Mullah (/ˈmʌlə, ˈmʊlə, ˈmuːlə/; Arabic: ملا,
Azerbaijani: Molla, Persian: ملا / Mollâ, Turkish: Molla,
Bengali: মোল্লা) is derived from the Arabic word
مَوْلَى[verification needed] mawlā, meaning "vicar", "master"
and "guardian". However, used ambiguously in the Quran, some
publishers have described its usage as a religious title as
inappropriate. The term is sometimes applied to a
Muslim man or
woman, educated in
Islamic theology and sacred law. In large parts of
Muslim world, particularly Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan,
Afghanistan, Eastern Arabia,
Turkey and the Balkans, Central Asia, the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa and South Asia, it is the name commonly given to local
Islamic clerics or mosque leaders.
The title has also been used in some
Jewish communities to
refer to the community's leadership, especially religious
The term mullah is primarily understood in the
Muslim world as a term
of respect for an educated religious man.
1 Training and duties
3 See also
5 External links
Training and duties
Ideally, a trained mullah will have studied Islamic traditions
(hadith), and Islamic law (fiqh). Such figures often have memorized
the Qur'an. Uneducated villagers may frequently classify 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. Three kinds of
knowledge are applied most frequently in interpreting Islamic texts
(i.e. the Quran, Hadiths, etc.) for matters of Shariah, i.e., Islamic
Mullahs have frequently been involved in politics, but only recently
have they served in positions of power, since Islamists seized power
Iran in 1979. In Syria, political militant groups supported by the
West have taken root. The
Islamism in Afghanistan.
The term is most often applied to Shi'ite clerics, as Shi'a
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.
The term has also been used among Persian Jews, Bukharan Jews, Afghan
Jews, and other
Central Asian Jews to refer to the community's
religious and/or secular leadership. In Kaifeng, China, the historic
Chinese Jews who managed the synagogue were called "mullahs".
Outside of Eastern Arabia, which has a long Shiite tradition and
numerous Shiite minorities, the term is seldom used in other
Arabic-speaking areas where its nearest equivalent is often shaykh
(implying formal Islamic training), imam (prayer leader; not to be
confused with the imams of the Shiite world), or ʿālim ("scholar",
plural ʿulamāʾ). In the Sunni world, the concept of "cleric" is of
limited usefulness, as authority in the religious system is relatively
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.
It is sometimes used in a derogatory and humorous form, to mock
gnostically religious men.
Until the 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 is sometimes used as a derogatory term for any Islamic
cleric. In recent years, at least among Shia clerics, the term ruhani
(spiritual) has been promoted as an alternative to mullah and akhoond,
free of pejorative connotations.
Mullah Mohammed Omar
This article incorporates text from Chinese and Japanese
repository of facts and events in science, history and art, relating
to Eastern Asia, Volume 1, a publication from 1863 now in the public
domain in the United States.
^ Esposito, John (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.
^ Roy, Olivier (1994). The Failure of Political Islam. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 28–9.
^ See for example: "Rabbinic Succession in Bukhara 1790–1930",
^ Taheri, Amir (1985). The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic
Revolution. Bethesda, Md.: Adler & Adler. p. 53.
^ Chinese and Japanese repository of facts and events in science,
history and art, relating to Eastern Asia, Volume 1. Oxford: s.n.
1863. p. 48. Retrieved 2011-07-06. (Original from the
University of Michigan)
^ Momen, Moojan, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale University
Press, 1985, p. 203
"Mollah". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.