Thanks for the question.
"A fatwa ...is a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious
law specialist on a specific issue. Usually a fatwa is issued at the
request of an individual or a judge to settle a question where
??fiqh,?? Islamic jurisprudence, is unclear. A scholar capable of
issuing fatwas is known as a Mufti.
Contrary to what is believed by many non-Muslims, and even by the
majority of Muslims, a fatwa is not binding on all persons professing
the Muslim faith. The only ones who are obliged to obey any specific
fatwa are the mufti who issued it and his followers.
Because Islam has no centralized priestly hierarchy, there is no
uniform method to determine who can issue a valid fatwa and who
cannot. Some Islamic scholars complain that too many people feel
qualified to issue fatwas.
Different Islamic clerics can issue contradictory fatwas. The effect
depends upon whether or not this takes place in a nation where Islamic
law (sharia) is the basis of civil law.
In nations where Islamic law is the basis of civil law, fatwas by the
national religious leadership are debated prior to being issued. Thus,
they are rarely contradictory. If two fatwas were contradictory, the
ruling bodies (combined civil and religious law) attempt to define a
compromise interpretation that will eliminate the resulting ambiguity.
In nations where Islamic law is not the basis of law, Muslims often
must face two contradictory fatwas. In such cases, the fatwa deriving
from leadership of their religious tradition would be honored. For
example, Sunni Muslims would favor a Sunni fatwa over a Shiite one.
The best known of these was proclaimed in 1989 by the Iranian
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, against Salman Rushdie?s novel ??The
Satanic Verses??. The argument related to an ostensibly blasphemous
statement from an early biography of Prophet Muhammad, regarding
incorporating pagan goddesses into Islam?s strongly monotheistic
structure. Khomeini died shortly after issuing the fatwa. In 1998 Iran
stated that it is no longer pursuing Rushdie?s death; however the
decree was again reversed in early 2005 by the present theocrat,
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. See ??Salman Rushdie?? for details.
Fundamentalists in Bangladesh proclaimed a similar fatwa against
Taslima Nasreen (which see for details) in 1993, against a series of
newspaper columns in which she was critical of the treatment of women
Osama bin Ladin in Afghanistan, jointly with Ayman al-Zawahiri,
proclaimed a fatwa in 1998 in the name of the World Islamic Front for
Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, declaring, "The ruling to kill the
Americans and their allies ? civilians and military ? is an individual
duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is
possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque [in
Jerusalem] and the holy mosque [in Mecca] from their grip, and in
order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated
and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the
words of Almighty God, 'and fight the pagans all together as they
fight you all together,' and 'fight them until there is no more tumult
or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God.'" For more
information, see: Osama bin Laden Fatwa.
Spanish Muslims proclaimed a fatwa against Bin Laden in March of 2005
. They said that he had abandoned his religion and they urged other
Muslims to make similar proclamations. They were followed in July of
2005 by the Fiqh Council of North America, a ruling council that
issued a fatwa against providing support to terrorist groups."
Legality of a Fatwa in the UK:
Since the Fatwa on Salman Rushdie's life was issued by the Iranian
leader, in Iran it was lawful and possibly in other Islamic ruled
countries, where Islamic laws are the civil laws,
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_by_country). But was it legal in
the UK? Definitely not - because it's against British Common Law
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law) to commit murder. All other
Fatwas that are in conflict with the Common Law cannot stand up to the
Common Law in a British Court of Justice. This is also the case in
other countries where Religion and Law are separate - but it would be
a good idea to check in specific countries how Fatwas are treated when
in conflict with the local Law.
Nigerian Government rejects 'fatwa':
"Nigeria's Government will not allow a death sentence to be carried
out on the woman who wrote an article which Muslims complained
insulted the Prophet Mohammed...Information Minister Jerry Gana said
the judgement was "null and void" and promised it would not be
Not that Fatwas should NOT be considered bad by any means. Just a
recent example (July 28, 2005) of a Fatwa issued in Chicago endorsing
the need to oppose terrorism:
UK Muslims issue bombings fatwa (July 19, 2005):
"The religious decree expresses condolences to the families of the
victims of the atrocity and wishes the injured a speedy recovery. It
states Islam condemns the use of violence and the destruction of
innocent lives and says suicide bombings are "vehemently prohibited".
The fatwa was issued (on July 15, 2005) by the British Muslim Forum
(BMF) outside Parliament. More than 50 Muslim religious leaders from
around the UK stood together outside the Houses of Parliament to hear
the fatwa read out.
Gul Mohammad, secretary general of the BMF, quoted the Koran saying:
"Whoever kills a human being ... then it is as though he has killed
all mankind; and whoever saves a human life it is as though he had
saved all mankind." "
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