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This article is about the Shia Islamic title. Ayatollah_sentence_0

For other uses, see Ayatollah (disambiguation). Ayatollah_sentence_1

Ayatollah (UK: /ˌaɪəˈtɒlə/ or US: /ˌaɪəˈtoʊlə/; Persian: آیت‌الله‎, romanized: āyatollāh) is an honorific title for high-ranking Twelver Shia clergy in Iran that came into widespread usage in the 20th century. Ayatollah_sentence_2

Etymology Ayatollah_section_0

The title is originally derived from Arabic word Āyah pre-modified with the definite article al and post-modified with the word Allah, making ʾāyatallāh (Arabic: آية الل‍ه‎). Ayatollah_sentence_3

The combination has been translated to English as 'Sign of God', 'Divine Sign' or 'Reflection of God'. Ayatollah_sentence_4

It is a frequently-used term in Quran, but its usage in this context is presumably a particular reference to the verse "We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and in their own selves", while it has been also used to refer to The Twelve Imams by Shias. Ayatollah_sentence_5

Variants used are ʾāyatallāh fī al-anām (Persian: آية الل‍ه في الأنعام‎, lit. Ayatollah_sentence_6

'Sign of God among mankind'), ʾāyatallāh fī al-ʿālamayn (Persian: آية الل‍ه في العالمَین‎, lit. Ayatollah_sentence_7

'Sign of God in the two worlds', dual form) or fī al-ʿālamīn (Persian: في العالمین‎, lit. Ayatollah_sentence_8

'in the worlds', plural form) and ʾāyatallāh fī al-warā (Persian: آية الل‍ه في الوراء‎, lit. Ayatollah_sentence_9

'Sign of God among mortals'). Ayatollah_sentence_10

Origins Ayatollah_section_1

The earliest known address of this title is for Ibn Mutahhar Al-Hilli (died 1374), however it was not in use until the recent century. Ayatollah_sentence_11

Glassé states that following domination of Twelver branch by followers of Usuli school and demise of Akhbari school, the title was popularized by Usulis as an attempt to promote their status. Ayatollah_sentence_12

Hamid Algar maintains that this title entered general usage possibly because it was an "indirect result of the reform and strengthening of the religious institution in Qom". Ayatollah_sentence_13

Abdul-Karim Haeri Yazdi who founded Qom Seminary, may be the first to bear the title according to Algar. Ayatollah_sentence_14

Loghatnameh Dehkhoda indicates that during the Persian Constitutional Revolution (1905–1911), the honorific was used by constitutionalists to refer to Mirza Sayyed Mohammad Tabatabai and Seyyed Abdollah Behbahani. Ayatollah_sentence_15

While Ayatollah was sporadically used during the 1930s, it became widespread in the 1940s. Ayatollah_sentence_16

Contemporary usage Ayatollah_section_2

Usage by location Ayatollah_section_3

The Sunni community of Iran does not use this title. Ayatollah_sentence_17

It is also absent the vocabulary of Shias in Lebanon, Pakistan, and India. Ayatollah_sentence_18

In Iraq, while the title is not unknown, it is only used for clerics of Iranian origin. Ayatollah_sentence_19

Devaluation trend Ayatollah_section_4

The title Ayatollah has been cheapened in the recent decades. Ayatollah_sentence_20

Michael M. J. Fischer opines in Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution that the Iranian revolution led to "rapid inflation of religious titles", and almost every senior cleric was called an Ayatollah. Ayatollah_sentence_21

The same phenomenon happened to the title Hujjat al-Islam before, which is today a less prestigious title than Ayatollah. Ayatollah_sentence_22

However, as of 19th century it was given to people who were not only Mujtahids, but also were the most distinguished clerics of that time. Ayatollah_sentence_23

Today there are "tens of thousands" called with that title, who are just aspiring to become a Mujtahid. Ayatollah_sentence_24

This trend led to invention of a new title called Ayatollah al-Uzma (lit. Ayatollah_sentence_25

'Great Sign of God'). Ayatollah_sentence_26

In the beginning, about half a dozen people were addressed with the latter title, but as of 2015, the number of people who claimed that title was reportedly over 50. Ayatollah_sentence_27

Political connotations Ayatollah_section_5

Addressing someone with or without this title may have political reasons, rather than for purely religious credentials. Ayatollah_sentence_28

Ali Khamenei –who was addressed with mid-level title of Hujjat al-Islam when he was in office as President– was bestowed the title Ayatollah immediately after he became Supreme Leader of Iran in 1989, without meeting regular unwritten criteria (such as authoring a Risalah). Ayatollah_sentence_29

Since the 2010s, sources under government control tend to give him more distinguished titles like Grand Ayatollah and Imam. Ayatollah_sentence_30

Certain clerics have been downgraded by not being addressed as an Ayatollah, such as Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari and Hussein-Ali Montazeri. Ayatollah_sentence_31

Qualifications Ayatollah_section_6

See also: Taqlid, Ijtihad, and Fiqh Ayatollah_sentence_32

Though no formal hierarchical structure exists among Shia clerics, a "hierarchy of difference" can be elaborated to describe the situation. Ayatollah_sentence_33

Traditionally, the title Ayatollah was awarded by popular usage to prominent figures only –who were necessarily a Mujtahid– and it was reserved for the very few highest ranking clerics. Ayatollah_sentence_34

Plus qualification as a definite Mujtahid, such person was regarded among his peers superior in aʿlamīyat (lit. Ayatollah_sentence_35

'superiority in learning') and riyāsat (lit. Ayatollah_sentence_36

'leadership'), the latter being determined by popular acclamation, as well as collecting a huge amount of Khums (religious taxes). Ayatollah_sentence_37

Those conditions being applied, by 1960s a cleric addressed as an Ayatollah was expected to be a Marja'. Ayatollah_sentence_38

An unwritten rule of addressing for Shia clerics has been developed after the 1980s as a result of Iranian Revolution, despite the fact no official institutional way of conferring titles is available. Ayatollah_sentence_39

Since 1979, the number of individuals who call themselves an Ayatollah, instead of being recipient of that title, has raised dramatically. Ayatollah_sentence_40

The title that was previously customary for addressing a Marja', was gradually applied to an established Mujtahid. Ayatollah_sentence_41

With recent bureaucratization of Shia seminaries under the current regime, four levels of studies were introduced and those clerics who end the fourth level, also known as Dars-e-Kharej (lit. Ayatollah_sentence_42

'beyond the text') and pass the final exam, were called Ayatollahs. Ayatollah_sentence_43

Moojan Momen wrote in 2015 that every cleric who finished his training calls himself an Ayatollah and this trend has led to emergence of "thousands of Ayatollahs". Ayatollah_sentence_44

Stages of contemporary titles for Shia clerics in Iran can be understood from the following table: Ayatollah_sentence_45

Grand Ayatollah Ayatollah_section_7

Main article: Marja' Ayatollah_sentence_46

Only a few of the most important ayatollahs are accorded the rank of Grand Ayatollah (Ayatollah Uzma, "Great Sign of God"). Ayatollah_sentence_47

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". Ayatollah_sentence_48

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 Islam to present-time daily affairs. Ayatollah_sentence_49

Risalah is the word for treatise, and such a juristic work is called a risalah-yi'amaliyyah or "practical law treatise", and it is usually a reinvention of the book Al-Urwatu l-Wuthqah. Ayatollah_sentence_50

See also Ayatollah_section_8


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayatollah.