FATWA in Islam: A fatwa (pl. fatawa) is an advisory opinion issued by a recognized authority on law and tradition in answer to a specific question. Fatawa can range from single-word responses (e.g., “Yes,” “No,” or “Permitted”) to book-length treatises. Although typically focused on legal matters, fatawa also treat more general religious issues, including theology, philosophy, creeds, and _ibadat (religious obligations or acts of worship). Traditionally, despite numerous exceptions (particularly since the eleventh century), the issuer of fatawa, termed a mufti—whose authority derives from his knowledge of law and tradition—has functioned independently of the judicial system, indeed often privately. While court rulings rely on the sifting of evidence and conflicting testimonies, muftis assume the facts presented by their questioners, which, obviously, can bias the answer.
Moreover, a fatwa differs from a court judgment, or qada_, not only in its wider potential scope—for instance, although _ibadat are essential parts of Islamic law, they transcend the jurisdiction of the courts—but also because the qada_ is binding and enforceable, “performative,” while the fatwa is not. Instead, it is “informational,” and, while decisions of shari_a courts usually pertain only to the specific cases they adjudicate, thus setting no legal precedents, fatawa are very often collected, published, and cited in subsequent cases.