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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]


In Arabic ‘Ulama’ in the plural form of ‘alim’ literally meaning the “man of knowledge”. As the etymology of the word comes from the Qur’an the term has always had a strong biased towards religious knowledge specifically. This knowledge of the religious sciences focused around gnosis and exoteric religious law as interpreted from the Qu’ran, fiqh, and Hadith. Therefore, the Ulama were those who could teach courses in Qu’ranic exegesis, or where experts in Islamic jurisprudences, acting in part as judges. It is important to note that the definition given above only relates to the Sunni sect of Islam, in the Shia tradition the role is similar but with significant differences.  

Timothy Sandiford

Posted at Dec 06/2010 08:58PM:
ian: In Egypt role as an important counter to the authority of state officialdom though could often be found patronized by the largess of the ruling dynasty. Thus it is a moving target about the independence of this group and its ability to speak with one voice.