Those who carry the title are experts in Islamic studies such as jurisprudence, ethics, and philosophy and usually teach in Islamic seminaries. The next lower clerical rank is Hojatoleslam wal-muslemin.
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The name “ayatollah” originates from a passage in the Quran which the Shi’a, unlike the Sunni, interpret to mean human beings can be regarded as ‘signs’ or ‘evidence’ of God. Passage 51:20–21 of the Quran states:
On the earth are signs (Ayat) for those of assured Faith,