What do marjaeya and marja’ mean?

The marjaeya is a religious authority. A marja’ is a jurist who gives religious rulings based on Islamic teachings.

The word marja’ (Arabic: مَرْجَع) literally means “source”. This source may be a person, an entity, a system, or anything else. Islam regards a Marja’ is as a “source to follow”. It is a religious title given to a religious scholar of a high position who is capable of issuing verdicts (fatwa) based on an expert study of Islamic holy texts. The Marja’ acquires this level as a result of many years of scholarly research and advancement in matters of Islamic study, particularly Islamic practical laws.

The position of the marja’ is called marjaeya (Arabic: مَرْجَعِيَّة). The marjaeya is the highest religious authority amongst Muslims after the level of Imamate. The infallible Imams established this position after Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and it became an essential concept during the age of occultation of the twelfth Imam al-Mahdi (p) since 325 AH (940 AD). Expert scholars in the Islamic seminary (hawzah, Arabic: حَوْزَة) can recognize a marja’. They may recognize him through several different ways, such as by his teachings, his students’ levels, his books and works of research, or by the recognition of other jurists – including his teacher(s) – verbally or in a written document. At this stage, he is called a jurist (mujtahid, Arabic مُجْتَهِد), and believers may follow his rulings. Thus, he technically becomes a marja’, since Muslims started following his verdicts. To be certain of following the religion and God’s teachings properly during the occultation of Imam al-Mahdi (p), it is an obligation to follow the most knowledgeable jurist with a high level of piety. When the majority follows a marja’, he will be recognized as the highest marja’ (marja’ al-A’laa, Arabic: المرجع الأعلى) in the Islamic world.

The main role of the marja’ during the occultation of the twelfth Imam al-Mahdi (p) is limited to the following:

1. Teaching and enlightening:

The marja’ has the responsibilities of having a complete understanding of the mission of the religion of Islam, teaching it on different levels, and defending it by answering any type of question or critique. Seminaries throughout history show us the main foundation for this mission. For example, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p), (702-765 AD), had over nine hundred students, and every one of them was a teacher for a group of scholars in Kufa, Iraq. Another example is the late marja’ Sayyid Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei (1899-1992 AD), who had over one thousand students, and more than one hundred of them had attained the status of “jurist” from his school during his lifetime. This wealth of knowledge builds, sustains, and empowers the religious teachings of Islam and keeps it standing. It is the first of the marja’s priorities.

2. Issuing rulings and judgments:

The marja’ is responsible for issuing verdict(s) pertaining to all matters of religion, such as prayer, fasting, charity, human rights, marriage, divorce, and death. The marja’ is also responsible for solving all types of disputes that may arise between any individuals or groups of his followers. His judgment is considered as the final word and must be fulfilled by all parties, without objection or rejection.

3. Being the authority:

The marja’ is responsible for leading and guiding his followers through his knowledge and verdicts along with his wisdom and high level of “piety”. There are various opinions and arguments about the limitations of the authority of the jurist and how far its reach should be. During the past thousand years, the majority of scholars and jurists who were knowledgeable in this subject matter believed that the qualified marja’ had the general authority on behalf of the twelfth Imam al-Mahdi (p) over all Muslims, regardless of race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or geographic borders. It is essentially a spiritual relationship between the followers and their religious leader that covers all their religious needs, such as authority over orphans, authority over the unjust husband who does not fulfill his wife’s rights and abstains from divorcing her, authority over all charitable dues (such as khums, zakat, and sadaqa), and authority over public religious entities such as mosques.

The power and influence of the marja’

The power and influence of the marja’ results from the following:

1. The command from the infallible Imams (p) to the Muslims to follow their religious leaders in the Imams’ absence and whenever pious jurists give guidance, verdicts, and orders Muslims should consider them to be on behalf of the infallible Imams (p).

2. The spiritual bond and relationship between jurists and their followers.

3. Political and financial independence. Jurists, in Islamic Shia Muslim theological belief, cannot have an allegiance to any government. Likewise, from a financial perspective, the religious authority meets its needs through internal financial resources which are given by the followers as religious dues.