Investigating the Name ‘Moulana’
The word ‘Maulana’ is a title commonly used in South Africa and elsewhere to denote the title of a religious personality or a learned scholar of Islam. The word ‘Maulana’ however, can be used in the context to denote the Lordship and the Sovereignty of Allah. It is because of this ambiguity of usage that some have objected to using this title when addressing the learned scholars and spiritual guides of Islam as it denotes traces of divinity held exclusively by the Being of Allah. ‘Moulana’ is an Arabic word derived from the root letter wa.1a.ya. It is comprised of two words: Maula and Na. The word Maula has an established meem (masdar meemi) within it and it acts in place of a doer (fa’il), and the Na, which suffixes it, is to convey plurality. Hence, the word Na can be substituted by other pronouns to produce Maulahu (his Maula) or Maula’ i (my Maula).
Opposite Meanings: The word ‘Maula’ in Arabic is amongst those words, which have opposite meanings [asma azdad]. Both meanings are employed in their literal sense, and not in their figurative sense. An example of such words which can be used interchangeably are the words Bay’ and Shira. Both words are used for buying and selling, and can be loosely translated simply as ‘trade.’ Allah has used the word Yashtari (present and future imperfect tense) and Ishtara (past tense) in verse 2:207, and verse 9: 111 respectively where mention is made of man ‘trading’ his soul to acquire paradise. In the first verse, it appears in the meaning of ‘selling,’ while the meaning of ‘buying’ ed in the second verse.
The word ‘Maula’ falls in the same genre of words. The AI-Munjid gives the meaning of this word as: owner, lord, leader, chieftain, freed slave, supporter, ally, and Mahmud Safl has given the meaning of this word to be: benefactor, helper, and honorable person in his I’rab alQur’an. From this linguistic finding, it becomes clear that to call any person schooled in Islamic sciences as Maulana, can be accommodated. When addressing such a person as Maulana, the meaning of religious leader is implied. It is a title of respect and esteem having no divine undertones. Allah has a few names and attributes which are exclusively reserved for His Being like Allah, Rahman, ‘Alimul Ghaib etc. Some of His attributes have been used in the Qur’an to also refer to the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) like ‘Aziz, Ra’uf, Rahim, Sami’ etc. When these names are used to denote the Being of Allah, it is meant that the perfection of these attributes are only to be found in Allah, but when used for His creation, it means that these qualities have been bestowed upon some of the creation to a lesser degree. The word Maula falls under the second category of names. The difference is to be discerned within the context. Allah also used the word Maula to describe Angel Jibra’il and the pious believers in the following verse:
“Verily Allah is his Maula, as well as Jibra’il and the pious believers.” (Tahrim: 4)
Thus, to address any ‘Aalim as Maulana or any other title with a view of acknowledging him as a learned person capable of being emulated is not prohibited in the sharî’ah.
The Word “Moulana”
There are certain words in Arabic that have several meanings. Depending on the context, a particular meaning would be implied. A typical example is the word “Moulana” made up from the word “Moula” and the first person plural pronoun “Naa”. “Moula” can mean master, lord, protector, patron, companion, etc.
In the Qur’aan this word has been used in reference to Allah as well as the Angel Jibraeel Alaihis Salaam and the pious believers. In Surah Buqarah (chapter 2 verse 286) it is used in reference to the Creator where man is imploring Him and addressing Him as the Protector and Helper.
However in Surah Tahreem (chapter 66 verse 4) the same word with the third person pronoun is used in relation to Jibraeel and the pious believers as well. Allah Ta’ala says:
“And if you two oppose him, then Allah, Jibraeel and the pious believers will be his companions.”
When Allah the Almighty Himself uses the word “Moula” for human beings, what prevents them from using it as well in reference to their fellow brothers?
Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) himself used the word for a companion of his. Once when addressing Zaid ibn Haritha, he said “Anta Akhoonaa wa moulana” i.e. “You are our brother and companion.” (Saheeh Bukhari, #2699)
The above narrations clearly indicate the permissibility of using the word “Moula” or “Moulana” for any human being.
People that lack totally in the knowledge of the Qur’aan and Hadith claim that it cannot be used for anyone besides Allah. Another claim made by these ignoramuses is that the title “Moulana” is only used in India, Pakistan and South Africa. Which student of Islamic history is unaware of the name of the great Saint Jalaluddin Rumi Rahmatullah alaih. Born in Khurasan, he immigrated to Konya in Turkey. He was popularly known as Moulana Jalauddin Rumi. (See Saviours of Islamic Spirit vol. 1 pg. 314). This fact alone is sufficient proof to annihilate the above mentioned claim of the juhhaal (ignorant ones) and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.