Usage of the title “Maulana” has become popular among Muslims to refer to our esteemed scholars with respect and honor.
However some Muslims have strongly prohibited this usage, saying that it implies “shirk” or ascribing partners unto Allah Almighty who refers to Himself as being “Maulana” in the Holy Quran meaning Our Master.
Is it permissible to refer to a human being as “Maulana” and more specifically is it permissible to refer to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ as Maulana.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
The term Maulana (مولانا) comprises of two words ie. “Maula” (مولى) which is normally translated as Master/Protector and “Naa” (نا) a pronoun which means “our”. Therefore the term Maulana (مولانا) generally means Our Master/Our Protector.
Allah Ta’ala refers himself as Maula in various places in The Holy Quran:
وان تولوا فاعلموا ان الله مولاكم نعم المولى ونعم النصير
“And if they turn away, then know that Allah is your protector, an excellent protector, and an excellent helper”
انت مولانا فانصرنا على القوم الكافرين
“You are our Protector, help us against the disbelievers”
هو مولانا وعلى الله فليتوكل المؤمنون
“He (Allah) is our Protector and on Allah let the Believers put their trust”
The word Maula in the Arabic language has different meanings, Al-Hafidh Ibn Athir mentions in his famous book An-Nihaayah fi Ghareeb al-Hadeeth that word Maula can refer to the following;
Lord, Master, Leader, Benefactor, Emancipator, Helper, Lover, Follower, Neighbour, Cousin, Ally, Colonel, Son-in-law, Slave, Freed Slave, Beneficiary.
And all of these meanings are in conformation with the various traditions of the The Holy Prophet ﷺ.
Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to claim that the term “Maulana” refers to Allah Ta’ala alone, since this word contains meanings that are not befitting to Majesty of Allah Ta’ala, which is clearly shown in the aforementioned.
Allah refers to himself as: Aleem (The All Knowledgeable), Samee (The All Hearing) Baseer (The All Seeing)
He also refers to his creation as Aleem, Samee, Baseer
وبشّروه بغلام عليم
“And they gave him the glad tidings of a knowledgeable son (Ishaaq, peace be upon him)”
فجعلناه سميعا بصيرا
“We made him hearing, seeing”
These terms are used both for Allah and human beings, except when attributed to Allah it carries a meaning which is exclusive to His Majesty and is not attributed to any of His creation, not even His Prophets or His Angels. There is none like Allah, whether in His Being, His Names and His Attributes.
Hence, the word Aleem, when attributed to Allah, it means All Knowledgeable, there is none like Him in knowledge. And when referred to a human being, it implies the possessor of some knowledge, which is limited and no way in comparison to the knowledge of Allah.
Similarly is the usage of the term Maulana, it can be referred to Allah in a way befitting to His Majesty and it can be used for human beings also in a manner befitting them.
Allah Ta’ala mentions the word Maula in The Holy Quran referring to other than Himself e.g.
يوم لا يغني مولى عن مولى شيئا ولا هم ينصرون إلا من رحم الله
“On this day no Maula will benefit another Maula, neither shall they be assisted” 
The word Maula in this Ayah refers to a companion or relative and cannot be refered to The Almighty. If anyone insist that Maula in this Ayah refers to Allah has committed apostasy and left the fold of Islam.
The Holy Prophet ﷺ mentions in a Hadith reported by Imam Al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurairah, May Allah be pleased with him.
لا يقل أحدكم أطعم ربك وضئ ربك، اسق ربك، وليقل سيدي، مولاي
“You should not say, ‘Feed your lord (referring to the owner of the slave) help your lord in performing ablution, or give water to your lord, but should say my master or my Maula”
Al-Hafidh Ibn Hajr mentions in his commentary: This hadith shows the permissibility of using the word Maula to refer to other than Allah Ta’ala.
The Holy Prophet ﷺ mentions in a Hadith reported by At-Tirmidhi, Ahmad and Ibn Maja
من كنت مولاه فعلي مولاه
“Whoever considers me as his Maula (Master), then Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) is his Maula.”
Not only did The Holy Prophet ﷺ refer to himself as Maula but referred to Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) also.
The permissibility of using the word Maula referring to other than Allah is clearly proven from The Quran and authentic Traditions of The Holy Prophet ﷺ. There are no differences of opinion amongst the scholars with regarding this issue.
Imam An-Nawawi mentions in his Al-adhkaar quoting from Imam Abu Ja‘far an-Nahhaas, an early fourth century scholar, master in the field Arabic Language and Hadith.
“With regards to the word al-Maula, we do not know of any difference of opinion among the scholars concerning the fact that no one should say mawlaya (my master) to another person. “
Sheikh Ibn Uthaymeen in his al-Manaahi al-Lafziyyah has mentioned the permissibility of using the term Maulana for other than Allah.
Those who claim that it is shirk to address someone other than Allah Ta’ala as Maulana may have drawn such a conclusion by regarding “an addition” to the original text of the Hadith mentioned above (i.e Hadith of Abu Hurairah) which is reported by Imam Muslim and Imam An-Nasaai :
ولا يقل أحدكم مولاي، فإن مولاكم الله ولكن ليقل سيدي
“You should not say My Maula for indeed Your Maula is Allah, You should rather say Sayyidi”
The Scholars of Hadith have stated that, most of the narrators who reported this hadith did not mention this “addition” and have thus declared such addition as weak and unacceptable because of its contents being contrary to general sayings of The Holy Prophet ﷺ. 
In summary, it is permissible to refer to The Holy Prophet ﷺ, our esteemed scholars and religious leaders as “Maulana” since there is no prohibition in the Shariah, Rather its permissibility is proven from Quran and Sunnah.
And Allah Ta’ala Knows Best
Mufti Kaleem Muhammad