pl. mujtahidun. Lit., “One who strives” to attain to a high position of scholarship and learning.
The highest degree amongst Muslim divines which is conferred either by the people or the ruler of a Muslim country upon eminent persons. The four doctors of the Sunnis and their disciples were of this degree, but there are none of these enlightened teachers amongst the Sunnis of the present day. They still exist in Persia, and are appointed by the people, the appointment being confirmed by the king. Malcolm, in his account of Persia, says :—
“There are seldom more than three or four priests of the dignity of Mujtahid in Persia. Their conduct is expected to be exemplary, and to show no worldly bias; neither must they connect themselves with the king or the officers of Government. They seldom depart from that character to which they owe their rank. The reason is obvious: the moment they deviate, the charm is broken which constitutes their power; men no longer solicit their advice or implore their protection; nor can they hope to see the monarch of the country courting popularity by walking to their humble dwellings, and placing them on the seat of honour when they condescend to visit his court. When Mutjtahid dies, his successor is always a person of the most eminent rank in the ecclesiastical order; and, though he may be pointed out to the popu- lace by others of the same class seeking him as-an associate, it is rare to hear of any intrigues being employed to obtain this enviable dignity.
The Mujtahids of Persia exercise a great though undefined, power over the courts of law, the judges of which constantly submit cases to their superior knowledge; and their sentence is deemed irrevocable, unless by a Mujtahid whose learning and sanctity are of acknowledged higher repute than that of the person by whom judgment has been pronounced. But the benefits which tic inhabitants of Persia derive from the influence of these high priests, is not limited to their occasional aid of the courts of justice. The law is respected on account of the character of its ministers; kings fear to attack the decrees of tribunals over which they may be said to preside, and frequently endeavour to obtain popularity by referring cases to their decision. The sovereign, when no others dare approach him, cannot refuse to listen to a revered Mujtahid when he becomes an intercessor for the guilty. The habitations of this high order of priesthood are deemed sanctuaries for the oppressed; and the hand of despotic power is sometimes taken off a city, because the monarch will not offend a Mujtahid who has chosen it for his residence, but who refuses to dwell amid violence and injustice.”
There is a common opinion that the title of if Mujtahid can only be granted to those who are masters of seventy sciences. For a full account of the conditions of obtaining this rank, as expressed by a modern Muslim writer, will be found in the article on Ijma’. [IJMA'.]
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam