Zawiyas were formed around the world because Islamic tradition takes education very seriously. Part places of worship, part Islamic educational institutes, ensure their students memorize the Quran and become better citizens.

Read on to learn more about this Islamic religious school and how it has improved many lives.

What is a Zawiya?

Zawiya is a Maghrebi and West African term for an Islamic religious school or monastery. They are often founded and overseen by sacred Islamic scholars.

In pre-colonial times, Zawiya was the primary source of education. They taught basic literature to children, especially for those brought up in remote mountainous areas. Zawiyas helped improve the literacy rate in Algeria during the time of the French conquest in the 1830s.

The curriculum began with the memorization of the Arabic alphabet before learning the Quran. If a student showed interest and aptitude, they could teach law, theology, grammar, mathematics, and astronomy. Zawiyas are still operational through the Maghreb and continue to be a significant educational resource in the Sahel of West Africa.

In some Arabic countries, the Arabic term zāwiyah is also used for small private oratory not paid for by community funds. A zawiya can serve as a residence or as an area where ceremonies and rituals are performed. Although different from the traditional Christian monasteries, space is still used for daily prayers and supplication.

A zawiya is considered a space that can be used as a physical space of retreat. The disciples perform dhikr (invocation, remembrance) or sama’ (a spiritual concert, songs, poetry, and dancing). There are often pools and sometimes a fountain, giving a peaceful atmosphere.

Islamic Religious School: What They Teach

Islamic religious schools generally offer a religious-based curriculum, focusing on the Quran and Islamic texts. Some do also offer secular subjects. Studies have shown that Muslims in North America and Europe have more formal years of education than Christians.

Islamic Religious Schools build their programs of study around providing students with relevant knowledge of Islam’s basics. They aim not just to educate their students but to develop and nurture the students, encouraging them to become ambassadors of their communities.

A typical Islamic school usually offers two courses of study. The Hifz is the memorization of the Quran, and the ʻālim helps students become accepted scholars in the community. These courses are in Arabic, although some institutes offer classes in English and other foreign languages.

A regular curriculum includes tafsir (Quranic interpretation), sharīʻah (Islamic law), hadiths (recorded sayings and deeds of Muhammad), mantiq (logic), and Muslim history.

Some Islamic Religious Schools also teach world history and science. Islamic Religious Schools can even resemble Western colleges, where students take evening classes and live-in dorms. They also provide education and a place to stay for orphans or children from impoverished backgrounds.

Islamic Monastery: What The Are, What They Do

Islam discourages the term monastery and monasticism. Instead, the term Sufi is applied to Muslim mystics who achieve union with Allah. They adopt self-discipline that includes only wearing garments made from coarse wool (called a sf). Sufism comes from the word sf, but over time Sufi has come to mean all Muslim believers in mystic union.

Practitioners of Sufism often belong to different orders formed around a grandmaster, known as a Mawla, who maintains a direct chain of teachers back to the Prophet Muhammad. The order meets for spiritual sessions (called majalis) in meeting places known as Tekke.

Every order has different priorities. The Hamadcha, Aïssawa, and Gnawa Sufi orders are very active in civic life. Other orders are linked to specific crafts and trade include the Tijâniyya, the Darqawiyya, and the Qâdiriyya orders.

Zaouia: What It Means

A Zaouia is another term of a Zawiya, which is an Islamic religious school or monastery. Zawiya can also be spelled as zawouia, zawiyah, zaouiya, zaouïa, or zwaya.

In Arabic, Zawiya means ‘corner.’ Both, like in the corner of a building, and figuratively, such as a unique corner of the world.

There is a traditional saying in Morocco that someone may say to a friend who is experiencing personal challenges, “Take the corner.” It means to go to a quiet place and reflect on the world. It’s a location where someone can contemplate and find solace.

The History of the Zawiya

The zawiya’s origin is widely credited to Nizam al-Mulk, a vizier under the Seljuks in the 11th century. He was responsible for building the first network of official Islamic educational institutes in Iran, Mesopotamia, and Khorasan. Madrasas were constructed across much of the Muslim world over the next few centuries, often sharing architectural designs.

The first North African zawiya dates back to around the 13h century. It was akin to a hermitage, housing an ascetic holy man and his disciples. Today, this structure is still used, including the areas reserved for prayer, a shrine, a religious school, and residential quarters for guests, students, and travelers.

In the mid-19th century, the Sānusiyyah brotherhood established a network of zawiyas in remote areas. Because they were removed from central authority, they managed to attain the province’s religious and political control.

During World War I, the Sānusiyyah managed to marshal members of their zawiya into war against the Italians. During their occupation of Libya, the Italians eliminated most of the zawiya in that country.

Islamic education: Its Importance To Social Order

Islam places a high value on education. They believe that education is a channel in which to create a universal and cohesive social order. Early Muslim education emphasized practical studies, but after the 11th century, denominational interests dominated the curriculum, with Islamic sciences being a priority in their education.

Sufi Islam: Is It Mysticism?

Sufi Islam is a form of Islamic mysticism. Known in the Arabic-speaking world as tasawwuf, it emphasizes introspection and spiritual closeness with God. Followers of Sufi Islam pray five times a day, giving to charity and fasting. They are distinctive in nurturing their and others’ spiritual dimensions.

In pursuit of this goal of worshiping Allah, Sufis belong to Tariqas’ orders, created in the first few centuries after the Prophet’s death. These orders have a master who will teach sacred knowledge to others in the group.

Sufis believe that Islamic knowledge should be learned from teachers instead of books. These teachers can be traced back throughout generations to the Prophet Mohammed. Although Sufis are a smaller group of Islam, they have been highly influential through the years and helped spread Islam to the Muslim world’s furthest outposts.


Zawiya is an Islamic school that helps turn students into the best citizens possible, giving them a place to pray and reside.

Here are some of the areas covered in the article:

  • Zawiya is a Maghrebi and West African term for an Islamic religious school or monastery.
  • It is believed Zaiwiyas helped improve the literacy rate in Algeria during the French colonization.
  • The curriculum is religious-based and involves memorizing the Quran.
  • Origins of Zawiyas date back as far as the 11th century.
  • A zawiya combines religion, education, and residencies.
  • Islamic discourages the term monastery and monasticism.
  • The term Sufi is applied to Muslim mystics who achieve union with Allah and reside in zawiya.
  • Sufis belong to orders called Tariqas.
  • Sufis believe Islamic knowledge is better learned from teachers than books.

Zawiyas are Islamic Religious Schools and monasteries that helped the literacy rate of the followers of Islam worldwide. They focus on teaching the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad’s recorded sayings, sacred law, and other Islamic subjects.

5/5 - (19 votes)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here