This chapter discusses the origin and development of the term ‘ulama.’ The Arabic term ‘ulamā’ refers to Muslim scholars specializing in the Islamic religious sciences. A number of other terms are often used to characterize the particular focus of a scholar's work, among them muṭaddith (concerned with the study of the hadith reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad), mufassir (an exegete of the Qur'an), and faqīh and mufti (a scholar of Islamic law and a jurisconsult, respectively). The term “‘ulama’” is often understood to encompass these somewhat narrower categories. The boundaries between “religious” and “secular” learning were less clearly delineated in premodern Islam than they have been in the modern world. Those recognized as ‘ulama’ sometimes made significant contributions to fields of knowledge lying well beyond the aforementioned areas.
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