Al Mustafa University, Iran’s global network of Islamic schoolsApr 12th, 2016
By Hassan Dai, editor of Iranian American Forum
In February 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini and a group of clergymen attached to him, seized the power in Iran. From the onset, Khomeini’s regime utilized all the means and tools in its disposal to establish and fortify its brand of fundamentalism in Iran and export it throughout the Islamic world.
For the past 37 years, the Iranian regime has pursued a two-faceted strategy to export its revolution; in one hand, it has created and supported radical armed groups across the Middle East, on top of them the Lebanese Hezbollah. On the other hand, various “Cultural” and “religious” organizations were created in Iran to disseminate the regime’s ideology in the Islamic world.
Al Mustafa international university founded in 2007 is one of the most important among these organizations. Funded and controlled by the Iranian regime, Al Mustafa trains foreign Shia clerics, scholars and missionaries. Its main campuses are in Iran and has more than one hundred seminaries, Islamic schools and religious centers around the world. The Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the highest authority of Al Mustafa University.
Al Mustafa has currently over 40.000 students, half of them studying in University campuses in Iran. There are nearly 10.000 female students and 3500 teaching staff. Since 2007, nearly 30.000 clerics and Islamic scholars have graduated from Al Mustafa branches, a good portion of them have been hired by the university as teaching staff or missionaries sent to different countries around the globe.
Al Mustafa’s vast global network and its growing army of clerics and missionaries is a formidable tool to generate grassroots support in foreign countries for the Iranian regime’s ideology, its foreign policy, its position in the Islamic world and its quest to dominate the Middle East. Al Mustafa is also a recruiting pool for the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force or other Iranian Institutions responsible for terrorism or military activities abroad.
Al Mustafa’s main campus in Qom
Foreign Clerics in Iran and creation of Al Mustafa
The two Shiite seminaries in the cities of Qom and Mashahd in Iran have traditionally attracted clerics from the Shia communities around the world. After the Islamic revolution in 1979 and triumph of Ayatollah Khomeini, The flow of foreign clerics to Iranian seminaries increased considerably.
In the 1980s, the “Hojatieh School” in Qom was the main seminary for foreign clerics. In 1986, this part of Hojatieh, dedicated to foreign clerics was renamed as “the global center for Islamic sciences”.
During this decade, the Iranian seminaries continued to operate in their traditional form, meaning that grand Ayatollahs had their own students, taught courses, managed their own income and paid stipends to their students. Some of the Ayatollahs had also established their own seminaries in foreign countries.
In the early 1990s, the newly installed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei took control of the Iranian seminaries to consolidate its religious base. As Mehdi Khalaji of Washington Institute has explained in his in-depth report: “Khamenei gradually began to consolidate his hold on power. He was aided by the deaths of grand ayatollahs who had fought to guarantee the clergy’s independence from government. But the regime also launched a second concerted attack on the clerical establishment. It began with an attempt to monopolize management of the clergy, many of whom ran their own seminaries, had their own followings, and earned their own incomes.”
Similarly, the new Supreme Leader took under his control the administration of foreign clerics. In 1991, under his authority a new entity called “the Organization of seminaries and Islamic schools abroad” was created and later in 1993, the “the global center for Islamic sciences” at the Hojatieh school in Qom dedicated to foreign clerics in Iran went under the Supreme Leader’s control.
In 2007, the Supreme Leader ordered the merger of the two organizations in to a new entity called “Al Mustafa International University”. The merger was meant to reorganize and modernize the administration of foreign clerics and optimize their use in the export of Islamic revolution.
Al Mustafa’s network
Al-Mustafa’s main campus are in Iran in the city of Qom where Iran’s most prominent seminary is located. Al-Mustafa’s two other major campuses are in the cities of Mashhad and Isfahan. Other campuses are located in Tehran, Rasht, Gorgan, Tabriz and Gheshm.
Al Mustafa operates more than one hundred seminaries and Islamic schools in foreign countries, from Latin America to Africa. Al Mustafa categorizes the foreign schools in three distinct categories; first the schools entirely managed by Al Mustafa, second, schools jointly managed with local institutions or partners, third, schools that Al Mustafa collaborate with them. The largest share goes to the first category.
Al Mustafa has an important branch is in the neighboring country of Afghanistan. According to the head of Al Mustafa’s branch in Afghanistan, 1500 Afghanis study in Kabul campus and 350 student graduates each year. Alireza Aarafi, Al Mustafa’s President declared in August 2014 that Al Mustafa is financially supporting more than 5000 students, teachers, clerics and missionaries from Afghanistan.
