When to follow a fatwa

Brother,

To what degree does a Believer have to follow a fatwa (religious ruling). Is a fatwa an absolute? I do not think so but I do not have the knowledge to make a judgement.

A fatwa is a conclusion made by a scholar concerning a religious issue. Often the question answered by a fatwa is whether something is allowed, obligated or forbidden. To arrive at such conclusion, certain discipline must be followed, called Usool-ul-Fiqh (Foundations of deduction).

There is a protocol, established by the Prophet (PBUH), for the sources a scholar must consider as he analyzes an issue. This was done when he sent Mu`aazh ibn Jabal, may God have been pleased with him, to Yemen, to teach people Islam. The Prophet (PBUH) asked Mu`aazh, “How are you going to judge between the people?” Mu`aazh answered, “By the Book of God.” The Prophet liked that, then he asked him, “And when you don’t find the answer there?” Mu`aazh answered, “I consult the Hadeeth.” The Prophet liked that, then he asked him, “And if you don’t find the answer there?” Mu`aazh answered, “Then I work hard with an opinion of mine.” The Prophet (PBUH) smiled in approval.

Thus, the protocol is clear. The Quran comes first, and only if one cannot find the answer in it, then one consults the Hadeeth. Let’s say that again: If the answer is in the Quran, you do not pay attention to any other source.

While that may sound obvious to any Muslim, you will be surprised by the number of fatwas from prominent scholars which break that first rule! Their fatwa may cite a hadeeth, even one whose authenticity is suspect, and fully ignore evidence from the Quran.

So, to answer your question: If the fatwa does not reference the Quran and focuses on hadeeths, or on opinions of other scholars, then that is a red flag for you. Rarely is there an issue which the Quran has not dealt with explicitly or implicitly.

Obviously, if the fatwa uses irrelevant evidence, inauthentic text, mere opinions, poor logic, subjective interpretations, etc., then it is uncertain in its conclusion at best.

Most fatwas, especially those from well respected scholars, are meritorious and well thought of and industriously analyzed. When you hear or read such fatwas, you ought to follow them.

One final word. There are many schools of thought out there, called Mazhaahib. You are at liberty to follow any of them, or pick and choose from either. There is seldom an issue where imaams (the foremost scholars) have agreed on, save those explicitly stated in the Quran or the Hadeeth.

8 Responses to “When to follow a fatwa”

  1. Aapa says:

    When I read that a fatwa has been issued someplace, e.g., the latest one about women working and educating themselves in single sex environments. Is there a documentation associated with the fatwa that will explain the rationale for the fatwa? In other words how do we know the process that was used to justify a particular ruling.

    • noclash says:

      There is always documentation of the rationale, but it may not be published. Never take a fatwa without its reasoning and evidence. Some fatwas are motivated by politics and/or personal likes and dislikes.

      Muslim women worked and educated themselves in mixed-sex, but properly segregated, environment during the life of the Prophet (PBUH), the Sahaaba and the generations after them. Islamic history has many examples of women being teachers of men! That fatwa you’re referring to does not sound meritorious.

  2. Aapa says:

    How do I explain this to others. I am not a scholar. Even if a fatawa is motivated by politics it in essence has an impact on most Muslims. We are all trying to remain on the correct path. This is akin to a thorn on the path.
    Or are fatawa’s left for personal interpretation.

    Forgive me for being redundant but I am attempting to gain understanding such that I/we can practice our faith.

    • noclash says:

      Not being redundant at all. This is indeed a serious issue. Fatwa can be and has been misused. It’s not a recent phenomenon either. In the past, some scholars gave fatwas to appease the ruler or avoid his wrath. Sometimes fatwas were used to unite members of a sect against another, regardless of the logic and evidence used in their arguments. Folks thought that the end justified the means.

      All that, of course, runs contrary to the teachings of the Quran and the Sunna, both strongly emphasizing the truth, even against oneself. God says in the holy Quran,

      “By elapsed time, man is in loss! Except those who believe, do the righteous deeds, counsel each other with the truth, and counsel each other with patience.” (Chapter 103).

