Fatwā (Arabic: فتوا) is the opinion of a mujtahid or a marja' on religious obligation of mukallaf people deduced from the four sources of argument (the Qur'an, conduct of the Prophet (s), consensus of jurists and intellect). According to the view of Shia jurists, a person who issues fatwa should be just, Twelver Shi'i, a'lam (the most learned mujtahid), of legitimate birth and familiar with the ways and sciences necessary for deduction of rulings.
Fatwa is usually expressed with the terms: wajib (obligatory), haram (prohibited), makruh (disliked), mustahabb (recommended) and mubah (permissible). Sometimes for stating the fatwa, the following expressions are used: “aqwa an ast…” (“It is more strongly believed that…”), “bana bar aqwa…” (“based on a stronger view…”) and “azhar an ast…” (“It is more obvious that…”). Among the ways to access the fatwa of a mujtahid is to hear it from the mufti, being informed of by two just persons or one trustable person whose report brings about certainty as well as finding it in the mujtahid's manual of religious rulings.
About the difference between fatwa and hukm (ruling), it is mentioned that fatwa is the general ruling for the majority of the followers of the mujtahid; but, hukm (ruling) is the ruler's order for doing or abandoning a certain action and is obligatory for all the people addressed by the order.
Some of the fatwas issued by Shia jurists are: the fatwa of prohibition of tobacco, fatwa of jihad against the ISIS and the fatwa of prohibition of insulting revered Sunni figures.
Fatwa is the expression of the mujtahid's opinion on a religious ruling for informing his followers. Asking the jurist's opinion on a religious issue is called "istiftaʾ" [religious inquiry]. The one who issues fatwa is called a "mufti" and the person who receives the fatwa is called "mustafti".
In jurisprudential references, the rulings regarding fatwa are discussed in the chapter of ijtihad and taqlid.
Difference between Fatwa and Hukm [Ruling]
Jurists have mentioned some differences between fatwa and hukm including:
- Fatwa is the expression of a general hukm [ruling]; e.g. drug use is forbidden for all people. But, the ruler's hukm is ordering or prohibiting a certain action; such as ruling the ban of a certain product.
- In fatwa, matching the religious ruling with the case and determining its subject is upon the mukallaf, but matching the hukm with the case is upon the ruler, not mukallafs; such as the ruler's hukm about the sighting the crescent of the month of Ramadan.
- A mujtahid's fatwa is a binding proof only for his own followers; but, the religious ruler's hukm is not restricted to followers and is binding for all people; and even another mujtahid who is more learned than the religious ruler should follow his hukm as well.
Sources of Issuing Fatwa
Fatwa is binding only if it is based on a valid shar'i proof; otherwise, acting based on it is forbidden. A valid shar'i proof can be acquired from four sources:
- The Qur'an: about 500 verses of around 6 thousand verses of the Qur'an (about one thirteenth) are about religious rulings. However, according to the view of Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat, deduction of religious rulings is not limited to these 500 verses.
- Tradition: which includes the speech, act and silent of the Infallible Ones (a) [indicating their approval]. Shia consider the life conduct of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) as binding proofs; but, Sunnis only consider the conduct of the Prophet (s) as the binding proof.
- Consensus: It is agreement of religious scholars over an issue. In the view of Shi'a, consensus is binding if it indicates the view of the Prophet (s) or Imams (a).
- Intellect: Intellectual reason or rule by which acquisition of a shar'i ruling becomes possible. However, akhbari people do not consider intellect as a valid source for deduction of shar'i rulings.
Qualifications of a Mufti
Different qualifications have been mentioned for a mufti, including maturity, sanity, justice, being Twelver Shi'i, a'lam (the most learned mujtahid) and of legitimate birth. Also, a mufti should know the ways of acquiring religious rulings and deduction of rulings as well as all sciences involved in deduction of rulings. He should also be able to bring arguments for rulings and explain their principles. Therefore, a mufti should be knowledgeable about the Qur'an and tradition. He should also know about the abrogating and the abrogated, the general and specific, the absolute and the specified and the real and metaphoric verses.
Some of the rulings related with fatwa are as follows:
- For the one who is able to deduce religious rulings, it is impermissible to refer to a mufti and follow him.
- Issuing fatwa for a person who is not competent to deduce religious rulings is forbidden.
- Methods of acquiring fatwas are: hearing from the mufti, being informed by two just persons, being informed by one just or trustable person, whose report bring about certainty and finding in the mufti's manual of rulings.
- There is a disagreement about the necessity of informing the followers of a mujtahid, if his fatwa changes. According to some jurists, if the previous fatwa has been in agreement with precaution, informing the followers about its change is not obligatory. Some other jurists did not consider the announcement of the new fatwa obligatory for the followers; because, the previous fatwa too had been in accordance with conditions and requirements of ijtihad.
- If the most learned mujtahid issues a fatwa on a topic, a person who follows him cannot act based on another mujtahid's fatwa on that topic.
A mufti is allowed to issue fatwa only when he is certain that he has full competence over whatever involved in deduction of the rulings.
Terms Indicating Fatwa
Terms which indicate fatwa are in two forms:
- Those which directly express fatwa such as: wajib (obligatory), haram (prohibited), makruh (disliked), mustahabb (recommended) and mubah (permissible). Also, expressions such as “aqwa an ast…” (“It is more strongly believed that…”), “bana bar aqwa…” (“based on a stronger view…”), “azhar an ast…” (“It is more obvious that…”), “ba’id nist…” (“It is not unlikely…”), “khali az quwwat nist …” (“It is not without likeliness that…”) and “ahwat-u aqwa” (“It is based on more precaution and stronger belief that…”).
