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Meaning of the word “Maulana”.

Answered as per Hanafi Fiqh by DarulUloomTT.net


I heard that the word “Maulana” means Master, and that you cannot address anyone with that title as Maulana. Can you please clarify this.


The word ‘Maulana’ is an Arabic word which is combined of two words namely ‘Maula’ and ‘na’ – ‘Maulana’. It is not one word as some would think, but in reality it is two words as I have mentioned. As such, the permissibility or impermissibility of the usage of the word ‘Maulana’ can only be seen when one looks at the two parts of this word with respect to its meaning and usage in the Arabic Language.

‘Na’ in the Arabic language is a pronoun which is used for possession when connected with a noun. Hence if you want to say ‘our book’ (in Arabic) you would say kitaabuna – ‘kitaabu’ ‘na’. Similarly if you want to say ‘our pen’, you would say Qalamuna – ‘Qalamu’ ‘na’. so the word ‘na’ simply means ‘our’ in Arabic.

As far as the word ‘Maula’ is concerned, it is used in many different ways due to its varying meanings. In the book ‘Mujamu lughatul-Fuqaha’ (Dictionary of Islamic legal terminology) written by Dr. Muhammad Rawwas (contributor to the encyclopedia of Islamic law and professor of Islamic Institutions) and Dr. Hamid Sadiq (Professor of Terminology and Dictionaries) it is written:-

‘The word Muala conveys (is used for) many different meanings. Some of which are:

  1. ‘Master’
  2. ‘Leader’
  3. ‘The one who has freed a slave’
  4. ‘Slave’
  5. ‘The slave who has been freed’
  6. ‘Sovereign’
  7. ‘A patron’
  8. ‘A client’

The Hans Wehr Arabic Dictionary has also given similar meanings. It states that ‘Maula’ means master, lord, protector, patron, client, charge, friend, companion, and associate. It also states that ‘Al-Maula’ is used to say the lord, God and the words Maulaya (‘ya’ means ‘my’ in Arabic) and Maulana are forms of address to a sovereign. Similarly in the book ‘Mujam-Al-Mustalahaat-Ad-Deeniyah (a dictionary of religious terms) written by Dr. Abdullah Ibn Ashy Al-Maliki and Dr. Abdul Lateef Sheikh Ibrahim, it is mentioned that ‘Maula’ means ‘a protector’, ‘a guardian’.

Based on these meanings, it shows that when the pronoun ‘na’ (our) is attached to the word ‘Maula’, it would have many different meanings such as:

  1. ‘Our Master’
  2. ‘Our Leader’
  3. ‘Our Slave’
  4. ‘Our freed Slave’
  5. ‘Our Master who freed the slave’
  6. ‘Our Patron’
  7. ‘Our Client’

It is therefore very clear that a master can address his slave as ‘Maulana’ meaning ‘our slave’. Likewise a slave can address his master as ‘Maulana’ meaning ‘our master’. In the same manner, people can address their leader as ‘Maulana’ meaning ‘Our Leader’. In this manner all the above meanings can be used in the word “Maula’ when connected to the pronoun ‘na’. This is very clear and accepted in the Arabic Language.

Additionally, the word ‘Maula’ has been used in a tremendous amount of traditions where it sometimes referred to a slave and at times referred to a master and also to the one who freed the slave.

While narrating the sanad (chain of narrators) for different Ahadith, Imams Bukhari, Muslim and all scholars of hadith, referred to certain narrators as the ‘Maula’ of others. For example, sometimes Imam Bukhari would introduce Kuraib as the ‘Maula’ of Ibn Abbas. He would also introduce Nafi as the ‘Maula’ of Ibn Umar and would refer to Humran as the ‘Maula’ of Uthmaan (R.A). There are hundreds of such examples in the books of hadith.

Similar usage of this word can also be found in all books of Fiqh and Usoolul Fiqh (Principles of Fiqh) where the word ‘Maula’ is used for many of the above mentioned meanings.

Additionally, the Quraan has also used the word ‘Maula’ for different meanings. It has been used singly and has also been used combined with other pronouns. Some of these verses are:-

Surah Al-Hajj verse 78 states: ‘And hold fast to Allah. He is Maula kum – your Maula (Patron, Lord). What an excellent Maula (Patron, Lord) and what an excellent helper.

Here the word has been used connected to a pronoun in the first case i.e. Maula kum (kum means ‘your’) and in the second case it has been used singly. In both cases, it is used to refer to Allah as being the Patron, the Lord.

Similar usages have been given in other verses such as Sura Anfal verse 40, Sura Al Imran verse 150, Sura Tahreem verse 2, etc. In these verses, the word ‘Maula’ has been used to mean ‘lord’, ‘patron’ and refers to Allah since He is the real patron, the Lord and the real Governor of our affairs.

