From the Arabic Alim meaning Knowledgeable invariably attributed to men who have studied the 'theology of Islam' especially the Quran, Ahadith and the Sharia.
They are actually the equivalent of the Rabbis in the tradition of the Jews. They are not priests but laymen and hence are not a religious group although they in reality function as such. They have always had a vested interest in keeping as much 'knowledge' to themselves especially since both Muhammad and his Quran do not allow the ordinary believer to question them in depth.
It is the 'Ulama' who have been keeping Muhammad's version of 'Islam' stuck in the TIME WARP of the Seventh Century. They have turned what were at the time of Muhammad necessary rules and regulations to fit his period of history into an unchallengeable dogma that sticks to the letters of the Quran and Ahadith while completely ignoring their spirit and beneficial intent for the Umma.
They have put Muhammadan Islam in a straight jacket which, if it were accepted with all its implications - and it fortunately not always was- would make all development in 'Muslim' society impossible. They have replaced what was and is reasonable and elastic ideas - even in the time of Muhammad - by a rigid and unbending code of lawthrough the theft of his name and by claiming the authority of Allah.
These 'theological scholars' have turned most of the greatest 'Islamic' Universities such as Al Azhar from being citadels of free thought and enlightenment into graveyards of reaction and ignorance.
They hold the vested and enormous power of TRADITION and the dead weight of centuries of inertia.
They are the primary cause for the blight that has befallen almost all Muhammadan Muslim nations due to their perpetuating the starnglehold of the past which prohibits and hinders the exercise of independent judgement and the ability to evolve and innovate to suit the circumstances of the times.
For centuries, these self- perpetuating entities have arrogated to themselves the sole right of knowing the true meaning of the Quran and by demanding blind and abject obedience to a chain of authorities of which they are the final and unquestionable arbiters.
By encouraging violence and fanaticism, these Ulama have given 'Islam' a JUSTIFAIABLE sinister and abhorrent reputation among the none-Muhammadan world.