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This article forms part of the series
Vocabulary of Islam
Five Pillars
Profession of faith
Prayer · Alms · Fasting
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Prophets of Islam
Caliphs · Shia Imams
Companions of Muhammad
Holy Cities
Mecca · Medina · Jerusalem
Najaf · Karbala · Kufa
Kazimain · Mashhad · Samarra
Hijra · Islamic calendar · Eid ul-Fitr
Eid ul-Adha · Aashura · Arba'in
Mosque · Minaret · Mihrab · Kaaba
Islamic architecture
Functional Religious Roles
Muezzin · Imam · Mullah
Ayatollah · Mufti
Interpretive Texts & Practices
Qur'an · Hadith · Sunnah
Fiqh · Fatwa · Sharia
Sunni: Hanafi · Hanbali · Maliki · Shafi'i
Shi'a: Ithna Asharia · Ismailiyah · Zaiddiyah
Others: Ibadi · Kharijite · Murjite · Mu'tazili
Sufism · Wahhabism · Salafism
Non-Mainstream Sects / Movements
Ahmadiyyah · Nation of Islam
Zikri · Druze
Related Faiths
Babism · Bahá'í Faith · Yazidi

Ayatollah (Arabic: آية الله; Persian: آیت‌الله) is a high title given to major Shia clergymen. The word means 'sign of God', and those who carry the title are experts in Islamic sciences such as jurisprudence, ethics, philosophy and mysticism, and usually teach in schools (hawza) of Islamic sciences. A handful of the most important Ayatollahs are accorded the title Grand Ayatollah, or Marja al-taqlid ("object of emulation"). There is usually only one Grand Ayatollah in Iraq and a few in Iran. Currently there are five living Grand Ayatollahs, including Ali Khamenei, Ali al-Sistani, Sayyid Ali , Kazem al-Haeri, and Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi .

When Western people 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.

See also: List of Ayatollahs

External link

  • Slate Magazine's "So you want to be an Ayatollah" , explaining how Shiite clerics earn the title

Last updated: 02-07-2005 03:41:46
Last updated: 03-18-2005 11:16:12