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In the Shiite branch of Islam, a high-ranking religious authority regarded by his followers as the most learned person of his age. The ayatollah's authority rests on the infallible imam. His legal decisions are accepted as binding by his personal followers and (in the present day) by the wider community.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on ayatollah, visit Britannica.com.