Mullah is derived from the Quranic term Mawla. However, used ambiguously in the Quran, some publishers have described its usage as a religious title as inappropriate.

The term is sometimes applied to a Muslim man or woman, educated in Islamic theology and sacred law. The title is derived from the Arabic word  mawlā, meaning “vicar,” “master” and “guardian.” In large parts of the Muslim world, particularly Iran, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Eastern Arabia, Turkey and the Balkans, Central Asia, the Horn of Africa and South Asia, it is the name commonly given to local Islamic clerics or mosque leaders.

The title has also been used in some Sephardic Jewish communities to refer to the community’s leadership, especially religious leadership.

The term mullah is primarily understood in the Muslim world as a term of respect for an educated religious man.