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Sunday, April 09, 2006

"What is a "Fatwa"?"

Definition: A fatwa is an Islamic religious ruling, a scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law.

A fatwa is issued by a recognized religious authority in Islam. But since there is no hierarchical priesthood or anything of the sort in Islam, a fatwa is not necessarily "binding" on the faithful. The people who pronounce these rulings are supposed to be knowledgable, and base their rulings in knowledge and wisdom. They need to supply the evidence from Islamic sources for their opinions, and it is not uncommon for scholars to come to different conclusions regarding the same issue.

As Muslims, we look at the opinion, the reputation of the person giving it, the evidence given to support it, and then decide whether to follow it or not. When there are conflicting opinions issued by different scholars, we compare the evidence and then choose the opinion to which our God-given conscience guides us.


Demystifying the Fatwa
by Dr. Maher Hathout

Fatwa has entered the media's vocabulary. Fatwa, like other borrowed Arabic terms, (e.g., intifada, jihad, madrasa, sharia) carries an assumed meaning, is draped in mystery, and leads to misunderstanding.

Linguistically, fatwa means "an answer to a question" ; the question may be rhetorical or actual. The answer represents only the opinion of the person who offered it. In Islamic jurisprudence, fatwa means the opinion of a scholar based on that scholar's understanding and interpretation of the intent of the sources of Islam, that scholar's knowledge of the subject in question, and the social milieu that produced the issue or question. The scholar's answer or fatwa is not a binding rule; rather, it is a recommendation. The answer (fatwa) may be opposed, criticized, accepted, or rejected. In addition, the answer (fatwa) may itself become the subject of debate or questions.

In an egalitarian system, such as Islam, a fatwa gains acceptance based on the integrity of the person who offered the fatwa (in Arabic, a mufti), that person's knowledge of Islamic sources as well as knowledge of the issue and of the social context that raised the issue. Any of the aforementioned prerequisites may be challenged and the answer (fatwa) is an opinion and that opinion may be incorrect.

To consider a fatwa issued by anyone as binding on all Muslims is a dangerous contemporary trend that merely stifles Islam's rich history of debate and dissent. Moreover, it would allow individuals to claim authority over others by virtue of their supposed knowledge of God's will. The purpose of a fatwa is to offer an opinion, not to silence discourse.


Title: Understanding Fatwa (i.e. Religious Opinion)

Question: What is the scope of a fatwa?
Is a fatwa is applicable to the whole muslim ummah or just the muslims residing in a particular region? If it is the latter, then how big is the region?
Who is qualified to issue a fatwa? What is the basis of his/her qualification?
How binding is it for muslims to follow this fatwa?
If the fatwa conflicts with the law of the land, what is a muslim supposed to do?

The scope of a fatwa is binding upon those who accept it. The fatwa is not binding upon the entire Ummah (i.e. Muslim Community) or even in a region unless it becomes part of the law. The size of the region is of no significance only when the region is defined and under a law then the law will rule the boundaries of the state.

There are no specific qualifications. However, a prudent person should not take any fatwa from an unlearned individual. He should accept it from one whom he trusts and believes will give the best opinion according to sound knowledge. The basis of the knowledge is to be determined by the people who hear the fatwas of the person.

It is not binding for any Muslim to follow anyone's fatwa.

Any fatwa that conflicts with the law of the land would not have to be followed by the Muslims. Every Muslim should abide by the society's rules in which they reside. The fatwa that goes against this should not be followed.

I hope I have clarified the issue.

God knows best.

Ronnie Hassan
August 23, 2005



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