculine: "sayyid") is used by Shi'is for descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah and her husband, Imam 'Ali and more specifically through their youngest son, Imam Husayn.
The institution of Hawza 'Ilmiyya [seminary] has and continues to play an integral role in Twelver Shi'i Islam. Although the institutionalization of the seminary education system as it exists now occurred in the modern period, the style of religious education and instruction is based on classical and medieval models in Shi'ism's formative period. Discussed with the flare of a skilled scholar and engaging novelist, perhaps the most accessible book set, partly, within a Hawza in Iran is Prof. Roy Mottahedeh's classic The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran.
Syria, although it is not commonly associated with Shi'ism in popular thought, has a long and illustrious history of Shi'i communities. In the medieval period, the Nizari Isma'ili Shi'is had many strongholds in Syria (historical Syria, Bilad al-Sham, which included modern Lebanon and chunks of modern Palestine/Israel and Jordan), and their fortresses dot the Syrian landscape. The Fatimids, who founded a caliphate [state, empire] in North Africa and Egypt which grew to include Syria, Palestine, Sicily, and western Arabia, originally resided in Syria (for a brief history of the Fatimids, see HERE).
Following the martyrdom of Husayn and all but one of his male friends and supporters on the barren field of Karbala, Iraq following a failed rebellion against the Umayyad dynasty, his surviving son, 'Ali (better known as Zayn al-'Abideen) and the families of his companions were brought as prisoners to Damascus, the Umayyad capital. Shi'i shrines associated with some of these individuals, as well as the martyrs of Karbala (whose bodies were according to some reports were also brought to Damascus) including several major ones in the capital city of Damascus, chief among them that of Sayyida Zaynab, sister of the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn bin 'Ali, and one of his daughters, Ruqayah.
The article embedded below fills in a gap in the existing scholarship about the modern Shi'i Hawza system, which has largely ignored the main Twelver Shi'i seminary in Syria, the Zaynabiyya Hawza in Damascus. Although it is overshadowed historically by the larger, more prestigious seminaries in Iraq and Iran, the Zaynabiyya has played an important role in Twelver Shi'i religious scholarship in the Levant. Many of the grand ayatullahs, particularly those with large followings in the Arab world, have offices in Damascus near the Shrine of Sayyida Zaynab and the Zaynabiyya Hawza.
Zaynabiyya Hawza in Damascus
Zaynabiyya Hawza in Damascus & its Role in Shi'i Religious Instruction