Definition of ayatollah in English:



  • A high-ranking religious leader among Shiite Muslims, especially in Iran.

    • ‘Out of respect for his father and not wanting to increase the younger cleric's allure, the ayatollahs and other Shiite political groups have mostly remained silent in public about the situation.’
    • ‘The same applies to Protestant and Orthodox Christian leaders, the Dalai Lama, the Muslim ayatollahs, Jewish rabbinical councils, and all other modern-day religious patriarchs.’
    • ‘The only leaders they recognised were the imams and ayatollahs.’
    • ‘He said in an interview that he would never allow direct talks with the coalition, but said discussions were being led by Iraq's four leading Shiite ayatollahs.’
    • ‘All the top imams and ayatollahs decided to meet on such religious questions to settle some urgent details of dogma.’
    • ‘The chief ayatollah of the Shiite Muslims in Iraq says he wants direct democratic elections to take place.’
    • ‘More broadly, the Shiites can use this provision to place their ayatollahs over the elected parliament, as in Iran, because they alone are authorized to determine the ‘rules’ of Islam.’
    • ‘The ayatollah wields considerable influence among Shiites, who make up more than 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people.’
    • ‘The Iranians are a god-fearing people and believe in an afterlife, and this is certainly true of the mullahs and ayatollahs who comprise their government.’
    • ‘She says the moderate ayatollahs of the religious establishment in Najaf are largely favorable to the US, but they do not want the occupation to drag on.’
    • ‘Three of Najaf's four grand ayatollahs are from Iran.’
    • ‘His father was a well-known ayatollah - the top rank in the Shi'ite clerical hierarchy.’
    • ‘Najaf is the seat of the Shi'ite's ayatollahs, or spiritual leaders.’
    • ‘From the ranks of ayatollahs, who will already have their own followings among the theological students, five or six are chosen to become the Grand Ayatollahs who act as models to be imitated.’
    • ‘The ayatollah warned Iran would be pitiless towards rabble-rousers.’
    • ‘At the same time a stream of visitors from Iran, including many clerics, are received by the ayatollah in his mud-brick home in downtown Najaf each day.’
    • ‘How does this differ, except by degree, from the message of the imams and ayatollahs that government exists not to carry out the will of the people, but the will of the prophet as they choose to interpret it?’
    • ‘Because we see, of course, in Iran, the ayatollahs have been in control now since the fall of the shah.’
    • ‘Eventually, a new dictator, perhaps a Shiite ayatollah, takes control and forms a passionately anti-American government.’
    • ‘The highest real crude oil prices in recent memory were in 1979 after the ayatollahs seized power in Iran and the global price of crude oil peaked at around US $35 per barrel.’


1950s: from Persian, from Arabic 'āyatu-llāh, literally ‘token of God’.