بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Meciful
All praises be to Allah, Lord of Creation, and peace and blessings be upon our liegelord Muhammad, his companions and folk, one and all.
As-Salaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah
You asked about the different universities, colleges, and institutions in Damascus for learning Arabic and Islam. As for Arabic, the three most common places would be the Universtiy of Damascus which has a center for teaching Arabic to foreigners, the Mezzeh Institute, and Abu Noor College. The first two cost roughly $120 per term, and are secular in nature. The third is free and is an Islamic institution, but one can only register at the beginning of the year. With regards to learning Islam, the sharia, and all the other Islamic sciences, there are many institutes in Damascus that offer programs in these fields. Theres the Universtiy of Damascus Faculty of Sharia, theres the al-Fath al-Islamy which has both a sharia highschool \ college, and a university that is a branch of the University of Azhar in Cairo Egypt. There is also the Furqan College, the Ameeniyah College, the Tahtheeb College, and the Abu Noor College.
– type of institute
Broadly speaking, there two types of institutes in Damascus concerning Islam and Arabic, secular and religious. The University of Damascus, Mezzeh Institute, are secular institutes, whereas all the other schools I mentioned are religous. From another standpoint, all institutes in Damascus can also be divided into two other types, either a high school \ college, or a university. Only the evening program at Al-Fath and the Faculty of Sharia at the University of Damascus, aswell as some of the programs at Abu Noor, are considered university level. All other programs are considered high school., like the Tahtheeb, Amaneeyah, Al-Fath morning program, Furqan, and some of the Abu Noor programs, or college like the Arabic program for foreigners at the University of Damascus.
– what kind of subjects / programs are taught?
At the Al-Fath evening program, which is a branch of Al-Azhar in Cairo, there are three faculties, Sharia, Usool ad-Deen, and Arabic. The first, Sharia, concentrates on fiqh, usool al-fiqh, comparitve fiqh, etc. The second, Usool ad-Deen, is broader and concentrates on a much wider ranger of subjects like Tafseer, Aqeedah, hadith, aswell as fiqh, etc. The Faculty of Arabic concentrates on Arabic grammar, literature, poetry, etc. All the programs are four year long, three years in Damascus, and the final year in Azhar at Cairo. The morning program is six years long and is equivalent to a high school. Many subjects are taught like fiqh, tafseer, seera, Islamic history, hadeeth, Aqeedah, usool, arabic grammar, etc. If one has time and patience, this program is very beneficial. The Tahtheeb, Ameeneyah, and Furqan are the same, six years long and quite beneficial. They are all quite similar in their curriculums as well.
– required language skills?
To attend any of these programs of the Islamic sciences, a strong basis in Arabic is a definite pre-requisite. Therefore, one should spend a solid two years in Damascus learning the Arabic language, before registering at any of the above-mentioned institutes. In this manner, maximum benefit is ensured. However, to begin learning Arabic at the Arabic Center at the University of Damascus, or the Mezzeh Institute, no prior knowledge of Arabic is required technically speaking. But from personal experience, I would recommend that even then, one should have some background before coming since Ive noticed that those with absolutely no background have great difficulty learning at the Arabic Center. In my opinion, one should read at least one book of Arabic Grammar before coming. I highly recommend the textbook Ã Modern Standard Arabic Ã by Peter Aboud, which I found of inestimable value during my beginning months in Syria.
– can women attend?
At the University of Damasus Arabic Center, at the Faculty of Sharia aswell, and at the Al-Fath evening program (Azhar), and at Furqan, aswell as at Abu Noor, there are programs for women too, which are identical to the male programs. Some of the smaller colleges like the Tahtheeb, or Amaneeyah, do not provide services for women unfortunately.
– if so, how is there security provided for?
There are no special security measures taken for the female sections of these schools, since Damascus is commonly acknowledged by the local and foreign inhabitants as a very safe place to live. Crime is minimal, and rarely exceeds petty theft. Rape, murder, grand theft, are all virtually unheard of. It might be difficult to believe, and it was for me too when I first arrived, but after nearly five years of living there, I have to admit that Damascus is one of the safest places Ive even been to.
– is there any age limit?
The only age limits are if one is too young. Each institute has its own age limit which I cant recall at the moment. As for older people, there is no age limit. One is never too old to learn.
The University of Damascus Arabic Center aswell as the Mezzeh Institute charge about $120 US for each term (there are five terms a year). The Al-Fath evening program charges about $120 US for the first year, and then about $70 for each subsequent year. All other prgrams dont charge anything to my knowledge, however, Abu Noor does require a $200 deposit at the beginning of the year which the student gets back after successfully completing his studies. Aside from tuitions, there are other fees though. If studying at the University of Damascus, one is required to get a letter from onee embassy which can cost from between $10 to $80 depending on the embassy.
– how and when can one register?
At the Arabic Center (University of Damascus) one can regeister every term, however Im not sure about the Mezzeh institute. At all other institutes, one must register well before the beginning of the academic year. This is done most easily by going to Syria a month early ( in August instance) and going to the institute and applying directly. All other methods, like applying from Sweden through mail or e-mail, are much more time consuming and difficult.
– how can one get more information?
The best way is to contact people who have studied there, or who are currently studying there. The persons who I mentioned in the previous e-mail are all very helpful and wouldnt mind answering questions from interested brothers and sisters. Similaryly, I myself am always willing to help new students in this regarad aswell.
I pray that Allah continues to guide us to Him, Ameen.