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A fatwā is a reasoned opinion in Islam made by a mufti, a scholar pronouncing verdicts on Sharia or Islamic law. A fatwa is typically issued at the request of an individual or a court to resolve an obscure issue of Islamic jurisprudence(fiqh).

In the early days of Islam, eminent academics issued fatwas to guide other scholars, judges, and citizens on understanding, interpreting, and applying intricate Islamic law issues. There were tight rules governing who could issue a valid fatwa and who could not and the criteria under which a fatwa may be considered valid. 

Many Muslim countries, including Egypt and Tunisia, now have an official mufti position; the country’s civil authorities appoint a famous Sharia expert. In this article, the explanation of fatwas is based on years of research into the writings of a Pakistani Muslim theologian and joint scholarly work with Islamic jurisprudence specialists. As it is a sensitive and crucial act, I will cover as many points as possible related to the Fatwa; read till the end. It will clarify the concept of the Fatwa and other related questions.

What is a Fatwa?

The Arabic word fatwa implies “explain” and “clarification.” It refers to an edict or ruling issued by a recognized religious authority on Islamic law. Issuing a fatwa typically begins when a Muslim is confused about what to do in the face of a life, belief, or legal issue.

A fatwa is an explanation of Islamic law. A mufti often gives a fatwa based on evidence (God’s verdict) and in answer to a question posed by a person (an inquirer) on matters of personal or general concern. A fatwa covers all aspects of life, including creed, acts of worship, transactions, the economy, family, politics, governance, and arbitration.

Following are the rules that cannot be broken while making a fatwa:

  • A fatwa should be concise and understandable.
  • A fatwa should cater to the needs of the inquirer.
  • A fatwa should be free of ambiguity and have a well-defined meaning.
  • A fatwa should not claim to be from God unless founded on conclusive textual evidence.

Who issues fatwas?

When obtaining a fatwa, a Muslim can consult a local cleric, a group of Islamic law scholars – ulama – who work together to make verdicts, or a reputable religious institution.

Given the themes that fatwas must address, which range from personal cleanliness, marital relations, inheritance law, lifestyle, and allegiance to one’s nation, a comprehensive understanding of Islamic law and familiarity with previously issued fatwas is essential.

Darul Uloom in Deoband, India’s influential Islamic seminary that follows its own Deobandi jurisprudence, has issued enough fatwas to fill a dozen books. One researcher likens reading these volumes to reading the United States Supreme Court proceedings.

Changeable and Unchangeable Fatwas

What kind of Fatwas are vulnerable to change?

Fatwas are issued based on independent reasoning (ijtihad), analogy (qiyas), public interest (masalah mursalah), and juristic preference (istihsan).

Decisions are based on customs and traditions. (If conventions remain unchanged throughout centuries, legal rules must be consistent and unchangeable).

What types of fatwas are not subject to change?

Invariable and fundamental rulings on belief, directives, and prohibitions. These include mandatory acts such as confessing faith (shahadah), prayer (salat), fasting (sawm), giving alms (zakat), and going on pilgrimage (hajj).

There are numerous interconnected methods for fatwas to show themselves. Here are some of the manifestations.

1. Fatwas regarding commandments and prohibitions.

Belief-related fatwas include rulings on God, angels, God’s revealed scriptures, prophets, and Judgment Day.

Fatwas about acts of worship: This category encompasses all compulsory, prohibited, recommended, hated, and permitted fatwas. These include prayer (salat), fasting (sawm), almsgiving (zakat), and pilgrimage (hajj), among others.

2. Fatwas refers to an individual or a community as a whole.

Fatwas impacting the community: These apply to the Muslim community and the wider society. They address public ailments, tribulations, general worries, and social difficulties.

Fatwas for individuals and specific incidents: These are for individual inquirers, and the answers depend on their specific questions. The decisions for these fatwas may vary depending on the four elements considered when issuing a fatwa (time, place, individuals, and changing conditions). A fatwa tailored to an inquirer’s query may be founded on necessity but needs to include all of the characteristics of a fatwa. A necessity is an extraordinary case that concludes with ceasing the circumstances underlying its source.

3. Fatwas on topics with or without legal precedence.

These involve issuing rulings on conventional matters with legal precedence, as determined by reference to sources of jurisprudence.

Fatwas on current problems and unprecedented situations developed in modern times that jurists have yet to address. These topics must be examined, explored, and applied to Islamic law principles.

4. Fatwas based on composition.

Brief Fatwas: These fatwas are limited to clarifying the preponderant ruling, with or without providing proof. concise fatwas may include concise juristic opinions on a specific problem, depending on the inquirer’s aim and circumstances.

Long Fatwas: These fatwas are based on the study. They clarify the verdict and cite the opinions of many scholars and the evidence on which they are based. The fatwas then state the preponderant ruling among the several decisions cited, along with evidence. Decisions are based on the inquirer’s intent and circumstances.

Elements of Fatwa

Four factors influence fatwa changes: time, place, people, and current conditions. Any change in these four factors needs a change in decisions while adhering to the goals of Islamic law. A scholar who analyzes these components adheres to religious laws while considering the outcomes of decisions. People, objects, events, thoughts, and systems, as do the complex relationships between them, make up reality. As a result, before issuing a fatwa, all of these factors must be considered.

Time: This refers to a shift in traditions, practices, and conditions from one generation to the next, demanding new rulings based on people’s customs and traditions, as well as decisions based on independent reasoning(ijtihad).

Place: Rulings vary by country, whether Muslim or not, and so on.

Persons: Dealings in general, and transactions in particular, are only established between persons with the necessary qualifications to fulfill rights and duties. This can only happen once each individual is a legal entity.

