ʿUlamā '

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ʿUlamā ' , German Ulama or Ulema ( Arabic علماء, DMG ʿulamāʾ , pl. Vonعَالِم, DMG ʿālim 'scholar') are the names of the religious scholars of Islam . Their organization and influence vary in the different Islamic communities. It is strongest in Shiite Islam of Iran, where its role has been institutionalized with the Iranian constitution. In most countries they are the local authorities who decide on the correct interpretation of the Islamic doctrine.

The role of the ulama in history

Throughout history, the Ulama ’ formed a veritable class of scholars of God and law throughout Islam who were trained in the traditional sciences of Islam. P. 224 p. 391 For centuries the ʿUlama ' shaped, partly together with, partly in opposition to the Sufis, the law and mysticism as the main shaping forces of Islam. P. 33 and 39

According to the religious ideal, the caliph or his representative should implement the rules of the Sharia faithfully according to the interpretation of the Ulama ' , the scholars, on the other hand, had to assert their knowledge - independent of the ruler - according to the frequently quoted hadith : “The most worthless among the scholars is the one who pays princes visits and the most worthy of all princes is the one who visits the scholars. " p. 39 In practice, however, in view of the real circumstances, the rulers often deviated from Sharia and tried to seek the support of the ʿUlama ' to insure by trying to bind them to them through state positions and the allocation of land. P. 39

The early Islamic ulama

The faithful who recited the Koran in the early Islamic period and mastered the hadith by heart formed the earliest origin of the ulama . P. 33

The ulama under the Abbasid Caliphate

After the Islamic law, the Sharia, had been drawn up under the Abbasids from the Koran and the Hadith , the main task of the ulama was to maintain the application of the Sharia and to teach the training of the next generation. P. 33

The ulama from the 11th century to the 16th century

In the 11th century, the secular potentates tried to bring religious institutions under their influence. Madrasas ( madrasas ), official schools of law at which the ulama taught  - as well as in their own houses and on the grounds of mosques and shrines - arose in almost the entire Islamic sphere of influence . P. 33

In the 12th and 13th centuries the ulama , meanwhile a more or less highly qualified profession, had a large number of government offices open to them; and despite all the differences in status in the various Islamized countries, their status around 1500 was now widely respected and influential. P. 33 In their sermons they made moral demands on the people and taught Muslims of all ages in their schools in traditional Islamic studies. P. 33 Their central function remained the orthodox exegesis of Sharia law and, in their role as Kadis, the state-mandated application of the law and, as Muftis, the preparation of legal explanations and free legal opinions ( fatwas ) . P. 33 Most of the time, however, they lived from the proceeds of their own craft businesses or trading companies in addition to the income from donations from the faithful, and also managed the mosques, schools, hospitals and orphanages. P. 33 Some also received state lands or salaries. P. 33

Form and content of the educational system of the ulama

For the ulama , the Koran and the legacy of Muhammad were the highest and final standard for the people up to the “last judgment” on the religiously presumed day of resurrection (yaum al-qiyama). P. 34 Accordingly , focused on the other side and endeavored to secure salvation, the educational approach of the ulama tended to be conservative and concentrated on the unadulterated tradition of the Koran and its traditional interpretation. P. 34 In the training of the Alim , the focus was on the fact that he should systematically and mechanically learn literally prepared tracts regardless of whether he understood their content and meaning. P. 34 This procedure was supported by the aesthetically shaped formulation of many learning texts, for example in rhymes, which made recitative learning easier. P. 34 The ulama was not supposed to change the classical texts , but could instead be upgraded through the increasing overlapping of annotations by the scholars, but also made illegible. P. 34 Gradually around 1500, certain standard textbooks for training in the various disciplines had established themselves, which were distributed throughout Islam. P. 34 If a student had completed the instruction of a certain book material, his teacher issued a kind of "diploma", the teaching license ( Idschāza ), which allowed him to teach the relevant material himself in the future. P. 34 and 224 This certificate also demonstrated the complete chain of teachers through which the knowledge was transmitted from the author of the book and the first teacher down to the current holder. P. 34 and 224 It was not so much the school and discipline but the respective book and its teachers that established the student's identification and loyalty and made him a valuable vehicle for the uninterrupted transmission of Islamic knowledge and values, according to the words of a pedagogical guide from the 13th century: “Be aware that (your) teacher is the author of your soul, the root of its creation and the core of its life; he is comparable to your father, who is the creator of your body and your existence. ” p. 34 As a result, a complex network of student-teacher relationships connected the Islamic“ ecumenism ”or world community ( umma ) and was the basis of Islamic learning. P. 34

