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A fatwā ( ; plural fatāwā ), in the Islamic faith is a religious opinion concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. In Sunni Islam any fatwa is non-binding, whereas in Shia Islam it could be considered by an individual as binding, depending on his or her relation to the scholar. The person who issues a fatwa is called, in that respect, a Mufti, i.e. an issuer of fatawa. This is not necessarily a formal position but since most Muslims argue that anyone trained in Islamic law may give an opinion (fatwa) on its teachings. If a fatwā does not break new ground, then it is simply called a ruling.

Popular misconceptions

Following the Salman Rushdie affair, Western media frequently use the term to mean an Islamic death sentence upon someone who is considered an infidel or a blasphemer. This is indeed one possible, but very rare, use for a fatwa, and the equation of fatawa with capital punishment is considered both uneducated and offensive by many Muslims. The term's correct definition is significantly broader, since a fatwa may concern any aspect of individual life, social norms, religion, war, peace and politics. Most Islamic opinions - millions of fatawa have been issued over the 1,400 year history of Islam - likely deal with minor issues faced by Muslims in their daily life, such as for example the customs of marriage, financial affairs or moral questions. They are issued in response to questions by ordinary Muslims, and go unnoticed by those not concerned, while the much smaller number of fatawa issued on controversial subjects such as war, particularly by extremist preachers, tend to get wide coverage in the media because of their politically divisive content (see examples below).

A fatwa is not automatically part of Islamic teachings. While it is intended by the person issuing it to represent the teachings of Islam as accurately as possible, this does not mean that that person's interpretation will gain universal acceptance. There are many divergent schools within the religion, and even people within the same current of thought will sometimes rule differently on a difficult issue. This means that there are numerous contradictory fatwa, prescribing or proscribing a certain behavior. This puts the burden of choice on the individual Muslim, who, in case of conflict, will be forced to decide whose opinion is more likely to be correct.


In the early days of Islam, fatwa were pronounced by distinguished scholars to provide guidance to other scholars, judges and citizens on how subtle points of Islamic law should be understood, interpreted or applied. There were strict rules on who is eligible to issue a valid fatwa and who could not, as well as on the conditions the fatwa must satisfy to be valid.

According to the usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence), the fatwa must meet the following conditions in order to be valid:
  1. The fatwa is in line with relevant legal proofs, deduced from Qur'anic verses and ahadith; provided the hadith was not later abrogated by Muhammad.
  2. It is issued by a person (or a board) having due knowledge and sincerity of heart;
  3. It is free from individual opportunism, and not depending on political servitude;
  4. It is adequate with the needs of the contemporary world.

With the existence of modern independent States, each with its own legislative system, or its own body of Ulemas, each country develops and applies its own rules, based on its own interpretation of religious prescriptions. Many Muslim countries (such as Egyptmarker and Tunisiamarker) have an official Mufti position; a distinguished expert in the Sharia is appointed to this position by the civil authorities of the country. But his fatawas are binding on no one: neither the State which appoints him, nor any citizen.

Qualifications for an individual to issue fatwā

During the Islamic Golden Age, in order for a scholar to be qualified to issue a fatwa, it was required that he obtained an ijazat attadris wa'l-ifta ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") from a Madrassah in the medieval Islamic legal education system, which was developed by the 9th century during the formation of the Madh'hab legal schools. Later during the Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe, the ijazat attadris wa'l-ifta evolved into the doctorate, or more specifically the Doctor of Laws qualification, in medieval European universities.

