Quora Answer: What is the Difference between a Mufti, an ‘Alim, a Mulla, & Other Similar Religious Titles?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ 

The following is my answer to a Quora question: “In Islam, what is the difference between a mufti, an ‘alim, a mulla, and other similar religious titles? 

A “mufti” is simply a religious official who issues fatawa, legal opinions.  He may also expound, reinterpret or reject existing fatawa. 

An “‘alim” is the singular of ‘ulama, a scholar. 

Mulla” is derived from “mawlana”, meaning “master”. 

An “ustadz” is another term for a religious scholar.  It is Persian in origin. 

A “shaykh” is another term used.  It is also used to denote a leader of a tribe or group, who is mature, likely greying.  When we call the scholar “shaykh”, he is not only a master of that religious science, but he is established, and likely very old.  By convention, one must be at least 40 years of age to be a shaykh. 

A “murshid” is someone who has mastered a school of the religious science of taswawwuf, Sufism.  It means “guide”.


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