It requires decades of serious learning and hardships to reach to the position of Ayatollah. There are seminaries in Iraq, Iran and Syria where the Shia Knowledge Seekers and students are taught, patronised and polished.
RITUALS, RHETORIC and dramatisations are the salient characteristics of the might rulers. The ‘Ayatollahs’ employ none. They don’t visit world capitals; they welcome no salutations and no ‘guards of honour’ and sit on the ordinary tattered mat that you can find in the poorest house holds. However, when Ayatollah Khomeni gives a clarion call of rebellion, the crown and scepter of mighty Arya Meher Shanshah Raza Pehelvi go to dust. When Ayatollah Sheestani speaks from his hovel in Iraq, his every word is analysed with utmost care in the most powerful capitals of the world. What makes these Ayatollahs so powerful?
We can’t understand this enigma without an understanding of the theological principles of SHIA religion. According to Ithna Ashri (believers in 12 Imams) Shia belief, whoever dies without following an Imam (Religious Jurist) dies in ignorance. Living Imam is not visible and God has put him beyond the visual reach of ordinary human being. He guides through his ‘spiritual agents’ and ‘Ayatollahs’ are those revered agents or representatives. It requires decades of serious learning and hardships to reach to the position of Ayatollah. There are seminaries in Iraq, Iran and recently in Syria also where the Shia Knowledge Seekers and students are attracted, taught, patronised and polished to begin their upward journey towards religious perfection as guides. These seminaries are known as ‘Hawazat Ilmiyyah’ where Islamic Jurisprudence, Quranic Explications, Philosophy, Sufism, History, Mathematics and Islamic Sciences are taught. These seminaries are headed by Ayatollahs. No formal degrees, certificates or licenses are awarded to students. Emphasis is laid in developing the student’s research skills and mental capacities on increasing the cultural, juridical and philosophical information. An attitude in inculcated for scientific and political approach. These seminaries are located in Najaf, Samaraa, Baghdad and Karbala in Iraq, and in Qum and Mashad in Iran.
After few years of learning if the Ayatollah feels a student fit as beginner he is called the Molvi, Moulana or Mulla.
Maturing after the first rank, he goes the higher stage of learning and it is known as ‘Ijtihad’ and he become as ‘Mujtahid’. Next position is ‘Hujjat Al-Islam’. Then he climbs to the pedestal of ‘Hujjat Al-Islam wa Muslimeen’. As the learning proceeds he becomes an ‘Authoritative Source’ or ‘Ayatollah’. There after he is last authority of Shias – The Grand Ayatollah or ‘Ayatollah al Uzma’.
The financial support for these seminaries comes from every Shia household who can afford and from every country where he resides. It is the most powerful institution of Shia Jurisprudence. The nominated sources or ‘Nayabs’ of these Ayatollahs are present in every country where there is a reasonable population of Shias exists. They collect Zakah, the obligatory charity and ‘Khums’ which is a fifth of total saving of the year. They do distribute that money in their own country also for the welfare of their people. According to Shia doctrine ‘Khums’ is mentioned in Quran and allocated to Prophet during his life time and to his kith and kin after him.
According to Sunni Doctrine, the right of a fifth of saving was only related to spoils of war and lost effect by the Prophet’s death.
The money collected as KHUMS had always been the prominent source of strength of Shia Clergy. It makes Shia priest richer by degrees and independent of any ruler who could interfere in religious affairs. In all matters to religion the decree of Ayatollah al Uzma runs supreme. It is the base of the ‘Theory of Clerical Rule’ or ‘Guardianship of the Jurist’. This Guardianship implies that every public act of Islamic government require a pre-permission or approval of Ayatollah before being done. State derives its legitimacy from being under the ‘Supervision’ of Jurist Guardian – the Ayatollah al Uzma.