Al Mustafa students in Iran
Al Mustafa has several branches in the Middle East. In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s presence provides Iran with grassroots support among segments of Shiite community. Therefore, Al Mustafa has a relatively modest operation in the country. Al Mustafa’s branch in Lebanon operates two seminaries, “Rasoul Akram seminary” for male clerics and “Al-Zahra seminary” for female clerics. Al Mustafa’s director for Lebanon declared in August 2015 that 1500 Lebanese citizens had graduated from Al Mustafa branch in Beirut or from the Iranian campus. There is also the “Imam Montazer seminary” in Baʿalbek which is under Al Mustafa’s management. Lebanese graduates play an important role in Al Mustafa’s global network as they are used as missionaries in different Arab countries and more importantly, in Latin America where Lebanese immigrants are present in several countries.
In Syria, Al Mustafa has the “Imam Khomeini seminary” located in Damascus. In December 2012, the head of the seminary declared that the school had 650 Shiite students before the start of civil war in early 2011. This number has considerably decreased.
Al Mustafa has several branches in European countries, the most important is in London called “the Islamic College”. The College was founded in 1998 but in 2008 came under Al Mustafa management and changed its name to Islamic College. The graduates will become Islamic scholars. Al Mustafa runs also “the seminary of London” which according to its director has 90 students who will become Shiite clerics.
Islamic College in London
Al Mustafa has branches in several Asian countries. The most important ones are in India, the branch in Indonesia called “the Islamic College which is affiliated with the Islamic College in London, branch in Malesia and in Philippine. It has also smaller branches in Sri Lanka, China and Japan.
Al Mustafa has an extensive presence in Africa. In an interview in July 2015, Alireza Aarafi the President of Al Mustafa emphasized the importance of the continent as “strategic depth” for “pure Islam” which means the version of Islam promoted by the Iranian regime. He declared that “5000 African students are studying at the University and there have also been 5000 Africans graduates from Al Mustafa. We have tens of schools and seminaries in Africa and we are somehow present in 30 different countries in the continent”. According to one of Al Mustafa’s representatives in Africa, the University has 18 main centers in the continent that manage activities in neighboring countries.
Al Mustafa school in Congo
There are approximately 2000 African students in Al Mustafa campuses in Iran, 1200 of whom study in Mashhad campus. According to the Iranian press, African students are sent as missionaries to their native countries several times each year.
Al Mustafa operates both Shiite seminaries and Islamic schools in Africa. Its most important centers are in Nigeria, a populated country with several million Shiites. According to Ali Zaroumi, Al Mustafa’s director for Nigeria, the University operates 5 schools and seminaries with nearly 1000 students from Nigeria and neighboring countries. A good portion of graduates are hired by Al Mustafa and used as teaching staff or missionaries deployed to African countries.
The important presence of Al Mustafa and large number of students in Nigeria is explained by the existence of powerful “Islamic Movement in Nigeria”, a pro-Iran Shiite organization with thousands of members. In December 2015, during a bloody government crackdown, the Nigerian army invaded the movement’s centers, killed hundreds of its members and arrested their leader Sheikh Zakzaki. Since the crackdown, activities of Al Mustafa in Nigeria have come under government scrutiny and they will predictably decrease in the future.
In order to compensate its weakening position in Nigeria, the Iranian government is dedicating more resources to strengthen Al Mustafa’s presence in Ghana. In February 2016, President of Ghana was warmly welcomed in Iran and met with Iranian Supreme Leader. During his visit, two economic MOU were signed and Iranian government promised more economic support for Ghana. President of Ghana also met with Al Mustafa vice-President in Tehran and they discusses the University’s activates. Iran hopes that its generous economic support to Ghana will facilitate Al Mustafa’s expansion in the country.
Al Mustafa runs the “Islamic University, College, Ghana” that has nearly one thousand students. Al Mustafa has also the Shiite seminary in Accra with 120 clerics from Ghana and neighboring countries. In 2015, Al Mustafa launched “Fatima” religious schools for girls in Accra.
Al Mustafa has also branches in several other Africa countries. Its Islamic College in Uganda has more than a hundred students. The seminary of Tanzania has more than 150 students that will become Shiite clerics. Al Mustafa’s University in Senegal educates both clerics and scholars. Al Mustafa runs the Islamic College in Kinshasa, Congo with 120 students. Al Mustafa’s branch in South Africa begun its activities in 2011 and has nearly 100 students. In Ivory Coats, Al Mustafa runs the Shiite seminary of “Ahl-ol-Beit” with 120 students.
Tuition and support for students and their families
The quasi majority of Al Mustafa’s student pay no tuition. According to Al Mustafa’s Farsi website and other reports, students in its Iran campuses receive monthly stipends and are provided with free housing, home loans, health care for the students and their families and child care for children. It offers financial support for families, school for children, professional education and job for spouses as well as summer camps for them. In foreign branches, students also receive a wide range of financial assistance.
