A Fatwa is a legal opinion issued by a mufti (Islamic cleric) or lawyer concerning Islamic law. Usually a fatwa is issued at the request of an individual or a judge to settle a question where Islamic jurisprudence is unclear.
A fatwa must be rendered in accordance with fixed precedent and not based upon the mufti’s or lawyer’s own will and ideas. However, because there is no central Islamic priesthood, there is also no unanimously accepted method to determine who can or cannot issue a fatwa. In both theory and practice, different Islamic clerics can issue contradictory fatwas.
Some fatwas issued are controversial. For example, there was significant controversy about the fatwa issued in 1989 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini which sentenced to death the author Salman Rushdie, his publishers and all people aware of the content of his book The Satanic Verses.
Fatwas are often thought of as a binding declaration of officially sanctioned murder of an enemy. In fact, today fatwas have limited importance in most Muslim societies and are normally used only in cases of marriage, inheritance and divorce.
26 November 2004