aya·​tol·​lah ˌī-ə-ˈtō-lə How to pronounce ayatollah (audio) -ˈtä- How to pronounce ayatollah (audio)
: a religious leader among Shiite Muslims
used as a title of respect especially for one who is not an imam

Examples of ayatollah in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The ayatollah and his first (and last) deputy supreme leader, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, were both Islamic Trotskyites who saw the expansion of the revolution as integral to its success. Christian Schneider, National Review, 21 Dec. 2023 But the chasm between the U.S. and Iran precedes the rule of the ayatollahs. Robin Wright, The New Yorker, 6 Feb. 2024 This was much like the fatwa issued by Iran’s ayatollah on Salman Rushdie. Jordan Castro, Harper's Magazine, 9 Jan. 2024 Even the secular intelligentsia banded with the ayatollah, dismissing the protests and the blatant anti-Semitic and anti-feminist character of the new leadership as a few minor quirks upon which the great revolution could not afford to dwell. Roya Hakakian, The Atlantic, 22 Nov. 2023 In this culture of the physical imbued with the sacred, Najaf and Karbala, with their grand ayatollahs and seminaries, along with the mosque in Kufa, where Ali died, form the points of a sacred triangle. Aatish Taseer, New York Times, 9 Nov. 2023 There were skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah on Israel’s border with Lebanon, threats from the ayatollahs in Iran, American warships in the eastern Mediterranean. David Remnick, The New Yorker, 28 Oct. 2023 Trump, who ordered the assassination of the Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in 2020, would be willing to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities—or so the ayatollahs believe. Michael Oren, The Atlantic, 9 Oct. 2023 Nasser Makarem Shirazi, a grand ayatollah, is also worth many millions of dollars. Michael R. Pompeo, Foreign Affairs, 15 Oct. 2018 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ayatollah.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Persian āyatollāh, literally, sign of God, from Arabic āyatallāh, from āya sign, miracle + allāh God

First Known Use

1950, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of ayatollah was in 1950

Dictionary Entries Near ayatollah

Cite this Entry

“Ayatollah.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ayatollah. Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

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