To obtain an ijazat attadris wa'l-ifta in the Madrassah system, a student "had to study in a guild school of law, usually four years for the basic undergraduate course" and ten or more years for a post-graduate course. The "doctorate was obtained after an oral examination to determine the originality of the candidate's thesis," and to test the student's "ability to defend them against all objections, in disputations set up for the purpose" which were scholarly exercises practiced throughout the student's "career as a graduate student of law." After students completed their post-graduate education, they were awarded doctorates giving them the status of mudarris (meaning "teacher"), faqih (meaning "master of law"), mufti (meaning "professor of legal opinions") and , which were later translated into Latin as magister, professor and doctor respectively.Note that these terms are not yet standardized nor has a syllabus been agreed upon. hence there is vast variance in qualification and skills based upon schools and teachers

Fatwa at the national level

In nations where Islamic law is the basis of civil law, but has not been codified, as is the case of some Arab countries in the Middle East, fatwa by the national religious leadership are debated prior to being issued. In theory, such fatwa should rarely be contradictory. If two fatwa are potentially contradictory, the ruling bodies (combined civil and religious law) would attempt to define a compromise interpretation that will eliminate the resulting ambiguity. In these cases, the national theocracies expect fatwa to be settled law.

In the majority of Arab countries, however, Islamic law has been codified in each country according to its own rules, and is interpreted by the judicial system according to the national jurisprudence. Fatawa have no direct place in the system, except to clarify very unusual or subtle points of law for experts (not covered by the provisions of modern civil law), or to give moral authority to a given interpretation of a rule.

In nations where Islamic law is not the basis of law (as is the case in various Asian and African countries), different mujtahids can issue contradictory Fatwa. In such cases, Muslims would typically honour the fatwa deriving from the leadership of their religious tradition. For example, Sunni Muslims would favor a Sunni fatwa whereas Shiite would follow a Shi'a one.

There exists no international Islamic authority to settle fiqh issues today, in a legislative sense. The closest such organism is the Islamic Fiqh Academy, (a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)), which has 43 member States. But it can only render Fatwa that are not binding on anyone.

Legal implications of a fatwa

There is a binding rule that saves the fatwa pronouncements from creating judicial havoc, whether within a Muslim country or at the level of the Islamic world in general: it is unanimously agreed that a fatwā is only binding on its author. This was underlined by Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan, vice-minister of Justice of Saudi Arabia, in an interview with the Arabic daily "Asharq al awsat", as recently as on July 9, 2006, in a discussion of the legal value of a fatwā by the Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA) on the subject of misyar marriage, which had been rendered by IFA on April 12, 2006. He said : "Even the fatawas of the official Ifta authority (official Saudi fatwa institute) is binding on no one, whether individuals or the State."

Despite this, some times, even leading religious authorities and theologians misleadingly present their fatwā as obligatory, or try to adopt some "in-between" position.

Thus, the Sheikh of al-Azharmarker in Cairomarker, Muhammad Sayid Tantawy, who is the leading religious authority in the Sunni Muslim establishment in Egyptmarker, alongside the Mufti of Egypt, said the following about fatwās issued by himself or the entire Dar al-Ifta:

"Fatwa issued by Al-Azharmarker are not binding, but they are not just whistling in the wind either; individuals are free to accept them, but Islam recognizes that extenuating circumstances may prevent it. For example, it is the right of Muslims in Francemarker who object to the law banning the veil to bring it up to the legislative and judicial authorities. If the judiciary decides in favor of the government because the country is secular, they would be considered to be Muslim individuals acting under compelling circumstances." Otherwise, in his view, they would be expected to adhere to the fatwā.

In Moroccomarker, where king Mohammed VI is also Amir al-Muminin (Commander of the faithful), the authorities have tried to organize the field by creating a scholars' council (conseil des oulémas) composed of Muslim scholars (ulema) which is the only one allowed to issue fatwā. In this case, a national theocracy could in fact compel intra-national compliance with the fatwā, since a central authority is the source. Even then, however, the issue would not necessarily be religiously binding for the residents of that nation. For, the state may have the power to put a fatwa in effect, but that does not mean that the fatwa is to be religiously accepted by all. For instance, if a state fatwa council made abortion acceptable in the first trimester without any medical reason, that would have direct impact on official procedures in hospitals and courts in that country. Yet, this would not mean that the Muslims in that nation has to agree with that fatwa, or that fatwa is religiously binding for them.

