Ulamas

Arab term whose singular is ‘alim, « scientist ». The ulamas are the doctors of Islamic sciences. The term is mainly used by the Sunnis, the Shias rather use the term « mollah ». The ulamas constitute a non-hierarchical body of Masters in religious sciences. Those primarily include the Islamic law and jurisprudence, theology and philosophy. The ulamas were traditionally consulted by the qadis (judges) who asked for their expertise on specific legal questions, the final decision was however with the qadis. Ottomans had structured the religious authorities in the form of a hierarchical institution in which the muftis occupied the higher row. Those were appointed to deliver legal opinions (fatwa) which could constitute new laws thereafter applied by the qadis. This institution was abolished, little after the caliphate, by Ataturk but it still exists in some Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent Egypt). The power of the religious sheikhs* and the great muftis is however limited since they generally owe their position to the Head of State who can revoke them at any time.