Their teaching content was essentially the Koran exegetics, the study of Arabic grammar and literature, the hadith, Islamic law ( Fiqh ) and jurisprudence and theology , which the latter was often omitted because of its vulnerability to devout Muslims. P. 33ff To a lesser extent, mathematics and medicine or selected Sufist writings were also included in the curriculum, whereas philosophy and actual natural sciences were excluded from the subject matter of the ulama and in the madrasas , although Islam was still ahead of Europeans in these disciplines. P. 34

The ulama in the central Islamic empires of the 16th and 17th centuries

When Muslim power reached its peak in the 16th century , the three kingdoms of the Safavids , the Mughals and the Ottomans emerged, which placed the tribal unions, sultanates and weak dynasties of the Islamic core countries under their centralized control. P. 44 The increase in the concentration of power in these individual empires, which to a certain extent continued the Mongolian idea of ​​a world empire in the form of the so-called " military patronage state ", soon endangered the cosmopolitan structure of the Islamic world. P. 44

The Ulama in the Safavid Empire

Emerging from Sufi sheikhs in Iran, Shah Safi Al Din founded the Order of the Safavids, whose following grew rapidly. P. 45 The Safavid soldier elite was called Qizilbash (Turkish: Kızılbaş = “red head”) because of their twelve-lobed, red turbans, which refer to the 12 Shiite imams , and had helped the young Shah Ismail I to conquer large areas, but it was also an internal threat The Shahs grew up, p. 45 until they were replaced under Shah Abbas the Great by Caucasian prisoners of war as troops and from offices. P. 46

Ismail I introduced the Twelve Shia ( DMG šīʿa iṯnā ʿašarīya ) as the state religion in 1501 . P. 46 Shiism originally emerged as an opposition movement against the first caliphs and served as legitimation for the descendants of Muhammad's nephew and son-in-law Ali as the rightful successors of the Prophet . P. 46 For the Shiites propagated the belief that in addition to a generally understandable exegesis of the Koran there was a secret exegesis that Mohammed had only passed on to Ali as his heir and as imam or leader of the community in order to continue the tradition. P. 46 The line of the Imams (after the twelve Shia twelve in number) finally experienced superhuman exaggeration as incarnations of the “light” that was transmitted to them by the prophets from Adam and made them “ infallible ” and free from sin . P. 46 From this it followed for the Shiites, in contrast to the Orthodox Sunnis , that religious authority does not lie in the consensus of the community but in the hands of the “infallible” imams who are to be venerated alongside God and the Prophet. P. 47 However, Ismail I and his heirs were now considered to be the incarnations of the prophets, and the royal family also based their legitimation on the pretended descent from the seventh imam, Mūsā al-Kāzim . P. 47 Ismail I allowed himself to be venerated as a perfect Sufi teacher by the Kyzylbash students, who held the most important state offices , and forced the Ulama and the people to Shiism by force. P. 47 Sunni ulamas who opposed this had to flee to avoid death. P. 47 In 1514, the defeat by the Ottomans shook the loyalty of the Kyzylbash to their Shah and around the same time the theocratic nature of the state began to weaken by separating religious and political power, whereby the relationship between the ulama and the state deteriorated over the next two centuries changed: p. 45 u. 47 At the beginning of the Safavid rule, the ulama was entirely in the service of the exercise of state power, especially since due to the lack of Shiite ulamas in Iran, those from Syria or Bahrain had to be called in, who were thus dependent on the state for their assets and position. P. 47 and 49 Under Shah Abbas, however , the ulama began to publicly attack the divine right doctrine - the Shah is the “shadow of God” ( zillullah ) - in that Mulla Ahmad Ardabili Abbas argued that the Shah only administered power for the Imam and that it was a matter of decision the ulama to recognize this trust or not. Pp. 49 and 112 Among Abba's successors, the ulama finally intensified the attack on the legitimacy of royal rule and declared that the only eligible representative of the Twelfth Imam was a mujtahid . S. 47,49,112 and 224 as a mujtahid who had Ulama the right to the means of their boundaries Sharia not exceeding "effort" ( ijtihad ) declare binding rules. P. 224 Finally, the ulama under Sultan Hussain, who had become more and more materially independent, were able to direct the government through their leading mujtahid Mohammed Bakir Majlisi , eradicate the remnants of the Safavid Sufi order and largely enforce Orthodox Shiism. P. 112 Just as the Safavids laid the foundation for today's state of Iran and anchored the beliefs of a minority among the people of the state, so the Ulama achieved that the legitimacy of their future governments became dependent on the support of the Mujtahid . P. 49

