How Do We Identify Maraji`?
The authorities are identified in the following ways:
1) Living authorities or a living authority commands them to author an independent book or set of books on the science of fiqh.
An example of this is when Imam Mustafa ad-Dumi (d. 1200 AH), may Allah have mercy upon him, was asked by one of the maraji` to author a text clarifying issues in the religion connected with worship and transactions.
2) Someone is specifically referred to as a marja` and teaches in place of his teacher (with the permission of that particular teacher) when he is not present.
If someone should look at the case of Imam Mar`ii ibn Yusuf al-Karmi (d. 1033 AH), may Allah have mercy upon him, it can be seen that there were some 7 citations of maraji` asking him to write his text Dalil ut-Talib and his authority to write it and commentate upon it.
3) Someone becomes marja` after training under scholars, who find him qualified and declare the individual as such.
Could a Marja` Depose Himself or be Deposed?
Yes, one example is of Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795 AH), who self-deposed due to the situation of his health, the weight of the obligation and the dedication to writing books.
Could Someone Refuse to take the Post of Marja`?
Yes, someone could refuse the post. One example is Imam Ibn Al-Liham (d. 803 AH), one of the great students of Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795 AH). When the teacher of Ibn Al-Liham gave him the post, the Imam refused to move forward for it.
What Type of Authority Do the Maraji` Possess over the Rest of the Scholars?
A great example of this can be illustrated in discussing the Imam, the Marja`, Abu `Abdullah Shams ud-Din Muhammad ibn Muslim az-Zaini as-Salihi (d. 727 AH), when he prevented Imam Taqi ud-Din Ibn Taymiyyah (661-728 AH) from giving any further rulings as it was creating such dissension.
What is the Relation Between Maraji` and Abdal?
We would like to start by saying that the matter can in the initial point be summed up by saying, “Every Badal (Ar. sing. of the Ar. pl. Abdal) is a marja` but not every marja` is a badal.”
The reason for this is that the Abdal are either from Sham or Iraq, as the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,
The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,
“The High Ranking Saints of this Ummah are 30 men and their hearts are like the heart of Khalil ur-Rahman, Ibrahim, peace be upon him. Whenever one of them dies, Allah then puts another in his place.” This is collected by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal from the narration of `Ubadah ibn as-Samit and it is authentic. 
He, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, further proclaimed,
“The High Ranking are thirty and due to them the Earth is established and you receive help.” This is collected by Imam At-Tabarani from the narration of `Ubadah ibn as-Samit and it is authentic.
He, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, also informed us,
“The High Ranking Saints are in Sham. It is due to them that the people receive help and it is due to them that they are sustained.” This is collected by Imam At-Tabarani from the narration of `Awn ibn Malik and classed as sound.
There is also a narration where he, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, stated,
“The High Ranking Saints are in Sham and they are 40 men in number. Whenever one man dies, Allah replaces him with another. The Earth receives its’ rain due to them and the land receives help against its’ enemies due to them. It is also due to them that the punishment gets kept away from the people of Sham.” This is collected by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad as narrated from `Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah ennoble his face and classed as sound. 
Imam Taqi ud-Din Ibn Taymiyyah (661-728 AH) mentions that there is indeed a pecking order and a clerical class in charge of the affairs of the Muslims on a global scale. Please read the following:
“Those who take hold of the pure and unadulterated Islam – free from deviation and crookedness – they are Muslim Orthodoxy; within them are the righteous and upright holy ones (Ar. As-Siddiqun), the martyrs (Ar. Ash-Shuhada’), the pious (Ar. As-Salihun) – and from them are the great luminaries of guidance (Ar. A`lam ul-Huda), the lamps of goodness (Ar. Masabih ud-Duja) who possess numerous virtues and favours that have and could be mentioned.
Now within this group are the High Ranking Saints (Ar. Al-Abdal) – and within them are the Imams of the Religion (Ar. A’immat ud-Din) that the Muslims have made Consensus on their being upon right guidance – and these are the Victorious Group and Aided Group (Ar. At-Ta’ifat ul-Mansurah) who the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said of them,
‘There will always be a group from my Ummah, upon the truth and manifest with it. Those who oppose them or abandon them will not harm them until the Hour comes.’
We ask Allah that He makes us from them and that He make our hearts not slip after He guided us and bestowed on us mercy from Himself. Indeed He is the Bestower and Allah knows best.”
