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The top marja of Najaf Hawzah: (from left to right) Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayyad, Ali al-Sistani, Mohammad Said al-Hakim and Bashir al-Najafi.

Marjaʿ (Arabic/Persian: مرجع) (Plural: maraji), also known as a marja-i taqlid or marja dini (Arabic/Persian: مرجع تقليد / مرجع ديني), literally means "Source to Imitate/Follow" or "Religious Reference". It is the label provided to Shia authority, a Grand Ayatollah with the authority to make legal decisions within the confines of Islamic law for followers and less-credentialed clerics. After the Qur'an and the Prophets and Imams, marjas are the highest authority on religious laws in Usuli Twelver Shia Islam.



Currently, marjas are accorded the title Grand Ayatollah (Arabic/Persian: آية ‌الله العظمی Ayatollah al-Uzma), however when referring to one, the use of Ayatollah is acceptable. Previously, the titles of Allamah[1] and Imam[2] have also been used.

Authority of marjas

The marja'yiat of an ayatollah transpires when he becomes a celebrated figure in the hawza and his students and followers trust him in answering their questions, and ask him to publish his juristic book, the resalah amaliyah—a manual of practical rulings arranged according to topics dealing with ritual purity, worship, social issues, business, and political affairs. The resalah contains an ayatollah's fatwas on different topics, according to his knowledge of the most authentic Islamic sources and their application to current life. Traditionally only the most renowned ayatollahs of the given time published a resalah, while today many ayatollahs of various illustriousness have published one, while some of the renowned ones have refused to do so.

Where a difference in opinion exists between the marjas, each of them provide their own opinion and the Muqallid will follow his/her own marja's opinion on that subject.[3] A mujtahid, i.e. someone who has completed advanced training (dars kharij) in the hawza and has acquired the license to engage in ijtihad (ejazaye ijtihad) from one or several ayatollahs, is exempted from the requirement to follow a marja. One should note, however, that ijtihad is not always comprehensive and so a mujtahid may be an expert in one particular area of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and exercise ijtihad therein, but follow a marja in other areas of fiqh.

Several senior Grand Ayatollahs constitute the hawza, a religious institution. The hawza of Qom and Najaf are preeminent seminary centers for the training of Shia clergymen. However, there are other smaller hawzas in other cities around the world, such as Karbala in Iraq, and Isfahan and Mashhad in Iran.

Difference of Opinion between Marjas

Some say that having different marjas may cause certain problems in Shia Islam. They argue some marjas might have a liberal view on a subject such as music, while others may be restrictive and have conservative fatwas on music. This situation has raised certain difficulties in running a velayat-faqih system in Iran, where the fatwas of the Supreme Leader is usually given precedence to others. (See: The situation in Iran)

However others argue that although it might seem that difference of opinion among marjas would be a source of contention, almost all marjas agree on vast majority of the rulings. There are very few rulings on which marjas differ, and even then they are quite similar to each other. For example, one marja might declare something to be wajib (obligatory), whereas another might consider it mustahab (recommended). However, it is never the case when one marja considers something wajib, whereas another considers it haram (forbidden).

Many critics agree that a marja, as a point of unity, is essential in preventing sectarianism and other differences in belief, which would create conflict.

It is claimed that whereas differences in the beliefs of various Sunni mollanahs have historically created conflict; the Shia marja system aids in maintaining unity in a land and preventing individuals from dividing the ummah.

See also


External links



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