1.A high-ranking Shiite religious
authority regarded as worthy of imitation
in matters of religious
law and interpretation.
as a title for such a leader.
lit. Sign of God
Ayatollah is a high rank given to major Shi'a clerics. The word means 'sign
of God', and those who carry the title are experts
in Islamic studies such as jurisprudence, ethics, philosophy and mysticism, and usually
teach in schools (hawza) of Islamic sciences. The next lower clerical rank is Hojat-ol-Islam ("authority on Islam").
The rank is granted by consensus, rather
than ceremonially: an esteemed
religious scholar who has earned the respect and admiration
of his teachers for his knowledge and behavior after completing
his Hawza studies. By then he would
be able to issue his own edicts from the sources of religious laws (Quran, Sunna, Ijma'e, Aql). Most
of the time this
is attested by an issued certificate from his teachers. This
Ayatollah then can teach in religious Hawza according
to his speciality
and can act as a reference for their
religious questions and as a judge.
Only a few of the most
important Ayatollahs are accorded the rank of Grand Ayatollah (ayat ullahi 'l-`udhma, "great sign
of God"), or Marja al-taqlid ("reference for emulation"). This usually
happens when the followers
of one of the ayatollahs refer to him in many situations and ask him to publish
his Jurdistic book in which
he answers the vast
majority of daily Muslim affairs. The book is called Risalah 'Ilmiyah which
a reinvention of the book Al-Urwat-ulWuthqah according
knowledge of the most
authentic Islamic sources and the current
There is usually
one Grand Ayatollah in Iraq that heads the Hawza (curently Ali al-Sistani). There are more in Iran and wherever Shi'a exist.
There are more than 20 living, the most
famous of them are: Grand Ayatollahs worldwide: Jawad Tabrizi, Ali Khamenei, Ali al-Sistani, Kazem al-Haeri, Muhammad Fazel Lankarani, Ali Montazeri, Mohammad Hussein Fadlullah and Sadiq Hussaini
say 'the Ayatollah', they usually
mean Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who brought the word into the international limelight during the 1979 Iranian Revolution; a possible secondary meaning would
be the term's use to indicate
the serving Supreme Leader of Iran.