The ulama in the Mughal Empire

Babur , a descendant of Timur Lenk in the paternal line and in the maternal line of Genghis Khan , had tried in vain to win back Samarkand in order to renew the realm of his ancestors. P. 58 Instead, he extended the Mughal Empire he had founded - in contrast to the situation in the Safavid Empire - mainly to territories of non-Islamic belief, to the Hindu states of the Indian subcontinent. P. 58 Under his grandson Akbar I , a military-style, centralized and efficient state administration had already been established, p. 58 whose civil servants, the mansabdars, mainly recruited from foreigners and often from non-Muslims, were paid for by the emperor. Pp. 58,115 and 224 Akbar, dependent on the support of his Hindu military and officials, abolished the Sharia poll tax for "infidels" ( Jisja ) as well as the Shari'a prescribed death penalty for the offense of apostasy . P. 60ff u 224 He replaced the Islamic moon - with the solar calendar, forbade the Muslims to kill the cows sacred to the Hindus, condemned the slavery practiced by the Muslims and also supported the maintenance of non-Muslim places of worship financially. P. 61 Personally, he treated religion in an eclectic way. P.61 He traveled annually to the shrine of Sufi saint Muinaddin Tschischti and opened under the influence of rationalist Abulasl a "hall of worship" in which he talks with religious Sunni Ulama , Sufis, Hindus, Zoroastrians , Jews , Jains and Jesuit from Goa led. P. 61 In 1582 Akbar created the sect "Divine Faith" ( Din-e Ilahi ), p. 61, however, which remained insignificant. P. 61ff Similar to the young Safavid Empire, Akbar also tried to make the ulama dependent on the state. P. 61 To this end, he created various state financial grants for the ulama , demanded their presence at his court in order to enjoy them and forbade any intolerance. P. 61 The ulama finally fell out of favor when their official spokesmen attempted to attack Akbar's free-spirited friend Abulasl and his family around 1570. P. 61 His successors initially continued the tolerant eclectic politics until, under Dara Schikoh, the real danger arose that a connection between Sufi and Hindu pantheism would call Islamic orthodoxy into question. P. 62

The theoretical basis of resistance to this religious stance, which was ultimately led by followers of the Nakshbendija order, arose above all after the arrival of Chodscha Baki-billah in India. P. 62 His disciple Abd al-Haq from Delhi had a major influence on the ulama reaction . He initially withdrew from Akbar's free-spirited court by retreating to Mecca , then allowed himself to be called back, but he wrote the main features of a learned counter-offensive, paying particular attention to traditions. P. 62 His student Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi became even more important , who with the help of Sufism brought Muslims back to the Koran and "refuted" the pantheistic postulate of the "omnipresence of God" and modified Sufism. P. 62ff Although he atone for his suggestion to the successor Akbars - Jahangir  - to align the state according to the regulations of the Sharia, still with the prison, the successor of Dara Schikoh - Aurangzeb  - was inclined towards the ulama and the followers of Ahmed Sirhindi and replaced them eclectic politics through an orthodox and uniform regiment. P. 63 and 114 After 1669 he destroyed many Hindu temples, reintroduced the jisja in 1679 , re-established the Islamic lunar calendar , strengthened the application of Sharia law, made it difficult to study pantheistic ideologies and initiated a comprehensive collection of laws from the Hanefi school of law ( Fatawa-i Alamgiri ) on the basis of this the Mughal Empire was transformed into an Islamic theocracy. P. 63

