A Fatwa (فتاوى) is a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law specialist, on a specific issue. Usually a fatwa is issued at the request of an individual or a judge to settle a question where fiqh, "Islamic jurisprudence," is unclear. Because there is no central Islamic priesthood, there is also no generally accepted method to determine who can issue a Fatwa and who cannot, leading some Islamic scholars to complain that too many people feel qualified to issue a fatwa.
In both theory and practice, different Islamic clerics can issue contradictory, or competing, fatwas. What happens then depends on whether one lives in a nation where Islamic law is the basis of civil law or if one lives where Islamic law has no legal status. It should be noted that many nations in which Muslims make up a majority of the population do not recognize Islamic law as the basis of civil law.
In nations based on Islamic law, fatwas by the national religious leadership are debated before being issued and are decided upon by consensus. In such cases they rarely are contradictory, and they carry the status of enforceable law. If two fatwas are contradictory, the ruling bodies (which combine civil and religious law) effect a compromise interpretation which is followed as law.
In nations that do not recognize Islamic law, religious Muslims are often confronted with two competing fatwas. In such a case, they would follow the fatwa of the leader in the same religious tradition as themselves. Thus, for example, Sunni Muslims would not hold by the fatwa of a Shiite cleric.
External Links to more information
- The Rushdie death threat affair
- Singer Cat Stevens promotes killing Rushdie
- Moderate Muslim proponent receives death threat
- Muslim woman author under Islamic death threat for "blasphemy"
- More on Muslim woman author under Islamic death threat for "blasphemy"
- Former Islamic cleric under death threat for leaving Islam
- Osama bin Ladin's Fatwa urging jihad against Americans