Sources of fatwā

Sources of fatwā include:

Contemporary examples

Fatwa are expected to deal with religious issues, subtle points of interpretation of the fiqh as exemplified by the cases cited in the archives linked below. In certain cases, religious issues and political ones seem to be inextricably intertwined. The term fatwa is sometimes used by some Muslims to mean to "give permission" to do a certain act that might be illegal under Islamic law; other Muslims view this to be incorrect.

Individuals commonly obtain fatwa to guide them in everyday life, much as members of other religions seek moral and personal advice from priests, ministers, rabbis, and monks. Due to the lack of a central unifying rulemaker, different sheiks may give different answers to the same question. This leaves an opportunity for the controversial practice of "fatwa shopping", in which an individual asks the same question of different sheiks until they receive an answer they like.

Examples of famous or controversial fatawa include:

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 pronounced a death sentence on Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi released a fatwa on April 14, 2004, stating that the boycott of American and Israeli products was an obligation for all who are able. The fatwa reads in part:
If people ask in the name of religion we must help them. The vehicle of this support is a complete boycott of the enemies' goods. Each riyal, dirham …etc. used to buy their goods eventually becomes bullets to be fired at the hearts of brothers and children in Palestine. For this reason, it is an obligation not to help them (the enemies of Islam) by buying their goods. To buy their goods is to support tyranny, oppression and aggression. Buying goods from them will strengthen them; our duty is to make them as weak as we can. Our obligation is to strengthen our resisting brothers in the Sacred Land as much as we can. If we cannot strengthen the brothers, we have a duty to make the enemy weak. If their weakness cannot be achieved except by boycott, we must boycott them.

American goods, exactly like the great Israeli goods, are forbidden. It is also forbidden to advertise these goods, even though in many cases they prove to be superior. America today is a second Israel. It totally supports the Zionist entity. The usurper could not do this without the support of America. “Israel’s” unjustified destruction and vandalism of everything has been using American money, American weapons, and the American veto. America has done this for decades without suffering the consequences of any punishment or protests about their oppressive and prejudiced position from the Islamic world.

Sheik Sadeq Abdallah bin Al-Majed, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudanmarker, issued a fatwa that prohibits vaccination of children claiming it is a conspiracy of the Jews and Freemasons.

Indian Muslim scholars issued a fatwa of death against Taslima Nasreen, an exiled controversial Bangladeshi writer. Majidulla Khan Farhad of Hyderabad-based Majlis Bachao Tehriq issued the fatwa at the Tipu Sultan mosque in Kolkata after Juma prayers as saying Taslima has defamed Islam and announced “unlimited financial reward” to anybody who would kill her.

In 1998, Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraqmarker, issued a fatwa prohibiting University of Virginiamarker professor Abdulaziz Sachedina from ever again teaching Islam due in part to Sachedina's writings encouraging acceptance of religious pluralism in the Muslim world.

Osama bin Laden issued two fatwas—in 1996 and then again in 1998—that Muslims should kill civilians and military personnel from the United Statesmarker and allied countries until they withdraw support for Israelmarker and withdraw military forces from Islamic countries.

In 2003, on his television show John Safran Vs God, Australian comedian John Safran tricked Sheikh Omar Bakri into placing a fatwa on Safran's colleague Rove McManus by showing him falsified evidence seeming to indicate that McManus had been making fun of Islam.

In 2005, the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the Fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that Iran shall never acquire these weapons.

Another example of a fatwa is forbidding the smoking of cigarettes in Islam

In September 2007, the Central Java division and Jepara branch of the Indonesian organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (the Awakening of the Religious Scholars) declared the government's proposal to build a nuclear power station nearby at Balong on the Muria peninsula haram or forbidden. The fatwa was issued following a two-day meeting of more than a hundred ulama to consider the pros and cons of the proposal addressed by government ministers, scientists and critics. The decision cited both positive and negative aspects of the proposal which it had balanced to make its judgement. Key concerns were the question of long-term safe disposal and storage of radioactive waste, the potential local and regional environmental consequences of the plant’s operation, the lack of financial clarity about the project, and issues of foreign technological dependence.