Along with this, the word Maula has been used for several other meanings in the Holy Quraan. For example in Sura Dukhan verse 41 states: “The Day when no Maula (friend, protector, leader etc) can avail another ‘Maula’ in anything and no help can they receive.”

In this verse, Maula does not refer to Allah, Our Creator but it refers to human beings.

Similarly, Sura Hadeed verse 15 states: “This Day no ransom shall be accepted from you, nor of those who rejected Allah. Your abode is the fire, that is your ‘Maula’ (place, destination) and an evil refuge it is.”

In this verse, the word ‘Maula’ has the meaning of ‘a place’ or ‘a destination’. Taking this meaning into consideration, if we were to attach the pronoun ‘na’ to this word and say ‘Maula na’, it would mean our place or our destination. It is therefore evident in the Quraan itself that this word does not only mean master.

In two places of the Holy Quraan, the word ‘Maula’ attached to the pronoun ‘na’ has been used and they both refer to Allah. In Surah Baqarah verse 286, it states: “And blot out our sins and grant us forgiveness and have mercy on us. You are ‘Maula na’ (our Protector, Master)”.

In the above verse, the word Maula has the meaning of master and protector and our true and real protector and master is only Allah, hence the use of the word ‘Maulana’ for Allah.

Secondly in Surah Tawbah verse 51, it states “Say nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us. He is ‘Maula na’ (our protector) and on Allah let the believers put their trust”. Here again the word Maula conveys the meaning ‘protector’ and when used with the pronoun ‘na’, it means our protector. Since Allah is our protector, it is used to refer to him in the above verse.

It should be noted that the real issue is not with the word ‘Maulana’, instead, it is with the usage of the word ‘Maula’, since the word ‘na’ is a pronoun which can be used for anyone. In this manner, the words ‘Maula hum’ (their lord), Maula kum (your lord) and ‘Maula hu’ (his protector) have all been used in the Holy Quraan to refer to Allah. In each of the above, a different pronoun was used with the word ‘Maula’ and combined together were all used to refer to Allah. As such, it can be seen that the permissibility or impermissibility of the usage of the word ‘Maulana’ is not based upon the word Maulana alone but instead it is based totally upon the usage of the word ‘Maula’.

In some passages of the Holy Quraan and traditions, as well as the books of Fiqh, it is evident that the word Maula has been used to convey many different meanings and is not confined with the meaning of ‘Protector’ and ‘Master’ (as I have mentioned before).

In Sura Tahreem verse 4, it states “But if you back up each other against him, truly Allah is his Protector (Maula) and Jibraeel and the righteous ones from among those who believe”.

In this verse it is clear that Allah has used the word Maula (protector) for himself, Jibraeel (A.S) and the righteous servants. In other words, the verse means, truly Allah is the (Maula) protector of the Prophet (S.A), Jibraeel is also his Maula (protector) and the righteous believers are also his Maula (protector).

The summary of this entire explanation is that in the Arabic language, the word Maula has been used for many different meanings. As such, whenever it is used singly or combined with another word or pronoun, one must look to see which of its meaning is used. From the given meanings, it is clear that it can also mean ‘a leader’, hence using it with the pronoun ‘na’ by saying ‘Maulana’ would be allowed to refer to someone as ‘our leader’.

It is also important for one to understand that during the course of Islamic History, many words bearing ‘respect and authority’ have been used by great scholars to refer to a person with great learning ability. One would therefore find the words Muhaddith (traditionist), Mufassir (Commentator), Faqih (Jurist), Sheikul Islam (the sheikh, leader of Islam) etc. being used to describe the status of a particular scholar of Islam. Although these names were not found to be used during the time of the sahabahs and the Prophet (S.A), they were all acceptable to all scholars since they were in no violation of any Islamic teaching.

In the same manner, other words became prevalent among the muslims living in different cities of the Islamic world. Words such as Mullah, Allama, Sheikh, Mufti, Maulana, Maulvi etc. all became prevalent in different cities and were used to describe a person of great Islamic learning and authority. These words gained the wide acceptance of the general scholars and were not considered as being impermissible to use, since there was no meaning in any of the above word which could make its usage impermissible in the Shariah. Of late, the word Doctor (Daktoor) has also come into use in many Arab countries. Although this word has never been used by the Salafus Saaliheen (Pious Predecessors), all the Islamic scholars have given an allowance for its usage.

And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan

This answer was collected from DarulUloomTT.net, which is operated under the supervision of Mufti Waseem Khan from Darul Uloom Trinidad and Tobago.

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