Monday, March 18, 2013

What Is " Fatwa " ? What Are Its Requirements ?

By Sodium

" Fatwa " is an Arabic word and it simply means " Edict ". That is too simplistic of a definition. Hence, one must look for a more profound definition in order to make it clear to the novice readers of this website.

The American Heritage Dictionary, as it is electronically manufactured by Seiko, defines " Fatwa " as follows:

Fatwa: " a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority. "

Based upon the definition as quoted above, it is clear that " Fatwa " refers to an " Islamic Edict " given on a specific point of Islamic law.

The key words in the definition given by the American Heritage Dictionary are the two words, " recognized authority ". As a result, one may raise the following question:

What are the characteristics of the " recognized authority " to qualify to declare a " Fatwa " ?

A fair question requires an objective answer. The following is an attempt to provide the readers of this website with such an objective answer;

It is imperative that the " recognized authority " in the Islamic world must not be recognized ONLY as an Islamic scholar in his own " mathhab ", meaning a " school of thought " to which he follows, but also he must have profound knowledge of ALL other Islamic " mathahib ", meaning all other Islamic schools of thought. (Please notice that the word " mathhab " is singular and " mathahib " is plural in the Arabic language ). At any rate, in Islam, there are four major and well recognized and well developed " mathahib ", meaning four well recognized and developed "Schools of Thought ". The four " mathahib" or " Schools of Thought " are the following ones:

~ Hanafi's School of Thought: Founder and Islamic Scholar, Imam ibn Hanaf.
~ Maliki's School of Thought: Founder and Islamic Scholar, Imam ibn Malik.
~ Shafi'i's School of Thought: Founder and Islamic Scholar, Imam ibn Shafi.
~ Hanbili's School of Thought: Founder and Islamic Scholar, Imam ibn Hanbal.

If the " recognized authority " is well versed in the Hanafi's School of Thought only, for example, but has no profound enough knowledge in all other three Schools of Thought, he is then not qualified to declare a " Fatwa " to be followed by all Muslims. In such a case his " Fatwa " can be rejected by anyone of the other three  Islamic Schools of Thought or by all of them. In short, the Islamic scholar whose knowledge does not include, or rather does not embody, all aspects of all four Schools of Thought in a profound ways, his " Fatwa ", most likely, will not be accepted by all Muslims. However, his " Fatwa " may be accepted by Muslims who follow the same School of Thought he himself follows.

Regrettably, what had happened during the first stages of the Arab Awakening ( Arab Spring ) was the fact that some Islamic scholars, in some Arab countries, declared some " Fatwas " in service of some Arab rulers. Islam has nothing to do with such practices. In true Islam, all  qualified and profoundly knowledgeable Islamic scholars must be completely INDEPENDENT IN THEIR INTERPRETATIONS OF THE VERSES OF THE QUR'AN AND DECLARATIONS OF FATWAS AND RECEIVE NO SALARY, WHATSOEVER, IF THEY ARE WELL-OFF FINANCIALLY. If a qualified and deeply knowledgeable Islamic scholar happened to be poor financially, only then  a monthly salary would be allocated to him, by independent jurists, directly from the National Treasury to live on decently.  No ruler is allowed to intervene.

During typing this essay, I had met technical difficulties and I was forced to stop in the middle of typing this essay. Although I have more to say on this subject, I feel that I better stop here before encountering the same technical difficulties once more. I believe I have made my thoughts on this subject clear enough. I do hope that all or part of the foregoing will be of some help to all the readers who keep reading what has been published on this website.


  1. Sodium,
    Is "Fatwa" a narrative in the Qur'an? I am just curious and will appreciate a response. Thank you.

  2. Warren,

    No, it is not.

    Fatwa is fundamentally extracted from " Ijtihad " which is an Arabic word refers to a relentless researches done by Islamic scholars in their interpretations of the verses of the Qur'an. The four Schools of Thought, listed in the essay, attest to that.

    I hope that the above explanation has answered your question, Warren ,and thank you for raising it

    One thing to remember: since there are four Schools of Thought, as listed in the above essay. That means that there are four interpretations of some verses of the Qur'an. Fatwa for a particular purpose can be declared by a well known Islamic scholar who follows any one of the four Schools of Thought cited in the above essay.