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Images of famous Ayatollahs and Grand Ayatollahs of Iran Grand Ayatollahs Qom ftwkhlj, ayt llh hy yrn-qm 01.jpg
Images of famous Ayatollahs and Grand Ayatollahs of Iran

Ayatollah ( UK: /ˌəˈtɒlə/ or US: /ˌəˈtlə/ ; Persian : آيت‌الله, romanized: āyatullāh, from Arabic : آية الله, romanized:  ʾāyatu llāh "Sign of God") or ayatullah is a high-ranking Usuli Twelver Shī‘ah cleric. 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.

British English is the standard dialect of English language as spoken and written in the United Kingdom. Variations exist in formal, written English in the United Kingdom. For example, the adjective wee is almost exclusively used in parts of Scotland and Ireland, and occasionally Yorkshire, whereas little is predominant elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described by the term British English. The forms of spoken English, however, vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken, so a uniform concept of British English is more difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur in the Oxford Guide to World English, British English shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word 'British' and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly, within a range of blurring and ambiguity".

American English Set of dialects of the English language spoken in the United States

American English, sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. American English is considered one of the most influential dialects of English globally, including on other varieties of English.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian subdivision of the Indo-European languages. It is a pluricentric language predominantly spoken and used officially within Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in three mutually intelligible standard varieties, namely Iranian Persian, Dari Persian and Tajiki Persian. It is also spoken natively in the Tajik variety by a significant population within Uzbekistan, as well as within other regions with a Persianate history in the cultural sphere of Greater Iran. It is written officially within Iran and Afghanistan in the Persian alphabet, a derivation of the Arabic script, and within Tajikistan in the Tajik alphabet, a derivation of Cyrillic.



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 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 Ruhollah Khomeini in Qom, 1964 Ruhollah Khomeini speaking to his followers against capitulation day 1964.jpg
Grand Ayatollah 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 of Qom Seminary in 1922.

Qom Seminary largest traditional Islamic school of higher learning

The Qom Seminary is the largest Islamic seminary (hawza) in Iran, established in 1922 by Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Karim Haeri Yazdi in Qom.

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.


A Hawza or Ḥawzah ʿIlmīyah is a seminary where Shi'a Muslim clerics are educated.

Sunnah, also sunna or sunnat, is the body of literature which discusses and prescribes the traditional customs and practices of the Islamic community, both social and legal, often but not necessarily based on the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings, silent permissions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as various reports about Muhammad's companions. The Quran and the sunnah make up the two primary sources of Islamic theology and law. The sunnah is also defined as "a path, a way, a manner of life"; "all the traditions and practices" of the Islamic prophet that "have become models to be followed" by Muslims.

Ijmāʿ is an Arabic term referring to the consensus or agreement of Islamic scholars on a point of Islamic law. Various schools of thought within Islamic jurisprudence may define this consensus to be that of the first generation of Muslims only; or the consensus of the first three generations of Muslims; or the consensus of the jurists and scholars of the Muslim world, or scholarly consensus; or the consensus of all the Muslim world, both scholars and laymen. Sunni Muslims regard ijmā' as the third fundamental source of Sharia law, after the Qur'an, and the Sunnah. The opposite of ijma is called ikhtilaf.

Female Mujtahids

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. [1] 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.

Lady Amin Jurisprudent and theologian

Hajiyeh Seyyedeh Nosrat Begum Amin, also known as Banu Amin, Lady Amin, was Iran's most outstanding female jurisprudent, theologian and great Muslim mystic (‘arif) of the 20th century, a Lady Mujtahideh. She received numerous ijazahs (permissions) of ijtihad, among them from Ayatollahs Muḥammad Kazim Ḥusayni Shīrāzī (1873-1947) and Grand Ayatullah ‘arif (1859-1937), the founder of the Qom seminaries (hawza).