Are Maraji` without Madhhab?
Today’s Maraji` do indeed have madhab. There has not been a marja` that was an absolute mujtahid since the third generation and the last absolute mujtahid was Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
Imam Dawud ibn Sulaiman al-Khalidi (d. 1299 AH), may Allah be pleased with him, said the following, “The last absolute mujtahid was Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal when he was put in his grave and the dust put over it.” 
Why Do We Need Maraji`?
In order to lead the Muslims, safeguard the religion, establish the faith and eventually hand authority over to Al-Imam al-Mahdi and the Messiah, `Isa the son of Maryam, peace be upon both of them, at the Second Coming.
This Ummah is led either by prophets or scholars in the absence of a prophet. At the second advent of a prophet, the Ummah is then led by prophets once again.
It is neither permissible nor right and proper for the Ummah to be led by laymen. The first example of the Ummah being led by laymen was Yazid ibn Mu`awiyah in 60 AH. This precipitated the murder of several Companions and countless other innocents.
We are living in a current age of laymen rule. Laymen did not build the observatories, hospitals, invent the bifocals in Baghdad, Iraq some 900 years ago. Authorities did.
Maraji`…Here to Stay?
Authorities will continue to be until the end of the time as discussed above regarding Al-Imam al-Mahdi and the Prophet `Isa, peace be upon both of them.
When Maraji` Differ…?
Whenever there is difference of opinion between the maraji,` it is permissible for the Ummah on an individual basis to follow which rulings speak to their heart.
An example of this was when the people asked Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, about a woman setting off when she received her monthly cycle at the time where the Final Tawaf around the Ka`bah would be done.
When he gave the answer that she could set out if she had completed other forms of tawaf before, the people said that they would not leave the statement of the authority of Al-Madinah, namely Zaid ibn Thabit, may Allah be pleased with him.
Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, accepted this and told them to ask when they arrived back in Madinah. When they did, the words of Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, were verified by Imm Sulaim, may Allah be pleased with her, and this was also the position of Zaid ibn Thabit, may Allah be pleased with him.
Could a Marja` be Mistaken?
Yes, but all of them together will never come to be mistaken. They will never pass down rulings consistently that are wrong. One of the evidence of this is that the foundations of the religion have been handed down to us through them along with the Qur’an, Sunnah, all other sciences of Islam.
How Similar is this to the Shi`ah Understanding of Marja`?
The current Twelver Shi`ah (also referred to as Imami) understanding of the scholars ruling over the affairs of the people, referred to as Wilayat ul-Faqih, is taken from the understanding of Muslim Orthodoxy and defined as Uwl ul-Amr.
Ruhollah Khomeini popularised this and was opposed by the most senior leaders of the Shi`ah of his time, including the high ranking Ayatollah al-Khoei (1299-1413 AH).
The only thing in common between the two groups is that both Shi`a and Sunnis use the expressions Maraji`, A’immah, Abdal and so forth but we pour vastly different meanings into those words.
But are these not Just Religious Scholars?
No, the Maraji` have both temporal and spiritual authority as we attempted to prove in previous articles. The reader may refer back to these for further details.
 Hashiyah `ala Dalil it-Talib Lil-Imam Mustafa ad-Dumani, pp. 70-72
 Dalil ut-Talib `Ala Nail il-Matalib, Muqaddimah, pp. 5-14
 Adh-Dhail `ala Tabaqat il-Hanabilah (2 vols in a collection of 4), vol.4, pp. 314-315, Dar ul-Kutub il-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut, 1413 AH
 Al-Musnad, vol. 16, pp. 410-411
 Al-Mu`jam ul-Kabir, vol.10, pp. 179-181
 Al-Mu`jam ul-Kabir, vol.18, pp. 64-66
 Fada’ il us-Sahabah, vol. 2, pp. 905-907
 Matn ul-`Aqidat il-Wasitiyyah (Ar.), pp. 30-31.
 Ashadd ul-Jihadi Fi Ibtali Da`w al-Ijtihad, pp. 74-75
 Imam Muhammad ibn Isma`il al-Bukhari in his Al-Jami` us-Sahih, Book of Hajj under the chapter of When a Woman Receives Her Monthly Cycle During the Time of the Final Tawaf After having Made Tawaf Previously and classed as authentic.