For more than 1,000 years, the al-Hawza al-Ilmiyya south of Baghdad has been one of the hearts of Shi'ite Islamic scholarship, training the clerics who lead Shi'ite communities across the Muslim world.
Thousands of students, from teenage boys to university graduates, study Islam at its schools in the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala.
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"Hawza has a high rank at the heart of the society," Wael Noor Al-Deen Murtadha, a Shi'ite cleric and lecturer at the school, told Reuters.
"What is important about Hawza is that it reduces the moral degeneration and irregularities of life. It creates a culture among people aimed at reinforcing social relationships between different sects away from any discrimination."