Changing Conditions: This refers to considering new scenarios, circumstances, mental health, state of mind, and other factors affecting rulings. This could delay the implementation of a verdict or waive its implications if it is a final ruling.

Strategic Management in the Fatwa-Making Process

Fatwa-making is a systematic and strategic approach to legal decision-making. Strategic management is an organization’s design and implementation of long-term strategies based on its external and internal environment (Beekun, 2006; Mohamed et al., 2010). This paper identifies fatwa-making as one of the processes that require strategic management. This is evident in the fatwa-making process, which includes at least four phases, as previously mentioned (Table 1).

Table 1: Strategic Management in Fatwa-Making Process 

Level  Function Concept Strategy
Al-Taswir (Visualization of the issue) Understanding the problem. Information accuracy. Examination of problem factors. Consideration and present technology use. Problem recognition concept • Maintains a balanced approach to problem-solving and responds positively.
Al-Takyif (Adaptation ) Method for applying appropriate quotes from Islamic sources (nas of syarak) to the problem. A staff that understands the relationship between problems. Dalil’s adaption concept Council member discussion (syura).

Organized and holistic in assessing the relationship between problems.

Early perception in forming solutions.

Al-Hukm (Legal Ruling) is a mere explanation of the law. Determination of quoted legal sources (dalil) and law determination through analysis. Explanation and analysis concepts Gradual analysis

and understanding of effects

and appropriate use of the ijtihad technique.

Al-Ifta (Issuing a legal verdict) The fatwa-publication process. Comparison of the attained law. The summary and reflection concept is a precise address, reexamining general acceptance and evaluating the verdict.

 

To begin, the person in charge is the most significant and fundamental component of the fatwa-making process. They are called muftis. Islam assigns the essential aspect of the mufti’s qualification to prevent error. This is because an untrained person who does not follow the procedural requirements will issue a fatwa that contradicts Islamic law. We can clarify that mufti is vital in internal environments and strategic management.

Second, the fatwa-making process should follow a well-organized framework to meet the primary goal of resolving the concerns of the Islamic community. Fatwa is the determination of law about religious issues. As a result, the fatwa-making process is built under Islamic epistemology, as fatwa determination must fall within the scope of the Islamic framework.

Third, using the al-taswir process, the mufti will conduct a survey and field research to obtain as much direct information on the problem as possible. The problem picture should be accurately recognized to avoid errors in the fatwa decision.

Meanwhile, Jum’ah (2008) mentions al-takyif, an approach to matching the presented concern to existing problems in permitted sources. This method is also defined as categorizing difficulties into relevant topics and fiqh arguments. The importance of using this approach stems from the fact that a mistake in determining the extent of the problem would result in an incorrect fatwa and change the law of a specific situation.

Fifth, the level of al-ifta advances after the study and legal decision are completed using Islamic quotes of proof or ijtihad, and the mufti must do the final inspection of the awaited fatwa before it is released to the questioner or local community. An examination is underway to see whether the fatwa is under Islamic law.

Furthermore, the mufti should guarantee that the chosen fatwa does not disregard the values of maqasid syari’ah and does not contradict the concrete sources of proof, nas qat’i. 

Why are fatwas necessary?

An Islamic manuscript with a floral margin, primarily engraved in gold, blue, and pink.

Shiite fatwas from the late seventeenth century. The British Library, via Wikipedia

Why don’t Muslims refer to the Quran for answers to religious questions? The basic answer is that the Quran is silent on some issues. Furthermore, many readings of various texts exist; how can a believer determine which reading is correct?

Prophet Muhammad might have answered such questions while he was still alive. Following his death, Muslims sought aid from members of his family and inner circle. Forward-thinking followers compiled accounts of the Prophet’s sayings and way of life, taking note of their authenticity and reliability.

Many Muslim communities highly value and share several compilations of these experiences, known as hadith. These collections are nearly as important as the Quran in offering advice for daily living because they recount the Prophet’s sayings and actions. Sharia law and Islamic jurisprudence are based on hadith.

Nonetheless, despite the availability of materials like the Quran, hadith, and law books, quandaries emerge in everyday life for which none provide explicit instruction. In this case, a fatwa may be requested. In specific ways, Fatwas paints a picture of Muslim individuals’ and communities’ goals, desires, and anxieties.

Islam comprises various branches and groups; no central institutional structure or acknowledged leader exists. As a result, religious rulings may differ. As a result, fatwas can either protect orthodox readings of Islam’s sacred books or encourage progressive interpretations.

Fatwas are non-binding. Muslims are not compelled to follow their teachings. The authority, trust, and respect afforded to the clerics, academics, or institutions who issue fatwas give them their force. With this authority comes the ability to influence the religious and social norms of the fatwa-requesting community. Fatwa issuers, like anyone else in a position of power, can exploit or abuse their authority to make decisions that serve political purposes.

The scope of fatwas

While fatwas frequently begin with a request from a Muslim layperson, they may also be issued in reaction to a specific situation. Examples include the fatwa issued by Dar al-Ulum Deoband in 2010 against terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State because they were deemed non-Islamic and the fatwa issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulama in 2014 against poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking. Fatwas calling for Muslims to kill a specific individual, such as the one against Rushdie, are uncommon. For now, however, the fatwa against Rushdie remains in effect.

Summing Up

Fatwas are like guiding notes in Islam, assisting with life’s difficult questions. Some regulations, such as those governing daily activities, might evolve over time. However, the large, significant things, such as prayers and beliefs, remain unchanged. Muftis, or fatwas givers, use a thorough method that considers time, place, people, and current events. It is a way of keeping Islamic teachings relevant. Moreover, while not everyone is required to adopt fatwas, they weigh because people trust the experts who issue them. So, fatwas influence how Muslim communities live and think.