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A fatwā (Arabic: فتوى‎; plural fatāwā Arabic: فتاوى‎) in the Islamic faith is a juristic ruling concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. In Sunni Islam any fatwā 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 fatwā is called, in that respect, a mufti, i.e. an issuer of fatwā, from the verb أَفْتَى 'aftā = "he gave a formal legal opinion on". This is not necessarily a formal position since most Muslims argue that anyone trained in Islamic law may give an opinion (fatwā) on its teachings. If a fatwā does not break new ground, then it is simply called a ruling.[1]

An analogy might be made to the issue of legal opinions from courts in common-law systems. Fatwās generally contain the details of the scholar's reasoning, typically in response to a particular case, and are considered binding precedent by those Muslims who have bound themselves to that scholar, including future muftis; mere rulings can be compared to memorandum opinions. The primary difference between common-law opinions and fatwās, however, is that fatwās are not universally binding; as sharia law is not universally consistent and Islam is very non-hierarchical in structure, fatwās do not carry the sort of weight that secular common-law opinions do.


Popular misconceptions

Some people use the term to mean an Islamic death sentence imposed upon a person.[2] This is indeed one possibility among others (and would be in the case of something Haraam), though it is a rare use for a fatwā. The term's correct definition is broader, since a fatwā may concern any aspect of individual life, social norms, religion, war, peace, jihad, and politics. Most Islamic opinions (millions of fatwā have been issued over the 1,400 years of Islam's existence) deal with mundane issues faced by Muslims in their daily life, such as the customs of marriage, financial affairs, moral questions, et cetera. They are issued in response to questions by ordinary Muslims, and go unnoticed by those not concerned, while the much smaller number of fatwā issued on controversial subjects, such as war, jihad, and dhimmis (particularly by extremist preachers), sometimes get wide coverage in the media because of their political content (see examples below).

A fatwā is not automatically part of Islamic teachings. While the person issuing it may intend to represent the teachings of Islam accurately, 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 fatwā, 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, fatwās 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 was eligible to issue a valid fatwā and who could not, as well as on the conditions the fatwā must satisfy to be valid.

According to the usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence), the fatwā must meet the following conditions in order to be valid:

  1. The fatwā 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 ulamas, each country develops and applies its own rules, based on its own interpretation of religious prescriptions. Many Muslim countries (such as Egypt and Tunisia) 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 fatwās are binding on no one: neither the state that appoints him, nor any citizen.

Issuer qualifications

During what is often referred to as the Islamic Golden Age, in order for a scholar to be qualified to issue a fatwā, 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.[3]

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, fatwā by the national religious leadership are debated prior to being issued. In theory, such fatwā should rarely be contradictory. If two fatwā 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 fatwā 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. Fatwā 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 fatwā. In such cases, Muslims would typically honour the fatwā deriving from the leadership of their religious tradition. For example, Sunni Muslims would favor a Sunni fatwā 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 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)), which has 57 member states. But it can only render fatwā that are not binding on anyone.

Legal implications

There is a binding rule that saves the fatwā 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.[4] He said, "Even the decisions of the official Ifta authority [the official Saudi fatwā institute] is binding on no one, whether for the people or the state." Al-Obeikan, however, was subsequently removed from his position as advisor to the royal cabinet in May 2012 after opposing moves to relax gender segregation, [5] and in August of 2012, Obeikan’s morning radio show “Fatwas on Air,” in which he would issue daily fatwas, was canceled after a royal decree that authorizes only members of the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars to issue fatwas.[6]

Still, sometimes, even leading religious authorities and theologians misleadingly present their fatwā as obligatory,[7] or try to adopt some "in-between" position.

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

"Fatwā issued by Al-Azhar 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 France 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.[8]

In Morocco, 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 (ulama), which is the only one allowed to issue fatāwā.[citation needed] 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 fatwā in effect, but that does not mean that the fatwā is to be religiously accepted by all. For instance, if a state fatwā 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 fatwā, or that the fatwā is religiously binding for them.[citation needed]


Sources of fatwā include:

Contemporary examples

Fatwā 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 fatwā 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.[citation needed]

Despite the word "fatwā" not being included in the Qur'an, individuals commonly obtain fatwā to guide them in everyday life. 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 "fatwā shopping", in which an individual asks the same question of different sheiks until they receive an answer they like.[9]

Examples of famous or controversial fatwā include the following:

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

In 2001, religious authorities in the United Arab Emirates issued a fatwā against the children's game Pokémon, after finding that it encouraged gambling, and was based on the theory of evolution, "a Jewish-Darwinist theory, that conflicts with the truth about humans and with Islamic principles".[10]

In 2001, Egypt's Grand Mufti issued a fatwā stating that the show "Who will Win the Million?" (modelled on the British show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) was un-Islamic.[11] The Sheikh of Cairo's Al-Azhar University later rejected the fatwā, finding that there was no objection to such shows since they spread general knowledge.

