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Part of a series on Islam
Usul al-fiqh

(The Roots of Jurisprudence)

Scholarly titles
A mullah praying in Imamzadeh Seyyed Hamza, Tabriz.

Mullah (Persian: ملا, Judeo-Persian/Bukhori: מולא) is generally used to refer to a Muslim man, educated in Islamic theology and sacred law. The title, given to some Islamic clergy, is derived from the Arabic word mawla, meaning "vicar", "master" and "guardian". In large parts of the Muslim world, particularly Iran, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, it is the name commonly given to local Islamic clerics or mosque leaders.[1]

The title has also been used in some Jewish communities to refer to the community's leadership, especially religious leadership.[2]

It is primarily understood in the Muslim world as a term of respect for a religiously educated man.[3]


Training and duties

Ideally, a trained mullah will have studied Islamic traditions (hadith), and Islamic law (fiqh). They are often hafiz, i.e. have memorized the Qur'an. However, uneducated villagers often recognize a literate Muslim with a less than complete Islamic training as their "mullah" or religious cleric. Mullahs with varying levels of training lead prayers in mosques, deliver religious sermons, and perform religious ceremonies such as birth rites and funeral services. They also often teach in a type of Islamic school known as a madrasah. This triumvirate of knowledge is applied mostly in interpreting Islamic texts (i.e. the Quran, Hadiths, etc.) for matters of Shariah, i.e. Islamic law.


The term is most often applied to Shi'ite clerics, as Shi'a Islam is the predominant tradition in Iran. However, the term is very common in Urdu, spoken throughout Pakistan, and it is used throughout the Indian subcontinent for any Muslim clergy, Sunni or Shi'a. Muslim clergy in Russia and other former Soviet Republics are also referred to as mullahs, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shi'a.

It has been used among Persian Jews, Bukharan Jews, Afghani Jews and other Central Asian Jews to refer to the community's religious and/or secular leadership.

The term is seldom used in Arabic-speaking areas, where its nearest equivalent is shaykh (implying formal Islamic training), imam (prayer leader; not to be confused with the Imams of the Shiite world), or `ālim (plural `ūlamā') (scholar; see ulema). In the Sunni world, the concept of "cleric" is of limited usefulness, as authority in the religious system is relatively decentralized.

The term is frequently used in English, although English-speaking Muslim clergy rarely call themselves mullahs. It was adopted from Urdu by the British rulers of India and subsequently came into more widespread use.

Mullahs have frequently been involved in politics, but only recently have they actually taken power. Islamists seized power in Iran in 1979, and later, in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Usage as a derogatory term



Until early 20th century, the term mullah was used in Iranian hawzas (seminaries) to refer to low-level clergy who specialized in telling stories of Ashura, rather than teaching or issuing fatwas. Today, the term mullah is sometimes used as a derogatory term for any Islamic cleric. It is common in Iran to refer to an ayatollah or other high level clerics, as a mullah, to ridicule his religious authority. In recent years, at least among Shia mullahs, the term ruhani (spiritual) has been promoted as an alternative to mullah and akhoond, free of pejorative connotations.[4]

Afghanistan and Pakistan

In Afghanistan & Pakistan, the word is used to refer to any person of religious orientation with whom secularists might not agree.

See also


  1. ^ Roy, Olivier (1994). The Failure of Political Islam. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 28–9. ISBN 0674291409.  
  2. ^ See for example: Rabbinic Succession in Bukhara 1790-1930,
  3. ^ Taheri, Amir (1985). The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution. Bethesda, Md.: Adler & Adler. pp. 53. ISBN 091756104X.  
  4. ^ Momen, Moojan, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985, p.203


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Ulema article)

From Wikiquote

Ulema are experts in Islamic laws.


  • The mullahs are religiously-driven extremists, and they’re not like other nation-states. It’s very difficult to sit, sit across the table from them and, and, and have negotiations that make intellectual sense to us, but does not to them because they’re—they have a different drive. They consider us the, the great Satan. Israel’s the little Satan, and we know what their plans are for them. But they consider us the great Satan...


  1. A Da'ee is a caller who invites people to Islam.

External links

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Look up ulema in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MULLAH (Arabic maula, a term which originally expresses the legal bond connecting a former owner with his manumitted slave, both patron and client being called maula, and thus suggests the idea of patronage), in Mahommedan countries, a learned man, a teacher, a doctor of the law, In India the term is applied to the man who reads the Koran, and also to a Mussulman schoolmaster. In countries like Afghanistan the mullahs exert an influence over the populace which sometimes rivals that of the amir himself, and they have been responsible for many disturbances in Kabul. Among the democratic tribes of the north-west frontier of India they almost take the place of a secular chief. In the Indian frontier risings of 1897-98 the "mad mullah" of Swat led the attack upon the Malakand, while the Hadda mullah was largely responsible for the risings amongst the Mohmands, Afridis and Orakzais. The leader of the risings in Somaliland in1899-1910was similarly known as the "mad mullah."

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also mullah



Mullah m. (genitive Mullahs, plural Mullahs)

  1. (Islam) mullah

Simple English

File:Mollah imamzadeh
A mullah praying in Imamzadeh Seyyed Hamza, Tabriz.

In may Islamic countries Mullah (Persian: ملا) or Mula is the name given to a man with an education in Islamic theology and law. The title Mullah is commonly used for local Islamic clerics or mosque leaders.[1]

It is primarily understood in the Muslim world as a term of respect for a religiously educated man.[2]


  1. Roy, Olivier (1994). The Failure of Political Islam. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 28–9. ISBN 0674291409. 
  2. Taheri, Amir (1985). The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution. Bethesda, Md.: Adler & Adler. pp. 53. ISBN 0-917561-04-X. 


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