The Ulamā in the Ottoman Empire

Ottoman alim from 1878

After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the self-confidence of the Ottoman Empire as a great power was consolidated . This was accompanied by the need to legitimize the newly acquired supremacy also religiously . This was achieved on the one hand by integrating the religious scholars into the political system, on the other hand through an extensive and selective appropriation of the past within the framework of Ottoman historiography of the 15th and 16th centuries, for example with Ibn Zunbul or Eyyubi, who recorded the deeds of the Ottoman sultans on Depicting the ideal image of the Islamic religious fighter ( Ghāzī ) oriented and thus Islamically "overformed".

Mehmed II founded Islamic universities , the sahn-ı şeman or “eight universities”, in which legal scholars were trained. Since the conquest of the Egyptian Mamluk Sultanate in 1517, it has been documented how the Ottoman state went over to prefixing traditional Islamic scholars with its own hierarchy of “official imperial scholars” who were employed and paid by the state. Traditionally, the muftis had received permission from their respective teacher to independently find standards and to draw up legal opinions ( fetva ) at the end of their training. In the Ottoman Empire, formal appointment by sultan's decree became a prerequisite for pronouncing fetvas. In the 17th century, the chronicler al-Hamawi used the expression "sultanic mufti" (al-ifta 'al-sultani) to distinguish the officially appointed leadership from those legal scholars who had gone through the traditional educational path. Contemporary authors refer to the Ottoman legal scholars as "Hanafis of Rūm [of the Ottoman Empire]" (Rūmi ḫānāfi) , "Scholarship of Rūm" (ʿulamā'-ı rūm) or "Scholarship of the House of Osman" (ʿulamā 'al-dawla al-ʿ .Uthman) ) . The highest Islamic legal scholar and head of the scholarship became the Sheikh al-Islām (Şeyhülislam) in Istanbul. Through these religious officials, who were now dependent on the imperial administration, the sultan was able to exert greater influence on the ReichUlamā ', although he himself remained subject to the Sharia ( Turkish Şeriat ) according to Islamic legal understanding . Even the Sheikh al-Islam was dependent on the Sultan; his office, like that of the muftis, is called “service” ( hizmet ) or “rank” ( rütbe or paye ) to which the candidate is appointed or raised. Occasionally the sultans took advantage of their power: in 1633 Sultan Murad IV had Sheikh al-Islām Ahīzāde Ḥüseyin Efendi executed, in 1656 Shaikh al-Islām Ḥocazāde Mesʿud Efendi was sentenced to death by Sultan Mehmed IV . As İlmiye , the imperial scholars belonged to the Ottoman elite Askerî and enjoyed, among other things, the privilege of tax exemption.

The literary genres of the "scholarly ranking " ( Turkish tabaḳat , from Arabic ṭabaqāt ) and the biographical lexicons ( Turkish Eş-şakaiku'n , from Arabic As-Shaqa'iq ) left a coherent tradition of teaching and structure through the compilation of scholar biographies the Ottoman imperial scholarship arise. The work of Shaykh al-Islām Kemālpaşazade (d. 1534) "Treatise on the order of precedence of the Mujtahid " (Risala fi ṭabaqāt al-mujtahidiīn) was quoted again and again until the 18th century and occasionally also translated into other languages. Kınalızāde ʿAli Çelebi (d. 1572) created in his "Genealogy of the Hanafi School of Law" (Ṭabaqāt al-Ḥanafiyya) a complete chain of tradition from Abū Hanīfa to the Ottoman Sheikh al-Islām Kemālpaşazade. Kınalızāde writes that his work should not only be understood as a history of the Hanafi madhhab , but expressly in order to be consulted in the event of any teaching disputes within the law school. This makes the purpose of canonizing the Hanafi understanding of law for the Ottoman imperial scholarship clear. Maḥmud b. Süleyman Kefevi (d. 1582) concludes from his compilation of scholars and their works that do not meet the Ottoman Hanafi understanding of the law, and so emphasizes the educational monopoly of reichsosmanischen law school in modern Ottoman as Ottoman Islam is called.

