Religion Past and Present

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(164 words)

[German Version]

“Sign of God.” In Shihite Islam this is an honorary title for the person with the highest spiritual authority. Since the 14th century it has been documented as an individual surname. The title was defined terminologically for the first time in the 20th century in the context of a self-consolidating hierarchy of spiritual dignitaries. Since then it represents the highest category of the mujtahids, i.e. Islamic scholars (ʿulamā), who are qualified by means of studies and exams to make decisions independently and on their own responsibility (ijtihād) on religious and …

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Halm, Heinz, “Ayatollah,”, in: Religion Past and Present. Consulted online on 25 March 2019 <>
First published online: 2011
First print edition: ISBN: 9789004146662, 2006-2013

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