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"scholars of Muslim religious law," 1680s, from Arabic 'ulema "learned men, scholars," plural of 'alim "learned," from 'alama "to know."
the learned of Islam, those who possess the quality of 'ilm, "learning," in its widest sense. From the 'ulama', who are versed theoretically and practically in the Muslim sciences, come the religious teachers of the Islamic community-theologians (mutakallimun), canon lawyers (muftis), judges (qadis), professors-and high state religious officials like the shaikh al-Islam. In a narrower sense, 'ulama' may refer to a council of learned men holding government appointments in a Muslim state