|The Fourteen Infallibles
Peak of Eloquence · The Psalms of Islam · Book of Fundamentals · The Book in Scholar's Lieu · Civilization of Laws · The Certainty · Book of Sulaym ibn Qays · Oceans of Light · Wasael ush-Shia · Reality of Certainty · Keys of Paradise
</table> Marja (Arabic/Persian: مرجع), also appearing as Marja Taqlid or Marja Dini (Arabic/Persian: مرجع تقليد / مرجع ديني), literally means "Source to Imitate/Follow" or "Religious Reference". It is the label provided to Shia authority, a Grand Ayatollah with the authority to make legal decisions within the confines of Islamic law for followers and less-credentialed clerics. After the Qur'an and the Prophets and Imams, marjas are the highest authority on religious laws in Usuli Twelver Shia Islam.
Currently, marjas are accorded the title Grand Ayatollah (Arabic/Persian: آية الله العظمی Ayatollah al-Uzma), however when referring to one, the use of Ayatollah is acceptable. Previously, the titles of Allamah and Imam have also been used.
Authority of marjas
This marja'yiat of an Ayatollah transpires when he becomes a celebrated figure in the hawzas and his students and followers trust him in answering their questions, and ask him to publish his juristic book - in which he answers the vast majority of daily Muslim affairs. This book is called Resalah and contains his fatwas on different topics, according to his knowledge of the most authentic Islamic sources and their application to current life. Traditionally only the most renowned Ayatollahs of the given time published Resalah, while today many Ayatollahs of various illustriousness have published this book, but some of the renowned ones have refused to do so.
Several senior Grand Ayatollahs constitute the hawza, a religious institution. The hawzas of Qom and Najaf are preeminent seminary centers for the training of Shia clergymen. However, there are other smaller hawzas in other cities around the world, such as Karbala in Iraq and Mashhad, and Isfahan in Iran.
Difference of Opinion between Marjas
Some say that having different marjas may cause certain problems in Shia Islam. They argue some marjas might have a liberal view on a subject such as music, while others may be restrictive and have conservative fatwas on music. This situation has raised certain difficulties in running a velayat-faqih system in Iran, where the fatwas of the Supreme Leader is usually given precedence to others. (See: The situation in Iran)
However others argue that although it might seem that difference of opinion among marjas would be a source of contention, almost all marjas agree on vast majority of the rulings. There are very few rulings on which marjas differ, and even then they are quite similar to each other. For example, one marja might declare something to be wajib (obligatory), whereas another might consider it mustahab (recommended). However, it is never the case when one marja considers something wajib, whereas another considers it haram (forbidden).
Most critics agree that a marja is essential in preventing sectarianism and other differences in belief from creating conflict. Whereas differences in the beliefs of various mollanahs have historically created conflict; the marja system aids in maintaining unity in a land and preventing individuals from dividing the ummah.