(Arabic: "the knowledgeable ones", plural of alim)

Technical term for Islamic legal scholars.

In the classical period of Islam, the ulama* were responsible for formulating Islamic dogma, theology, jurisprudence, and to a certain extent also philosophy. For a long time, they monopolised the interpretation and promulgation of Islamic tradition.

In modern Islamic states, many ulama are still employed, but during the latter decades, the theological and legal interpretations provided by the traditionally schooled ulama has been met with opposition from Muslim intellectuals, educated at secular universities. The once-absolute authority of the ulama on interpreting the ways of Islam has eroded considerably.

* Pronunciation-wise, the emphasis is on the final syllable: {oo-lam-UH}. With regard to alim, the emphasis is on the first syllable: {AH-leem}.

See also qadi.