The first and most important biographical lexicon ( Turkish Eş-şakaiku'n , from Arabic Al-Shaqa'iq ) was "Anemone Garden of the [religious] scholars of the Ottoman rule" (Al-shaqa'iq al-nuʿmāniyya fi ʿulamā 'al-dawla al -ʿUthmaniyyā) from Aḥmād b. Muṣṭafā Taşköprüzāde (died 1561). The term "al-nuʿmāniyya" (literally: anemones) is to be understood as a direct allusion to the Nu'mani brotherhood, the proper name of the Ottoman scholarly elite used in the Hanafi madhhab. In Taşköprüzāde's work, the biographies are based on the reigns of the Ottoman sultans. He thus connects Islamic scholarship with the history of the Ottoman ruling dynasty, “because this work was compiled under the shadow of their rule (“ dawla ”) ”. To emphasize this even more, he wrote in classical Arabic. Turkish translations were written during Taşköprüzāde's lifetime: in 1560 that of Belgradlı Muhtesibzade Muhammed Haki under the title Hada'iq al-Rayhan ; at the same time a translation by Aşık Çelebi was created . Further adaptations followed in the 16th century, for example by Muḥammad al-Madschdî in 1586.

Other scholars wrote sequels to Taşköprüzāde's work. Aşık Çelebi dedicated his "continuation" (Dhayl al-Shaqa'iq) to the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha . Ali ben Bali Cevheri (1527–1584) describes his work "The Pearl Row of the Dignitaries of Rumelia" (al-ʻIqd al-Manzum fi Dhikr Afazil al-Rum) expressly as a continuation of Taşköprüzāde, for which he has a prominent place as the "showpiece of the chain" in the series of the Ottoman ʿUlamā '. Ali ben Bali follows the order of the biographies given by Taşköprüzāde according to the reigns of the sultans. He, too, wrote in elegant Arabic and quotes poems and texts by the scholars presented to emphasize their position in Arabic-Islamic literature.

The development of Islam into an instrument of the state raison d'etre of the Ottoman Empire is connected with Sultan Suleyman I and his Kazasker and later Sheikh al-Islām Mehmed Ebussuud Efendi . Ebussuud Efendi created a code of law (kanunnāme) valid throughout the empire , in which he derived Ottoman law from Islamic law according to the Hanafi school of law: Orders based on the legal opinions (fatwa) of Islamic legal scholars were difficult to attack and consolidated the reign of the sultan. P. 23 Ebussuud, for example, justified the need for state property and the increase in the tax burden with the preservation and necessary protection of property shared by all Muslims.

The ulama in the 19th century

In the Ottoman Empire, the ʿUlamā 'initially remained an important political influence at the beginning of the 19th century: an attempt by Sultan Selim III. The attempt to reform the Ottoman army , which was no longer able to cope with modern warfare , failed not least because of the resistance of the āUlamā '. His successor, Sultan Mahmud II (ruled 1808–1839) was able to carry out the urgently needed army reform by naming the new units organized on the European model "Victorious Army of Mohammed" (Asâkir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye) . In this way he was able to counter the accusation of apostasy and secure the support of the religious scholars. The reforms of Mahmud II gave rise to a new elite in the empire that was familiar with the languages ​​and political and social customs of Western Europe. As the political and economic pressure of Europe began to have an increasing effect in the course of the 19th century, it was these people who continued Mahmud's reforms and ushered in a new era in the Ottoman Empire. The influence of the religious scholars was gradually reduced and circumvented: a newly established Ministry for Religious Foundations controlled the finances of the Vakıf Foundations. Thus the scholars were deprived of control of significant financial resources, which limited their ability to exert political influence.

