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Part of a series on Islam
Imam of al-Azhar
Marja' (Grand Ayatollah)
Ayatullah (UK: /aɪəˈtɒlə/ or US: /aɪəˈtoʊlə/; Persian:
آيتالله, translit. āyatullāh from Arabic: آية
الله, translit. ʾāyatu llāh "Sign of God") is a
high-ranking title given to
Twelver Shī‘ah clerics. Those who
carry the title are experts in
Islamic studies such as jurisprudence,
Quran reading, and philosophy and usually teach in Islamic seminaries.
The next lower clerical rank is Hujjat al-Islam.
2 Female Mujtahids
3 Grand Ayatollah
4 See also
The name "ayatullah" 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
On the earth are signs (Ayat) for those of assured Faith,
As also in your own selves: Will ye not then see?
Ruhollah Khomeini in Qom, 1964
The term was not commonly used as a title until the early twentieth
century. The title of
Ayatollah became popularized with the creation
Qom Seminary in 1922.
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 are a few women who are equal in ranking to the ayatollahs but
are not ayatollahs, and are known as Lady Mujtahideh. A Mujtahid
cannot have a congregation. 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
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
Mohammad Saeed Al-Hakim and Bashir
Main article: Marja'
Only a few of the most important ayatollahs are accorded the rank of
Ayatollah Uzma, "Great Sign of God"). When an
ayatollah gains a significant following and they are recognized for
religiously correct views, they are considered a Marja'-e-Taqlid,
which in common parlence is "grand ayatollah". Usually as a prelude
to such status, a mujtahid is asked to publish a juristic treatise
in which he answers questions about the application of
present-time daily affairs. Risalah is the word for treatise, and
such a juritic work is called a risalah-yi'amaliyyah or "practical law
treatise", and it is usually a reinvention of the book Al-Urwatu
There are 64 living Maraji (plural of Marja') worldwide as of 2014,
mainly based in
Najaf and Qom. The most prominent of these include Ali
al-Sistani, Muhammad al-Fayadh, Muhammad Saeed al-Hakim, and Bashir
al-Najafi in Najaf; and Hossein Vahid Khorasani, Mousa Shubairi
Sayyid Sadeq Rohani, Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, Abdul-Karim
Naser Makarem Shirazi
Naser Makarem Shirazi and
Yousef Saanei in
List of Ayatollahs
List of Grand Ayatollahs
Clericalism in Iran
^ Künkler, Mirjam; Fazaeli, Roja (2010-07-12). "The Life of Two
Mujtahidahs: Female Religious Authority in 20th Century Iran".
^ Emad El-Din Shahin (2016). The Oxford Handbook of
Politics. Oxford University Press. p. 400.
^ Among the Shia, a mujtahid is a person generally accepted as an
original authority in Islamic law, i.e. an ayatollah.
^ Siddiqui, Kalim (1980). The Islamic Revolution: Achievements,
Obstacles & Goals. London: Open Press for The Muslim Institute.
p. 26. ISBN 978-0-905081-07-6.
^ Ḥairi, Abdul-Hadi (1977). Shi-ism and Constitutionalism in Iran: A
Study of the Role Played by the Persian Residents of Iraq in Iranian
Politics. Leiden: Brill. p. 198.