آیت الله

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Updated:Monday 13th October 2014

Ayatollah Definition

Ayatollah (lit. sign of Allah) Shiite Muslim religious leader in the Shiite branch of Islam, a high-ranking religious authority regarded by his followers as the most learned person of his age. The ayatollah's authority rests on the infallible imam. His legal decisions are accepted as binding by his personal followers and (in the present day) by the wider community. (Wikipedia) - Ayatollah For other uses, see Ayatollah (disambiguation). The Fourteen Infallibles Principles Other beliefs Practices Holy cities Groups Scholarship Hadith collections Related topics
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Ayatollah (UK /aɪəˈtɒlə/ or US /aɪəˈtoʊlə/; Persian: آيت‌الله‎ ayatollah from Arabic: آية الله‎, āyatu allah "Sign of Allah") is a high-ranking title given to Usuli Twelver Shī‘ah clerics. Those who carry the title are experts in Islamic studies such as jurisprudence, ethics, and philosophy and usually teach in Islamic seminaries. The next lower clerical rank is Hojatoleslam wal-muslemin.

In the West, the title is commonly associated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran from 1979 to 1989.

  • 1 History
  • 2 Rank
  • 3 Female Ayatollahs
  • 4 Grand Ayatollah
  • 5 Ayatollah in the West
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links


The name "ayatollah" originates from a passage in the Quran which the Shi''a, unlike the Sunni, interpret to mean human beings can be regarded as ''signs'' or ''evidence'' of God. Passage 51:20–21 of the Quran states:

On the earth are signs (Ayat) for those of assured Faith,

As also in your own selves: Will ye not then see?

Grand Ayatollah Khomeini in Qom, 1964Rank

The title is currently granted to top Shia mujtahid, after completing sat''h and kharij studies in the hawza. By then the mujtahid would be able to issue his own edicts from the sources of Islamic religious laws: the Qur''an, the Sunnah, ijmāʻ, and ''aql ("intellect", rather than the Sunnī principle of qiyas). Most of the time this is attested by an issued certificate from his teachers. The ayatollah can then teach in hawzas (shia seminaries) according to his speciality, can act as a reference for their religious questions, and act as a judge. There is an important difference from Shi''a ayatollahs and "saints" in other religions: ayatollahs are not regarded as enlightened by God Himself, but by the Word of God.

Female Ayatollahs

There are a few women who are equal in ranking to the ayatollahs, and are known as Lady Mujtahideh. The most outstanding in recent history was Nosrat Amin, also known as Banu Isfahani. Current examples of the Lady Mujtahidehs are Zohreh Sefati and Lady Ayatollah Aatieh Hassani also known as Imam''ah Al-Hassani daughter of Grand Ayatollah Gholamreza Hassani. Historically, there have been several Mujtahidehs in Shi''ism, most famously the women in the family of Allama Hilli, as well as the Baraghani family of 19th century Qazvin.

The top maraji of Najaf Hawzah: (from left to right) Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayyad, Ali al-Sistani, Mohammad Saeed Al-Hakim and Bashir al-Najafi.Grand Ayatollah Main article: Marja''

Only a few of the most important ayatollahs are accorded the rank of Grand Ayatollah (Ayatollah Uzma, "Great Sign of God"). This usually happens when the followers of one of the ayatollahs refer to him in many situations and ask him to publish his Juristic book in which he answers the vast majority of daily Muslim affairs. The book is called Resalah, which is usually a reinvention of the book Al-Urwatu l-Wuthqah, according to their knowledge of the most authentic Islamic sources and their application to current life.

There are 66 living worldwide as of 2013, mainly based in Najaf and Qom. The most prominent of these include Ali Sistani, Mohammad Yaqoobi, Hossein Vahid Khorasani, Makarem Shirazi, Yousef Sane''i, Malakouti, Haeri, and Sadiq Shirazi. There are currently five grand ayatollahs in Najaf, Iraq, center of the Iraqi Shi''i seminaries or Hawzas; the most senior of which is Ali al-Sistani. Other grand ayatollahs based in Najaf include Mohammad Yaqoobi, Basir Najafi, Mohammad Saeed Al-Hakim and Mohammad Ishaq Al-Fayyad.

Ayatollah in the West

The most eminent Ayatollah in the West currently is Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein al-Ansari who resides in Sydney, Australia.

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