Who are the ulama? How did this group come to exist and what function did it have in early Islamic society?
The Ulama is a group of Muslims who are well versed in Islamic law. The term Ulama applies to Muslim scholars who have training on the Islamic disciplines.
In early times, Muslims were not much concerned with Islamic philosophy and law. They were concerned with matters of authority. Muhammad Ibn Idris brought about change when he wrote a book ‘ar-Risalah’ that details the roots of Islamic law. The book also explained that the primary Islamic texts the Quran and the Hadith should be interpreted and understood. Some Muslims gained interest in Islamic Law and books, studied them and became experts known as the Ulama.
The Ulama governed all aspects of human life in theory. They were the foundation of Islamic law. They interpreted the Islamic texts for the community and derived laws from the Quran. There were changes in the world and the Ulama were responsible for making new laws that fit the changing world as long as they did not go against the Quran. They wrote Islamic literature, mediated disputes and taught the law to younger generations. They were advisors to the Muslim leaders.