Question: What is a fatwa? What does fatwa mean?
Scholar for a “fatwa” on what is the appropriate thing to do, or they might look up the answer in a book or on the internet. The scholar might advise them to perform the prayer to the best of their ability on the plane or to delay their prayer until they land, for example. And they would support their opinion with evidence.
It is interesting to note that in Islam, there are four sources from which Muslim scholars extract religious law or rulings, and upon which they base their “fatwa”. The first is the Quran, which is the holy book of Islam, and which is the direct and literal word of God, revealed to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
The second source is the Sunnah, which incorporates anything that the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said, did or approved of. The third source is the consensus of the scholars, meaning that if the scholars of a previous generation have all agreed on a certain issue, then this consensus is regarded as representing Islam.
Finally, if no evidence is found regarding a specific question from the three first sources, then an Islamic scholar performs what is known as “ijtihad”. This means that they use their own logic and reasoning to come up with the best answer according to the best of their ability.
It is also interesting to note that different scholars frequently have different opinions regarding any given question. This is why there is usually more than one “fatwa” regarding any one question. In fact, there are a number of methodologies for how to understand evidence gathered from the previously mentioned sources of Islamic law.
Scholars who follow different methodologies will frequently arrive at different answers to the same question. It is well known that in Islam there are four “schools of thought”, and each of them differs with respect to certain aspects. However, it is important to know that these differences are usually about minor issues.
For example, in terms of beliefs, the vast majority of Muslims agree on most aspects of belief, most importantly the concept of monotheism, and belief in the angels, Prophets, holy books and the day of judgement.
Muslims believe that any given action that they perform in their lives falls into one of five categories:
All actions fall into the “permissible” category, unless there is evidence from one of the four sources previously mentioned (Quran, Sunnah, Consensus, Ijtihad) that proves otherwise. Here are some examples:
The five daily prayers are obligatory upon Muslims. Those who do not perform them are committing a sin, and they will be accountable for that on the day of judgement.
Performing additional voluntary prayers is commendable. Those who perform them will be rewarded, but those who do not are not committing a sin.
Divorce is a despised action. Although there is no sin associated with it, it must only be considered as a last resort when all other means of solving the problems between the spouses have been exhausted.
Drinking alcoholic drinks is not permitted. Those who do so are committing a sin, and will be held accountable for it on the day of judgement.
When someone asks a Muslim scholar about performing a specific action, the reply will be a “fatwa” explaining which of these five categories this action would fall under. So if you ask a Muslim scholar to give a fatwa about adultery, they would tell you that it is “Not Permitted”.
If you ask about fasting in Ramadan, they would answer that it is “Obligatory”. Muslims are usually encouraged to ask for reasoning and evidence behind any fatwa and should avoid blindly following the opinions of Muslim scholars without understanding the reasons behind them. This is because Muslims should always feel that they are practising Islam to gain the pleasure of God, and not to gain the pleasure of acceptance of any human being.
Head Imam Mian Sajid Latif Qadri