Literally, ‘Sign of God’. This is a title of respect given to highly accomplished  Muslim scholars in the Shi’ah tradition. 

In modern times, the title is bestowed by a committee of their peers to the most eminent scholars of the Shi’ah seminaries, based largely in Qom, Iran, and Najaf, Iraq. 

The requirements to become an Āyatullāh are not fully formalized. However, most commonly, one must have:

  1. Studied for a recognizable amount of time in the Islamic seminary.
  2. Received multiple degrees and accreditations, as noted by their peers, in the Islamic sciences.
  3. Distinguished themselves through their research which are found in their writings.
  4. Be judged by their fellow scholars as exhibiting exceptional levels of  both knowledge and leadership.
  5. Have reached the level of being a Mujtahid (see definition) in the field of Islamic law.