Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Fatwa Definition:

A legal opinion given by an Islamic law specialist on a specific question.

In Arabic, the plural of fatwa is fatawa.

In his 2007 article, Barrak Alzaid defines and further describes a fatwa as follows:

"The fatwa (is) an interpretation of the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammed's teachings, has the potential to define everyday practices and modes of being for that religious leader's followers.

"Although any Muslim can technically follow any fatwa, the norms and practices of their particular community will determine whether they carry it out."

Black and Nadirsyah write:

"Simply stated, a fatwa is a legal opinion issued by an Islamic law specialist on a specific issue."

But then, later, they propose:

"A fatwa is a non-binding legal opinion or ruling given by a recognised Islamic legal specialist....

"A small number of countries do give fatwas legal force, making them binding when gazetted and published.... In some Muslim countries, such as Bangladesh, it is an offence to issue an unauthorised fatwa....

"Collections of fatwas have been established by leadings jurists and at major centres of Islamic scholarship, notably AI-Azhar University in Egypt and the Council of Fiqh in Mecca.

"Fatwas are to be issued only by leading Islamic scholars because the ruling or opinion given is to be arrived at through deep understanding and thorough knowledge of the Shari'a, drawing on the sources of Islamic law, namely the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, the opinions of the jurists of the four Sunni schools of law (madhabs) and by applying the methodology of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).

"As Islam has no centralised, international priestly hierarchy, there is no uniform method for determining who can issue a valid fatwa, nor is there one definitive academic qualification on which a Mufti or Ayatollah's standing rests."

There is a misconception that a fatwa is strictly an order to kill specified individual(s) but the truth of it is that fatwas are issued on all sorts of question, such as whether or not an autopsy is permissible under Muslim law.

The following fatwas which have been reported on in recent years:

  • "Fatwas prohibiting women from studying at tertiary institutions;
  • "Osama bin Laden jointly published a fatwa with Ayman al-Zawahiri and others decreeing the killing of Americans and their allies (in 1998).
  • "The decree that the Bamiyan Buddhist statutes in Afghanistan be destroyed;
  • "Fatwas ... such as the ban on beauty pageants in a Malaysian state;
  • "Saudi Arabia's ban on Pokemon games.
  • "Fatwas from Islamic Muftis and organisations condemning acts of terrorism, such as the 2005 bombings in central London.
  • "The 2006 publication of cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands- Posten resulted in a shaft of fatwas condemning this act, with the most significant being a collective fatwa issued under the name of the World Islamic Scholars. A total of 38 prominent Islamic Muftis, jurists and scholars jointly issued the fatwa, which ruled the publication to be an entirely unacceptable crime of aggression that has violated the highest sanctities of the Muslim people and called on the Danish government and Danes to apologise, condemn and bring an end to this attack. It also called on Muslims to exercise self-restraint and not engage in violent retribution."1


  • Alzaid, Barrak, Fatwas and fags: Violence and the Discursive Production of Abject Bodies, 19 JGL 617 (2010; and NOTE 1)
  • Black, Ann; Hosen, Nadirsyah, Fatwas - Their Role in Contemporary Secular Australia, 18 Griffith L. Rev. 405 (2009)

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