Fatwā

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A fatwā (Arabic: فتوى‎; plural fatāwā Arabic: فتاوى‎) in the Islamic faith is a religious opinion concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. In Sunni Islam any fatwā is non-binding, whereas in Shia Islam it could be considered by an individual as binding, depending on his or her relation to the scholar. The person who issues a fatwā is called, in that respect, a Mufti, i.e. an issuer of fatwa. This is not necessarily a formal position since most Muslims argue that anyone trained in Islamic law may give an opinion (fatwā) on its teachings. If a fatwā does not break new ground, then it is simply called a ruling.[1]

An analogy might be made to the issue of legal opinions from courts in common-law systems. Fatwās generally contain the details of the scholar's reasoning, typically in response to a particular case, and are considered binding precedent by those Muslims who have bound themselves to that scholar, including future Muftis; mere rulings can be compared to memorandum opinions. The primary difference between common-law opinions and fatwās, however, is that fatwās are not universally binding; as the Sharia is not universally consistent and Islam is very non-hierarchical in structure, fatwās do not carry the sort of weight that secular common-law opinions do.

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Popular misconceptions

Some people use the term to mean an Islamic death sentence imposed upon a person.[2] This is indeed one possibility among others and is properly called a Haraam), but is a rare use for a fatwā. The term's correct definition is broader, since a fatwā may concern any aspect of individual life, social norms, religion, war, peace, Jihad and politics. Most Islamic opinions—millions of fatwā have been issued over the 1,400 year history of Islam—likely deal with issues faced by Muslims in their daily life, such as the customs of marriage, financial affairs, female circumcision or moral questions. They are issued in response to questions by ordinary Muslims, and go unnoticed by those not concerned, while the much smaller number of fatwā issued on controversial subjects such as war, Jihad, Dhmimmis, particularly by extremist preachers, sometimes get wide coverage in the media because of their political content (see examples below).

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