The Difference between an Imam, a Shaykh, a Mufti & a Faqih

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from “The Difference between an Imam, a Shaykh, a Mufti and a Faqih,” by Shaykh ‘Ali Juma’ah.

The term, “imam” has various meanings which includes someone who leads others in prayer.  He must be a Muslim, proficient in reading the Qur'an, sane and male if the congregation includes males.  A female may only lead other women in prayer.  The imamate of a boy is valid.

In shari’ah, the word, “imam” may refer to the ruler of a state depending on the context.  The word likewise refers to a person who has profound religious knowledge or someone who is foremost among the religious community.  There is no minimum to the skills required to qualify a person to this title, but the matter depends upon a scholar's renown and recognition by other scholars which, in turn, depends upon time and place.

The term, “shaykh” may refer to someone who is of 60 years of age or over or the head of a tribe or a small village, even if a young man.  In Egypt and elsewhere, the term is customarily used to refer to a person who studies the sciences of shari’ah, even if a child.  For this reason, a person who has memorised the Qur`an is called a “shaykh” even if he is not specialised in the sciences of shari’ah.  This is because memorising the Qur`an is considered seeking religious knowledge.

A faqih is a scholar who studies the science of deriving practical legal rulings from the sources of shari’ah such as the Qur`an, the sunnah, scholarly consensus and analogy which are related to the acts of a legally responsible person.  Based on this, the faqih is involved in studying and understanding the primary texts and deriving legal rulings from them which will delineate human acts from among the obligatory, prohibited, disliked, recommended and permissible.

A mufti is a faqih in the sense outlined above.  Moreover, a mufti is acquainted with the reality of the times in such a manner as to allow him to relate the legal ruling to this reality for the purpose of achieving the higher objectives of shari’ah which include preservation of the self, intellect, religion, honor and property.

From the above, we notice that in professional literature, the term, “imam” does not denote an office as much as it does the status of someone occupied with studying the sciences of shari’ah.  In this sense, such persons are referred to as a’immah by scholarly circles.  The same holds true of the term, “shaykh”.

As for the title, “faqih”, it is conferred by higher academic institutions upon those who teach in universities and other institutions of knowledge; authors, especially those who are considered a reference in their field, or those who formally or popularly take up issuing religious edicts.  Conditions for the appointment of a faqih as mufti include accreditation in shari’ah, training and experience in understanding the reality of the times and in issuing religious edicts.  Like judges, a mufti must be known for his equality - he must possess the proper scholarly tools that allow him to understand the reality of the times as well as the ability to tie the legal ruling to current events while simultaneously achieving the objectives of shari’ah.  A person is not called by the above titles simply because he discusses religion in the media – as is the case at present- without meeting the academic and scholarly tools requirements from specialised official institutions.


  1. Interesting article. Good info


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