In Syria, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun prohibiting every type of smoking, including cigarettes and narghile, as well as the selling and buying of tobacco and any affiliation with tobacco distribution (see also Smoking in Syria).

Yusuf al-Qaradawi released a fatwā on April 14, 2004, stating that the boycott of American and Israeli products was an obligation for all who are able. The fatwā 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.[12][13]

Sheik Sadeq Abdallah bin Al-Majed, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan, issued a fatwā that prohibits vaccination of children claiming it is a conspiracy of the Jews and Freemasons.[14][15]

Indian Muslim scholars issued a fatwā of death against Taslima Nasreen, an exiled controversial Bangladeshi writer. Majidulla Khan Farhad of Hyderabad-based Majlis Bachao Tehriq issued the fatwā 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.[16]

In 1998, Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq, issued a fatwā prohibiting University of Virginia professor Abdulaziz Sachedina from ever again teaching Islam due in part to Sachedina's writings encouraging acceptance of religious pluralism in the Muslim world.[17]

Osama bin Laden issued two fatwās—in 1996 and then again in 1998—that Muslims should kill civilians and military personnel from the United States and allied countries until they withdraw support for Israel and withdraw military forces from Islamic countries.[18][19]

In 2003, on his television show John Safran Vs God, Australian comedian John Safran tricked Sheikh Omar Bakri into placing a fatwā 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 fatwā that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that Iran shall never acquire these weapons.[20][21]

Another example of a fatwā is forbidding the smoking of cigarettes by Muslims.[22]

In 2007, Dr Izzat Atiya of Egypt's al-Azhar University issued a fatwā that allowed women to breastfeed their male colleagues as a way of bypassing segregation of the sexes at work.[23]

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 fatwā 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 judgment. 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.[24]

In 2008, undercover reporting by a private TV channel in India showed several respected clerics demanding and receiving cash for issue of fatwās. In response, some were suspended from issuing fatwās and Indian Muslim leaders announced that they would create a new body that will monitor the issuing of fatwās in India.[25][26]

In 2008, a Pakistani religious leader issued a fatwā on President Asif Ali Zardari for "indecent gestures" toward Sarah Palin, U.S. Vice Presidential candidate.[27]

In 2008, Indian Ulama from the world renowned seminary of Deoband have categorically issued a fatwā against terrorism and mentioned that any sort of killing of innocent people or civilians is Haram or Forbidden.[28] The fatwā 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.[29] This fatwā was reiterated in 2009 where Indian Home Minister P. Chidrambram hailed the move.[30] The full text of the fatwā in English is available here[31]

Deoband Ulama in India have repeatedly mentioned that the Taliban government in Afghanistan was Un-Islamic. This was most recently reiterated at a convention in Karachi recently.[32] These include the idea of establishing shariah rule with force in the name of Jihad and levying of "jizya" on Sikh citizens of Pakistan, which was termed as nothing more than extortion by armed gangs.[33] 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 ulama.[34] This stand is also supported by Saudi scholars such as Shaykh Muhammad Bin Saalih al-'Uthaymeen who have issued fatwā saying Suicide bombings are haram and those who commit this act are not shaheed (martyrs).[35]


Asharq Al-Awsat: From time to time and through its regular meetings, the Islamic Fiqh Academy usually issues various fatwās dealing with the concerns of Muslims. However, these fatwās 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 fatwās 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 fatwā. The decisions of the Islamic Fiqh Academy are fatwā 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 fatwā organism]? Are its fatwās 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.

Other meanings

Some fatwās have drawn a great deal of attention in Western media, giving rise to the term fatwā being used loosely for statements by non-Muslims that advocate an extreme religious or political position, and loosely or as slang for other sorts of decrees, for example:

"The pope issued a fatwā." (in a BBC television history program) [which one? what channel?]
"According to sources in today’s Tibetan resistance, the Chinese Communist "fatwā" to silence Patterson has never been rescinded."[38]

