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MULLAH. A Persian construction probably from the Arabic mawla (“master,” “leader ” “lord”)
mullah is the title used to identify a religious functionary, a cleric, a learned man, or someone with religious education. The title is very much similar to akhund in the range of meanings it invokes.
From the Safavid period (AH 907-1145/1501-1722 CE) onward, the term mullah began to be used for various clerical functionaries. During the Qajar period (11931342/1779-1925) the term was institutionalized as a designation of lower-ranking clerics. Beginning with the Constitutional Revolution in Iran (1906-1911), the term assumed an additional derogatory connotation, used by secular individuals to designate antimodern and reactionary tendencies.
The term mullah invariably refers to a male cleric, but in such constructions as mullabaji (“sister-mullah”) it has been extended to female clerics, particularly to female teachers at girls’ schools. The term mulldkhdnah, which has been used for traditional schools, indicates that at least since the Qajar period the word mullah has had an exclusive application to elementary teachers at traditional schools. The term mullanuqati also refers to a person who is very particular about details (of punctuation, for example, and by extension other kinds of formalities). Probably because some high-ranking mullahs owned land, there are quite a number of small villages in Iran with the term mullah attached to a proper name, such as Mulls-Bagir in Arak, or Mulla-Budaq and Mulls-Piri in Zanjan.
In the Safavid administrative apparatus, the term mullabashi referred to a high-ranking religious official in charge of a number of functions, including the religious education of the court (Mu’allim Habibabadi, 1362/ 1983, vol. 1, pp. 51-52). The office of mullabashi was subsequently developed into the most prestigious religious position at the Safavid court (Arjomand, 1363/ 1984, pp. 154-155). [See Mullabashi.]
Among the clerics themselves, the term mullah is the highest expression of reverence for religious learning. Perhaps the most distinguished philosopher of the Safavid period, Mulla Sadra Shiraz! (d. 1050/1640) received his name from the combination of mullah, here meaning “the most learned,” and Sadr al-Din, his honorific title (Ashtiyani, 1340/1963, pp. 1-3). Even in popular culture, the term mullah has strong connotations of learning and erudition. The verb mullashudan (lit., “to become a mullah”) in Persian means “to become learned.” (For various popular expressions to that effect see Dihkhuda, 1363/1984, vol. 4, p. 1731).
During the Qajar period the term mullah was applied as an honorific title to a number of teachers at the court. Mullah ‘Ali Asghar Hazarjaribi, known as “Mullahbashi” (d. 1213/1798), was a teacher of the celebrated Qajar prince ‘Abbas Mirza and a number of other princes. The most distinguished philosopher of the Qajar period, Hajj Mullah Had! Sabzawari (d. 1289/1872) also carried the honorific title of mullah (Mu`allim Habibabadi, 1983, vol. 2, p. 466).
After the Constitutional Revolution in Iran the derogatory implications of the term in secular contexts increased. To call someone a mullah is to accuse him of reactionary ideas. Opposition to the establishment of new schools during the constitutional period in Iran, for example, is identified with “the mullahs” (Kasravi, 1354/1975 pp. 38-39). The expression mullakhur (“embezzled by the mullahs” or “edible by the mullahs”) refers either to financial embezzlement or to fruits and vegetables that have become rotten and can be purchased for a cheap price. In Persian folklore, the term mullah appears most familiarly in the name of Mullah Nasr al-Din, a legendary figure at the center of innumerable tales of either naive simplicity, or sometimes wit and wisdom.
As a self-conscious social group, the mullahs have performed a major role in the social history of Iran at least since the Qajar period. Their active participation during the Constitutional Revolution, both for and against it, continued well into the twentieth century. The Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 was largely led by Iranian mullahs. Beyond the crucial realm of politics, the mullahs are principally in charge of the religious functions and ceremonies in Iran. They are particularly visible in public places during the months of Muharram, Safar, and Ramadan when their religious functions lead them into the mosques, markets, and other public places. As a class, also known as the akhunds, the ruhaniyun, or the `ulama’ they are the principal interpreters of the Islamic law for the Shi`is. They preside over such crucial events in the life of a Muslim as circumcision, wedding, hajj pilgrimage, and burial. Their religious and juridical training is institutionalized in madrasahs (seminaries). The curriculum of a mullah’s training includes the study of the Qur`an, the prophetic traditions, and the lives and sayings of the Shi`i imams (see Mottahedeh, 1985, et passim).
[See Akhund.]
Arjomand, Said Amir. The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam: Religion, Political Order, and Societal Change in Shiite Iran from the Beginning to 1890. Chicago and London, 1984.
Ashtiyani, Jalal al-Din. Sharh-i Hal va Ard’-i Falsaftyi Mulld Sadrd. Mashhad, 1340/1963.
Dihkhuda, ‘Ali Akbar. Amsal va hikam. Tehran, 1363/1984. Dihkhuda, ‘Ali Akbar. Lughatnamah. Tehran, n.d.
Kasravi, Ahmad. Tankh-i Mashrutah -yi Iran. Tehran, 1354/1975. Mottahedeh, Roy P. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. New York, 1985.
Mu’allim Habibabadi, Mirza Muhammad ‘Ali. Makdrim al-Asar dar ahval-i rijal-i dawrahyi Qajar. 6 vols. Isfahan, 1976-1985. Mu’ln, Muhammad. Farhang-i Farst. Tehran, AH 1356-1358/19771979 CE.

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/mullah/

  • writerPosted On: September 29, 2014
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