In 2008, undercover reporting by a private TV channel in India showed several respected clerics demanding and receiving cash for issue of fatwas. In response, some were suspended from issuing fatwas and Indian Muslim leaders announced that they would create a new body that will monitor the issuing of fatwas in India.

In 2008, a Pakistani religious leader issued a fatwa on President Asif Ali Zardari for "indecent gestures" toward Sarah Palin, U.S. Vice Presidential candidate.

In 2008, Indian Ulema from the world renowned seminary of Deoband have categorically issued a fatwa against terrorism and mentioned that any sort of killing of innocent people or civilians is Haram or Forbidden. The fatwa also clarified that there is no Jihad in Kashmir or against India as freedom of religion is guaranteed by the state as any state that guarantees freedom of religion can not have Jihad sanctioned against it . This fatwa was reiterated in 2009 where Indian Home Minister P. Chidrambram hailed the move . The full text of the fatwa in English is available here

Deoband Ulema in India have repeated mentioned that the Taliban government in Afghanistan was UnIslamic. This was most recently reiterated at a convetnion in Karachi recently.These include the idea establishing shariah rule with force in the name of Jihad and levying of "jizya" on sikh citizens of Pakistan which was termed as nothng more than extortion by armed gangs .The stand was explained by Maulana Abu Hassan Nadvi as below
This can't be called a war in the name of Islam. Even during a legitimate jihad, which is fought not by a rag-tag army of misguided youth but by the state against identified aggressors, Islam has set certain principles like you can't harm the old, sick, women and children. You can't attack any place of worship. But terrorists kill people indiscriminately. They are earning Allah's punishment.

Suicide bombing in any form have also been declared haram and forbidden by Indian ulema. This stand is also supported by Saudi scholars such as Shaykh Muhammad Bin Saalih al-'Uthaymeen who have issued fatwa saying Suicide bombings are haram and those who commit this act are not shaheed (martyrs) .


  • "In Sunni Islam, a fatwa is nothing more than an opinion. It is just a view of a mufti and is not binding in India." ― Maulana Mehmood Madani, president of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind

  • "The current fashion for online fatwas has created an amazingly legalistic approach to Islam as scholars - some of whom have only a tenuous grip on reality - seek to regulate all aspects of life according to their own interpretation of the scriptures." ― Brian Whitaker, The Guardian,

  • Excerpts from an interview given by Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan, vice-minister of Justice of Saudi Arabia, to the Arabic daily Asharq al awsat on July 9, 2006, in which he discusses the legal value of a fatwa by the Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA) on the subject of misyar marriage, which had been rendered by IFA on April 12, 2006:

:Asharq Al-Awsat: From time to time and through its regular meetings, the Islamic Fiqh Academy usually issues various fatwas dealing with the concerns Muslims. However, these fatwas are not considered binding for the Islamic states. What is your opinion of this?

:Obeikan: Of course, they are not binding for the member Islamic states.

:Asharq Al-Awsat: But, what is the point of the Islamic Fiqh Academy's consensus on fatwas that are not binding for the member States?

:Obeikan: There is a difference between a judge and a mufti. The judge issues a verdict and binds people to it. However, the mufti explains the legal judgment but he does not bind the people to his fatwa. The decisions of the Islamic Fiqh Academy are fatwa decisions that are not binding for others. They only explain the legal judgment, as the case is in fiqh books.

:Asharq Al-Awsat: Well, what about the Ifta House [official Saudi fatwa organism] ? Are its fatwas not considered binding on others?

:Obeikan: I do not agree with this. Even the decisions of the Ifta House are not considered binding, whether for the people or the State.

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