No students have had to study harder or more earnestly than those theology students in the madrisihs. They read day and night, neglecting food and sleep. Some invented means by which to keep themselves awake to study more, such as tying ropes around their necks and attaching them to the roofs to keep their heads from nodding, or cutting a finger and rubbing salt in the wound. But alas! The subjects of their study were mostly superstitious and pointless arguments. They held endless discussions on the proper way to wash the different parts of the body before prayer; on the various acts and objects that might nullify one’s prayers, and so on. Heated debates might arise over such questions as whether the urine of the holy Imam was ritually clean, or whether the Prophet Mohammad had a shadow. Could He be in 40 places at the same time? Could the Imam travel long distances in the twinkling of an eye? Such subjects kept them occupied for months, or even years.
Within their seminaries, the mullas had developed the art of debate with precision. The purpose was not the search after truth, but rather the defeat of the opponent. Part of the course of study in the theological college consisted of formal disputes between the students, held in the presence of the master. The debaters would sit effacing each other and in front of other students. Sometimes a crowd would gather to see who the winner would be. Often these disputes would end in quarrels, shouting matches or even violence . . . It was not a question of who was right or wrong, but of who would win or lose.