Children of Al Mustafa students in Iran receive religious education by Iranian regime
The head of Bent-ol-Hoda (women department of Al Mustafa) declared “that the university provides child care for students’ children age 4 month to 6 years, where the children’s hearts and minds are connected to Ahl-al-Bayt.” (Prophet Muhammad family – Shia Islam)
Shargh newspaper has also detailed the Iranian government’s assistance to Al Mustafa’s students in Iran: “For the University, the living condition of students’ spouses and children is very important. The spouses are offered various learning courses including language classes.”
Number of students and graduates
Al Mustafa does not report the exact number of its students in Iran or in foreign branches. However, by examining Al Mustafa’s current and old website available in web archives, news reports or the declarations by the University’s executives, we reach the approximate numbers of 40.000 current students of which 10.000 are women. Half of Al Mustafa’s students are in Iran campuses. The University has had 30.000 graduates and employs 3500 teaching staff.
Al Mustafa graduates receive turbans
For example, Alireza Aarafi, Al Mustafa’s President declared in August 2014 that 40.000 people study at the University. In February 2016, the head of “Information Science” department at Shiraz University gave an interview and detailed the number of foreign clerics studying in Iran and declared that 20.000 foreigners study at Al Mustafa campuses in Iran. In a speech on February 2015, President of Al Mustafa declared that 30.000 students had graduated since 2007.
Al Mustafa female students in Qom campus
Al-Mustafa has a distinct department for its female students called “Bent-ol-Hoda High Education Institution” with campuses in Ghom, Isfahan and Mashhad. According to an August 2013 report 9000 female students were studying in Al Mustafa, of which 6500 students in foreign branches. According to Hojatoleslam Safouraei, president of Bent-ol-Hoda, the new campus under construction in Ghom will open in the summer of 2016 with a capacity for 2000 female students.
Al Mustafa’s goal: export of Revolution
Al Mustafa’s vast global network and its growing army of clerics and missionaries is a formidable tool for the Iranian regime to export its brand of Islam and generate grassroots support for the Iranian regime’s ideology and assist its quest to dominate the Islamic world.
Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei meeting with Al Mustafa students and staff, Qom, 10/25/2010
In his speech to Al Mustafa students and staff on October 25, 2010 in Qom, the Supreme Leader explained the Iranian mandate to spread “pure Islamic thoughts” and liberate the Islamic nation from the jug of global arrogance led by the United States. He emphasized the role that Al Mustafa plays in carrying out this mission: (English translation by Khamenei’s official website)
“The first lesson that the Islamic Revolution and the auspicious Islamic Republic taught us was that we should think beyond our borders and turn our attention to the vast arena of the Islamic Ummah. Our magnanimous Imam taught us that our attention should be focused on the great Islamic Ummah. Although Iran was extremely frustrated under the pressure of tyranny and colonialism during the rule of Shah, was being crushed by the pressure, and it needed to be saved but, the essential pressure and historical aggression was focused on the Islamic Ummah.
For several centuries, the great Islamic Ummah, which has been in one of the most strategic locations in the world, was suffering from weakness, defeat, backwardness, colonialism and material and scientific poverty due to the interference of superpowers, greed of powerful governments and belligerence of the arrogant powers. The attention of our Islamic Revolution was focused on the Islamic world. Its attention was focused on helping the Islamic Ummah get rid of the arrogant powers’ hand of oppression and aggression. We learned this from our Imam, and this has been the clear path of the Islamic Republic up until now. Part of the great work is what you are doing. You have gathered here from nearly one hundred countries in order to become familiar with the pure teachings of Islam.”
On February 8, 2016, Al Mustafa’s vice President declared: “Export of revolution has always been one of the most important goals for the Islamic Republic. Al Mustafa plays a role in preparing the ground and attain this goal. Al Mustafa has used the Islamic soft power in the region and prepare the ground for Iran’s hard power (military) to be present in the Middle East and successfully oppose the global arrogance.”
Similarly, the dean of language and culture department at Al Mustafa has also declared that “our goal is the export of revolution.” In February 2015, the Supreme Leader’s representative in Isfahan emphasized that “Al Mustafa has taken effective steps for the export of our revolution.”
According to the Iranian leaders, only the Shia Islam is capable of leading the Islamic nation to free itself from the domination of Western crusaders and the global arrogance. During a speech in February 2014, Ghassem Soleimani, the commander of Quds Force explained the leading role of Shia Islam:
“Since the fall of Andalusia in 1492, the Islamic world went into decline. During this period of decline, the Ottoman Empire, as a vast Islamic empire that included much of the Islamic world collapsed, and Britain and France fragmented it and divided it among themselves. This decline of the Islamic world reached the rock bottom with the fall of Jerusalem in 1967. The Jews conquered the Quds in the heart of the Islamic world.