See also


  1. ^ MacFarquhar, Neil. "The media relations department of Hizbollah wishes you to die: Unexpected encounters in the changing Middle East", PublicAffairs, 2009, ISBN 978-1-58648-635-8
  2. ^ www.askoxford.com. "fatwa". AskOxford. http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/fatwa?view=uk. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  3. ^ Makdisi, George (April–June 1989). "Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West". Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (2): 175–182 [175–77]. doi:10.2307/604423. JSTOR 604423. 
  4. ^ By Huda al Saleh (2009-02-15). "Loading". Asharqalawsat.com. http://www.asharqalawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=3&id=5572. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ "Boycotting Products of the US & Its Allies: Obligatory? - IslamonLine.net - Ask The Scholar". IslamonLine.net. 2003-03-22. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar/FatwaE/FatwaE&cid=1119503546692. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  8. ^ Middle East Information Center. "Middle East Information - MEIC Issues and analysis of the Middle East: Conflicts, News, History, Religions and Discussions". Middleeastinfo.org. http://middleeastinfo.org/article4171.html. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  9. ^ A Reporter Translates Middle East Customs. Morning Edition, 4 May 2009.
  10. ^ "Pokemon faced with fatwa". BBC News. 2001-04-09. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/new_media/1269050.stm. 
  11. ^ "'Millionaire' fatwā rejected". BBC News. 2001-07-26. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1457145.stm. 
  12. ^ "Boycotting Israeli and American Goods - IslamonLine.net - Ask The Scholar". IslamonLine.net. 2004-04-18. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar/FatwaE/FatwaE&cid=1119503543874. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  13. ^ "Ulama’s Fatwa on Boycotting Israeli and American Products - IslamonLine.net - Ask The Scholar". IslamonLine.net. 2003-06-30. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?cid=1119503545220&pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar/FatwaE/FatwaEAskTheScholar. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  14. ^ http://memritv.org. "Clip". Memritv.org. http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1522.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  15. ^ "Clip Transcript". Memritv.org. 2007-07-28. http://www.memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/1522.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  16. ^ Associated Press of Pakistan - Indian Muslim scholars issue Fatwa against Taslima[dead link]
  17. ^ http://www.uga.edu/islam/sachedina_silencing.html
  18. ^ "Bin Laden'S Fatwa". Pbs.org. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/terrorism/international/fatwa_1996.html. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  19. ^ "Online NewsHour: Al Qaeda's 1998 Fatwa". PBS. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/terrorism/international/fatwa_1998.html. Retrieved 2006-08-21. 
  20. ^ "Iran, holder of peaceful nuclear fuel cycle technology". Mathaba.net. http://mathaba.net/0_index.shtml?x=302258. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  21. ^ http://www.dfa.gov.za/foreign/Multilateral/inter/iaea_iran/200508_iran_statement1.doc
  22. ^ "Islamic Glossary: Fatwa". Islam.about.com. 2008-07-06. http://islam.about.com/od/law/g/fatwa.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  23. ^ "Breastfeeding fatwa causes stir". BBC News. 2007-05-22. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6681511.stm. 
  24. ^ Richard Tanter, "Nuclear fatwa: Islamic jurisprudence and the Muria nuclear power station proposal", Austral Policy Forum, 13 December 2007, 07-25A.
  25. ^ Clerics issue fatwas for cash The Times of India. Sept 18 2006
  26. ^ India's Cash-for- Fatwa Scandal Time Magazine Sep 21 2006
  27. ^ CJ: Rohini Verma. "Zardari gets Fatwa for flirting with Palin". Merinews.com. http://www.merinews.com/article/zardari-gets-fatwa-for-flirting-with-palin/143115.shtml. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  28. ^ "Front Page News : Monday, June 28, 2010". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 2008-06-02. http://www.hindu.com/2008/06/02/stories/2008060255231200.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  29. ^ Not Specified (2008-02-28). "Deoband fatwa ruffles feathers of Kashmiri separatists". Jammu-kashmir.com. http://www.jammu-kashmir.com/archives/archives2008/kashmir20080228d.html. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  30. ^ TNN, Nov 4, 2009, 04.33am IST (2009-11-04). "Chidambaram reaches out, seeks Deoband support in war on terrorism - India - The Times of India". Timesofindia.indiatimes.com. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Chidambaram-reaches-out-seeks-Deoband-support-in-war-on-terrorism/articleshow/5193980.cms. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  31. ^ "Muslims for Secular Democracy". Mfsd.org. http://www.mfsd.org/fatwaenglish.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  32. ^ "DAWN.COM | Pakistan | Deoband ulema term all Taliban actions un-Islamic". Dawnnews.net. 2009-06-20. http://www.dawnnews.net/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/12-deoband-ulema-term-all-taliban-actions-un-islamic--bi. Retrieved 2010-06-28. [dead link]
  33. ^ "Indian clerics flay imposition of 'Jizya' on Pakistani Sikhs". Indianexpress.com. 2009-05-05. http://www.indianexpress.com/news/indian-clerics-flay-imposition-of-jizya-on/454905/. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  34. ^ Wajihuddin, Mohammed (2009-10-17). "Muslim clerics denounce Taliban threat". The Times Of India. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Muslim-clerics-denounce-Taliban-threat/articleshow/5133316.cms. 
  35. ^ Shaykh Muhammad Bin Saalih al-'Uthaymeen
  36. ^ "outlookindia.com". outlookindia.com. http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20051212&fname=Cover+Story+%28F%29&sid=1&pn=2. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  37. ^ Whitaker, Brian (2006-01-17). "January 17, 2006". London: Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,,1688285,00.html. Retrieved 2009-06-21. 
  38. ^ caption of an image in

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