What is a Fatwa?

The Meaning Of Fatwa

In its original linguistic sense, the word Fatwa means an answer to a question irrespective of whether such question relates to an issue of Shari’ah or not. Thereafter, the word acquired a technical meaning in the sense that it was confined to an answer given in response to a question relating to an issue of Shari’ah or the Deen.[1]

The Dynamics of a Fatwa

A fatwa is a culmination of Fiqh (jurisprudence) which has its roots in the Quran, Hadith, Ijmā’ (consensus of the Sahabah), and Qiyās (analogy).

 The academic content of a fatwa is like the mountaintop that is uplifted by the entire mountain and further supported by the surface of the ground and its underground structures. When a request for a fatwa is made, a Mufti is required to exert himself and apply his mind to the best of his ability to arrive at a ruling of Sharia. In doing so, he has to be cognizant of all the structures of Sharia: Quran, Hadiths, Ijmā’, and Qiyās.

The Salaf (pious predecessors) & the Immense Responsibility of Fatwa

The Salaf used to exercise great caution in matters of Fatwa. Imaam Malik [Rahimahullah] used to frequently say : “I don’t know”. Imaam Abu Hanifa [Rahimahullah] is reported to have said that the Mufti must be conscious of accountability to Allah before responding to any question. According to Ibn Masud and Ibn Abbas (Radhiallahu Anhuma), a person who answers every question is mad[2]. Unfortunately there are many persons who claim the mantle of issuing Fatwa without proper training and without having acquired the necessary expertise, thereby causing confusion and misunderstanding amongst the lay public.

[1] Contemporary Fatawa (Mufti Taqi Usmani)
[2] أصول الإفتاء وآدابه