Iran succeeded the Persian Qajar dynasty , especially the almost the same time to the Ottoman sultans of the reform period , Abdülmecid and Abdulaziz , ruling Naser al-Din Shah Qajar not (r. 1848-1896), an Ottoman ratios corresponding central control over the clergy gain. Compared to the Sunni ulama , the Shiite religious scholars were able to exert considerably more political influence over their followers. Since they continued to have unlimited access to the income from the religious foundations and also from the Muslim zakāt tax, they also had the financial means to act politically independently, sometimes against the Shah's government. The political position of the Shiite clergy had a particularly clear impact during the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979.

The role of the ulama in modern times

The second half of the twentieth century was marked by a significant loss of ulama authority and influence in most Islamic states, apart from Saudi Arabia and Iran . Many secular Arab governments tried to curtail the influence of the ulama after they came to power. Religious institutions were nationalized and the principle of waqf , the charitable foundations, which formed the classic source of income for the ulama, was abolished. In 1961 al-Azhar University was placed under direct state control by the Egyptian Nasser regime. "The Azharis are even put into uniforms and have to parade under the orders of army officers" ( G. Kepel : Jihad).

The Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı (Presidium for Religious Affairs, or Diyanet for short) was founded in the Turkish Republic in 1924 under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk . This replaced the traditional Ottoman institution of Şeyhülislam and is still the highest religious authority in Turkey, directly subordinate to the president. From 1925 the traditional dervish convents and Koran schools were dissolved and replaced by state-controlled preaching schools . Famous convents such as that of the Mevlevi Order in Konya have been secularized and turned into museums.

After Algeria gained independence, President Ben Bella also robbed the Algerian ulama of their power.

Islamic scholars like Kepel say that the decline in ulama influence left a vacuum that was filled by the emergence of Islamist movements in the 1970s.

When the inner-Islamic conflict between sectarian Sunnis and Shiites escalated in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, Islamic organizations embodied the religious-political fronts and disseminated their ideas through the schools they ran. Graduates ( Talib ) of north Pakistani Madaris like Mullah Omar played a role in the establishment of the Afghan Taliban regime and in the development of Islamist terrorism . In the wake of the Islamist terror, the traditional Islamic education system and its scholars generally fell into disrepute in the western world.

The madrasa system, financed privately, often by foreign aid organizations, is still the only access to education and limited social advancement for the majority of people in poorer Islamic countries. Saudi Arabian aid organizations in particular use the Madaris they maintain to spread Wahhabi teachings, while the Shiite Madaris are influenced by the Islamic Republic of Iran . The lack of state supervision over the educational institutions and curricula of the Madaris and the often inadequate qualification of their teaching staff remain just as problematic as the ideological indoctrination and the later professional prospects of the madrasa graduates.


  • Hamid Algar : Religion and state in Iran: 1785–1906; the role of the Ulama in the Qajar period . University of California Press, Berkeley, 1969.
  • Godfrey H. Jansen: Islamic Resistance. An investigation into the Islamic confrontation with the Western world today . Kitab-Verlag, Cologne 1984, ISBN 3-88794-003-2 .
  • Denise Klein: The Ottoman Ulema of the 17th Century. A closed society? Klaus Schwarz Verlag, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-87997-337-8 .

See also

Individual evidence

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  16. Aşık Çelebi, Abdurrezzak Beretta (ed.): Dhayl al-Shaqa'iq al-Nu ' maniyya fi ' Ulama al-Dawla al- ' Uthmaniyya . Dar al-Hidaya, Kuwait 2007.
  17. Gürzat Kami: Understanding a sixteenth-century ottoman scholar-bureaucrat: Ali b. Bali (1527–1584) and his biographical dictionary Al- ' Iqd al-Manzum fi Dhikr Afazil al-Rum. MA thesis . Graduate school of social sciences, İstanbul Şehir University, Istanbul 2015, p. 62 .
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  22. RG No. 429 of March 3, 1924.
  23. Act No. 677 of November 30, 1925 on the prohibition and closure of the orders of dervishes, monasteries and mausoleums, on the prohibition of the profession of mausoleums guardian and the management and award of certain titles, RG No. 243 of December 13, 1925.
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