Zohreh Sefati is a female Mujtahida. She was born in Abadan, Iran in 1948. Sefati is a member of the Women's Socio-Cultural Council and a representative to the Supreme Council of Cultural Reforms. Sefati was raised in a religious family. She studied her high school level subjects at home before attending theology school in 1966. Sefati took preliminary lessons in jurisprudence, literature and Islamic sciences in Abadan. In 1970, she left to attend Qom Theology School to continue her studies. She was a student of renowned scholars such as Ayatollah Shahidi, Ayatollah Haqqi, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini and Ayatollah Mohammad Hassan Ahmadi Faqih.

Gholamreza Hassani 20th and 21st-century Iranian ayatollah

Ayatollah Gholamreza Hassani July 21, 1927 – May 21, 2018) was the previous Friday prayer, first First imam of Masjid-e-Jamé mosque of the city of Urmia in northwest Iran after Iranian Revolution., member of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in the first term from electoral district of Urmia and representative of the Iranian Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei in West Azarbaijan Province. He has been described as one of the most, if not the most, conservative voices in Iran and Shia Islam world. He is known for the highly challenging religious and political positions taken and his ultimate opposition to Caliphate and Anti-Sunni theories advocated in his controversial Friday sermons, which have reportedly drawn criticism from many of the Sunni leaders, Iranian reformists, Pan-Turkists, radical left organisations, Kurdish nationalists with adherence to Sunni tradition and Southern Azerbaijan patriot movement and been used by "Iranian political satirists in their works."

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.

Grand Ayatollah

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. Najaf Marji.jpg
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.
Seyyed Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, as a marja' of Shia Seyyed Ali Khamenei.jpg
Seyyed Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, as a marja' of Shia

Only a few of the most important ayatollahs are accorded the rank of Grand Ayatollah (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 parlance is "grand ayatollah". [2] Usually as a prelude to such status, a mujtahid [3] is asked to publish a juristic treatise in which he answers questions about the application of Islam to present-time daily affairs. [4] Risalah is the word for treatise, and such a juritic work is called a risalah-yi'amaliyyah or "practical law treatise", [5] and it is usually a reinvention of the book Al-Urwatu l-Wuthqah.[ citation needed ]

There are 86 Maraji (plural of Marja') living worldwide as of 2017, [6] [7] mainly based in Najaf and Qom. The most prominent of these include Ali al-Sistani, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Muhammad al-Fayadh, Muhammad Saeed al-Hakim, and Bashir al-Najafi in Najaf; and Hossein Vahid Khorasani, Mousa Shubairi Zanjani, Sayyid Sadeq Rohani, Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, Abdul-Karim Mousavi Ardebili, Naser Makarem Shirazi and Yousef Saanei in Qom.[ citation needed ]

See also

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Hawza Najaf Hawza schools in Najaf, Iraq

The Najaf Seminary, also known as the al-Hawza al-Ilmiyya, is the most important Shia seminaries (hawza) in the city of Najaf, Iraq. The school also operates a campus in Karbala.


  1. Künkler, Mirjam; Fazaeli, Roja (2010-07-12). "The Life of Two Mujtahidahs: Female Religious Authority in 20th Century Iran". doi:10.2139/ssrn.1884209.
  2. Emad El-Din Shahin (2016). The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics. Oxford University Press. p. 400. ISBN   9780190631932.
  3. Among the Shia, a mujtahid is a person generally accepted as an original authority in Islamic law, i.e. an ayatollah.
  4. Siddiqui, Kalim (1980). The Islamic Revolution: Achievements, Obstacles & Goals. London: Open Press for The Muslim Institute. p. 26. ISBN   978-0-905081-07-6.
  5. 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. ISBN   978-90-04-04900-0.
  6. "List of Maraji (Updated) as of 2017". Archived from the original on 2018-08-19. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  7. "مجموع مراجع الشيعة الأحياء لبداية 2017م مع محل سكناهم ومواقعهم الالكترونية". منتديات يا حسين.