Ayatollah (Persian: آيتالله, "âyato-llâh", from Arabic: آية الله, "āyatu 'llāh", meaning 'the sign of God', from the words "
ayah" and " Allah") is a high ranking title given to Usuli TwelverShi'a clerics. Those who carry the title are experts in Islamic studiessuch as jurisprudence, ethics, and philosophyand usually teach in Islamic seminaries.Fact|date=June 2008 The next lower clerical rank is Hojatoleslam wal-muslemin.
The title is currently granted to top Shia "
mujtahid", after completing "sat'h" and "kharij" studies in the " hawza". By then he would be able to issue his own edictsfrom the sources of religious laws: Qur'an, " Sunnah", "Ijmāˤ" 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" 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 Ayatollah's and "saints" in other religions and Sunni Islam. They are not regarded as enlightened by God Himself, but by the Word of God.
There are a few females which are equal in ranking to the Ayatollahs, and are known as "Lady
Mujtahideh". A current example of a Lady Mujtahideh is Zohreh Sefati. [official [http://sefaty.net website at sefaty.net] ] Historically, there have been several Mujtahidehs in Shi'ism, most famously the women in the family of Allama Hilli.
According to author
Baqer Moin, "the title `ayatollah` was introduced at the time of the Iranian Constitutional Revolutionof 1905 to honour those clerical leaders who signed the constitution." [Moin, Baqer, "Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah" by Baqer Moin, Thomas Dunne Books, c2000, p.36]
Only a few of the most important Ayatollah are accorded the rank of
Grand Ayatollah("Ayatollah Ozma", "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 is usually one Grand Ayatollah in
Iraqthat heads the " Hawzas" (currently Ali Sistani) and a few that coordinate with him like Ayatollah Bashir Najafi, Mohammad Said Al-Hakim, Mohammad Ishaq Al-Fayyad, and Mohammad Taqi Modarresi. There are more in Iranand wherever the Shi'aexist. There are more than 20 living world-wide; the most famous of them are Ali Khamenei, Ali Sistani, Makarem Shirazi, Malakouti, Montazeri, Fadlullah, Haeri and Sadiq Shirazi.
List of Ayatollahs
List of Grand Ayatollahs
Clericalism in Iran
Cardiff City - Ayatollah
* [http://www.islamonline.net/English/artculture/2003/09/article03.shtml Towards an Understanding of the Shiite Authoritative Sources]
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