But. With the victory of the Islamic Revolution under the leadership of Imam Khomeini the decline of the Islamic world has stopped, the trend has turned upward and the rise of the Islamic world has begun. What is the Shia’ Revival? Since Imam Ali was martyred 14 centuries ago, the Sunni caliphates of Umayyads, Abbasids and Ottomans have been ruling the Islamic world and nowhere the Shiites had the opportunity to express freely their faith. The current Shia Revival, under the Iranian leadership makes Iran the center of gravity in the region and provides Iran with security and power. We should remember that the Shia’ crescent, is not only political, it is an economic power because most of the Middle East energy resources are located in Shia regions.”
Therefore, Al Mustafa’s goal is to educate Shiite clerics. Al Mustafa’s President told a gathering of graduates in February 2014, that: “In the coming decade, we should introduce and institutionalize the Shia clergy across the globe.” Similarly, Al Mustafa’s vice president declared that: “Al Mustafa’s graduates are educated with Shia ideology. Al Mustafa’s clerics represent the Shiism.”
During the annual conference of Al Mustafa’s teaching staff, the university’s vice president declared that: “The impact of Al Mustafa is becoming visible around the world. Our most important teaching in our classes is the Ahl-ol-Bayt ideology.”
Promoting hatred against Israel
The Iranian regime’s strategy to export its revolution across the Islamic world and dominate the Middle East is built on a campaign to “liberate the Muslims from the historical reign of the West led by the United States”. In this context, the eradication of Israel as a symbol of Western presence at the heart of Islamic world is part of the greater objective of establishing an Islamic Middle East.
In 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini created the Al Quds day. Each year, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, the Iranian regime and its surrogates around the world, stage the annual Quds Day ceremony. The ceremony is used as a platform to cast the Palestinian issue as an Islamic cause and therefore help the Iranian regime to high jack the Palestinian movement. It is also designed to escalate the hatred and animosity against Israel and to help Iran to recruit among the Muslims.
Each year, at the occasion of Quds day, Al Mustafa releases a statement and invites its affiliates and all Muslims to participate in the Quds day demonstrations. In its last statement in July 2015 Al Mustafa showed its anti-Semitism and hatred toward Israel: “Our late Imam Khomeini’s initiative to create the Quds day is show of support by the Islamic nation for Palestinians… The crimes committed by terrorists and Takfirists in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the mass killing of innocent people in Yemen are all the result of inter-related plots by a bunch of racist Zionists who control the power and commanding centers in Europe and the US. Soon, a historic change will take place in the region and Islam will emerge victorious. The unified presence of Muslims in Quds day will demonstrate that the fake Israel is rapidly arriving to its end. Al Mustafa affirms that the Islamic awakening movement led by Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of Muslims, will continue its march toward victory.”
Al Mustafa and its branches across the globe organize and promote the Quds day. Here are some of the Quds day events supported or organized by Al Mustafa branches: Thailand, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Jakarta, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa.
Al Mustafa, a recruiting pool for Quds force
Since the start of civil war in Syria and the Iranian military intervention to save the Bashar Assad regime, there have been numerous reports about Al Mustafa’s students killed in Syria funerals held in Iran for them In March 2016, one of Al Mustafa’s directors declared that “some of the fighters deployed to Syria are the University’s students and clerics.”
The Iranian revolutionary Guards employs different tactics to recruit new members or fighters for Syrian war. Each years, hundreds of thousands of very young Iranian students are organized in tours labeled as “Caravans of light” (Rahian –e- Noor) and sent to the old Iran-Iraq war battle field where the martyrs are venerated and the cult of martyrdom is promoted. The preachers remind the visitors that the war with Iraq was in fact part of the fight against global arrogance, a fight that continues today. The visitors are told that the martyrs are alive and watching them and asking them to join this holly war against the US and its surrogates.
Iranian regime uses the same tactic to recruit among Al Mustafa students or graduates. Each year thousands of Al Mustafa students from Iran campuses or branches outside Iran are sent to these battle field. This is a report on 700 Al Mustafa students visiting the battle fields and, another report about a 250 students and families. In this report by Iranian press, an Argentinian graduate of Al Mustafa who is teaching at the University branches, is taking a group of Latin American students to the battle fields to “venerate the Martyrs of war between Islam and global arrogance”.
A group of Al Mustafa students visiting old battle fields of Iran-Iraq war
As a result of Al Mustafa’s ideological teaching and financial incentives provided to the students, a good part of Al Mustafa clerics gradually become unconditional supporters of Iranian regime. It is not surprising that many of them are sent to Syria and other places to assist the Quds force. Al Mustafa students in Iran are also ordered to participate in state-organized rallies such as the protest against Charlie Hebdo magazine for drawing Muhammad cartoon or the rally against Bahrain government,