- Expressions which are ruled as fatwa such as: “ba’id nist lakin mas’aleh moshkil ast” (“It is not unlikely, though it has a problem”), “ahwat, agarcheh aqwa nist” (“It is based on higher precaution while it is not more strongly believed”), “khali az wajh nist…” (“It is not irrelative…”), “mushkil ast, agar-cheh khali az qurb nist” (“It is problematic, while it is not unlikely”) and “mumkin ast qol be an, vali khali az eshkal nist” (“It is acceptable to rely on that account, but it is not free of problem.”)
"Obligatory Precaution" and "Recommended Precaution" are not Fatwa
"Obligatory precaution" and "recommended precaution" are not fatwa. In "obligatory precaution", the mujtahid has not reached a definite conclusion on a religious issue, so he does not give fatwa. In such cases, the duty of mukallaf is essentially mentioned based on precaution. In these cases, the follower can act based on that precaution or based on the fatwa of another mujtahid, he knows as the most learned mujtahid after his own marja'. In recommended precaution, the mujtahid has reached a conclusion and has issued fatwa, but he has shown the way of precaution as well; thus, the followers can either act based on the fatwa or the recommended precaution.
The expression of "ihtiyat" (precaution) in the books of fatwa, if mentioned before or after the fatwa, indicates the recommended precaution; otherwise, indicates the obligatory precaution.
Some famous fatwas of Shia jurists are as follows:
- The fatwa of ban on tobacco: it was a fatwa issued by Mirza Shirazi in 1309/1891, in response to the granting of exclusive tobacco rights by Nassir al-Din Shah to the British Régie Company in four cities of Iran, and led to cancellation of the mentioned contract.
- The fatwa of Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi on the obligation of jihad against Britain: this fatwa was issued in 1338/1919-20 and was the cause of Iraqis' uprising against British occupiers and resulted in Iraq's deliberation from British occupation.
The Fatwa on the Ban of Tobacco
- “In the Name of God, the All Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
- Today, the use of tobacco in any way is considered as war against the Imam al-Mahdi (a).”
- Sayyid Muhsin Hakim's fatwa in prohibition of joining the communist party: this fatwa was issued in 1380/1960-1 after Abd al-Karim Qasim came to power and promoted secular thoughts. In two fatwas, Sayyid Muhsin Hakim declared joining the communist party forbidden and ruled it as disbelief and atheism or promoting such.
- The fatwa of jihad against the ISIS: the fatwa of Sayyid Ali Sistani, Iraq-based marja', which was issued in 1393/2014-5 against the ISIS. In that fatwa, he considered defending Iraq and its sanctuaries as a collective duty and called on groups of the Iraqi people to confront the Takfiris. Following the issuance of this fatwa, the Popular Mobilization Forces (aka al-Hashd al-Sha'bi) was formed, which led to the expulsion of ISIS from Iraqi territory.
- The fatwa of prohibition of insulting revered Sunni figures: the fatwa was issued in 1389/2010-1 by Ayatollah Khamene'i following the insult of Yassir al-Habib to Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (s), and the istifta' of Shiite scholars of al-Ahsa region of Saudi Arabia.
- Shaltut's fatwa on permission of acting based on Shia school: Mahmud Shaltut, among Sunni jurists and the teacher of al-Azhar University, issued a fatwa in 1378/1958-9, and permitted following Shia (Ja'fari sect) similar to other Sunni schools.
Fatwas, which are against the common view, are called shadhdh (lit. “Bizarre”) fatwa or “tafarrud al-fatwa” (“isolated fatwa”). Some of such fatwas are as below:
- Purity of soulless parts of dog and pig: Sayyid Murtada, among Shia jurists, believed that the hairs of dog and pig are not najis, since they are soulless. According to Muhammad Hasan Najafi, the fatwa of Sayyid Murtada was against the common view of Shia jurists.
- Purity of wine: according to the Muhammad Hasan al-Najafi, some jurists including al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Ibn Abi 'Aqil al-'Ummani and al-Muhaqqiq al-Ardabili, issued fatwa suggesting the purity of wine and other liquid intoxicants, against the common view of Shia jurists. In Mukhtalaf al-Shi'a, al-Allama al-Hilli attributed the view about najasa of wine and other liquid intoxicants to majority of Shia jurists.
- Equality of the blood money of men and women: According to the fatwa of Ayatullah Sani'i, the blood money of a Muslim man and a Muslim woman is equal. According to the common view of Shia jurists, the blood money of a Muslim woman is half of a Muslim man's.
Fatwa council is following a group of jurists instead of one certain jurist. In this method, the view of the majority is followed, since no consensus is possible among the jurists in all issues.
According to the advocates of this method, studying the arguments for the validity of fatwa and the necessity of following a mujtahid shows that the criteria for Shar'i validation of argument exist both in individual and council fatwa. However, this theory has been criticized by some researchers.
A group of mujtahids, who study about one religious issue and give council to the marja' on that issue, is called istifta' council. In answering his followers, the marja' gives his opinion to the members of the council and they give their opinion if they have any idea for perfecting that fatwa, and finally, organizing, explaining and concluding the points for giving the fatwa is upon the marja'.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from فتوا in Farsi WikiShia.
- Āqā Buzurg Tihrānī, Muḥammad Ḥasan. Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-Shīʿa wa huwa nuqabāʾ al-bashar fī qarn al-rābiʿ ʿashar. Mashhad: Dār al-Murtaḍā, 1404 AH.