      God also urges us to acknowledge a truth even when it comes from the enemy! He says, “O you who have believed, be standing up for God and witnesses with equity. And let not the hatred of a folk swerve you from being equitable. Judge fairly; that is closer to piety. Watch out for God! Verily, God is fully Acquainted with what you do.” (5:8)

      What do you tell people? Tell them that a fatwa may be flawed, or may have an agenda behind it. If a fatwa makes little sense to you, check it out; don’t just follow it blindly. Find out what other scholars have said about the same issue. If you have access to the Mufti (the scholar who gave the fatwa), ask him to teach you how he arrived at his conclusion. A genuine scholar with no ulterior motive will only be too happy to explain it to you.

      Rumi has a nice poem about blind following, in which he says, “Don’t let others lead you! They may be blind, or worse, they may be vultures!”

  3. Aapa says:

    Am I understanding this correctly, that humble me can have access to question the Mufti.
    Are there journals that discuss the latest fatwas?

    I can just visualize this. Me, marching into Mecca and demanding an explanation on how this particular fatwa is not feasible for many women; those of us who have to work.

    Help me understand this:

    I read on a forum that a fatwa has been issued. It states xyz. What is the process of issuing a fatwa.

    Rumi was free from the constraints that limit many of us.

    • noclash says:

      That is what an ordinary woman, whose name nobody was certain of, has done when Caliph `Umar ibn Al-Khattaab, may God have been pleased with him, said on the pulpit one day that he was going to place an upper limit on dowries. She stood up and said to him, “But God says ‘And you gave one of them (women) a heap (as dowry)’!” (4:20)

      What did `Umar do? He backed off immediately! He said out loud from the same pulpit, “The woman is right and `Umar is wrong!”

      How many scholars today, none of whom would dare to compare himself to `Umar, would do that?

      You have the right to know how a fatwa is arrived at. Do not give up that right. And if the fatwa is flawed, you have the right to reject it. Let no one intimidate you to accept it. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Consult your heart, even if people give you fatwa, give you fatwa and give you fatwa!” Narrated by Waabisa ibn Ma`bad and reported by An-Nawawi (in his two excellent books: Riyaadh-us-Saaliheen and Al-Arba`een An-Nawawiyya) and also by Ibn Hajar Al-`Asqalaani (in his excellent book Mishkaat-ul-Masaabeeh) and by Ash-Shawkaani. They all rated it Hasan (Sound) and Al-Albaani agreed.

      How did Rumi free himself from the constraints that limit many of us? He decided to be free from people and be a slave to God. And when he did, he was enlightened.

    • noclash says:

      I read a post last night from a scholar about the issue of women driving. Firstly, he acknowledged that many scholars in KSA have ruled that there is no cause to prevent women from driving. His opinion is that he sees definite harm to women if they are allowed to drive in the city, but no harm if they are driving in less crowded places! His view, therefore, is that if a woman has to go someplace outside the city, and a mahram is not available, she may drive.

      I’m at loss for words. He sees no harm in a woman driving a car in a deserted area, but harm if the area is filled with people?

      To be fair, his major concern is sexual harassment which she is likely to suffer when men find out that she is alone and not protected by a mahram. While this is true, it is assuming that people will not stop a harasser or that there is no policeman around or that she has no way of defending herself. The reality is that all of the above are available, especially in Muslim countries. If she is driving in a deserted place, on the other hand, then she should be worried. How come he’s not?

      His other concerns are that a woman who gets used to being with men will feel “less and less obligated to keep her hijab on” and will “gradually lose her inhibitions with men.” I’ll let you comment on these two concerns.

      He starts his fatwa with an analysis of where Muslims get their rights from. He contends that only God and His Messenger define what these rights are. He argues that there is no evidence that women have no right to drive. I’m glad that at least he arrived logically at this conclusion. However, he said, it is the potential harm that turns the right to drive into a risky activity that should be avoided.

  4. Aapa says:

    Brother,

    I recall that hadeeth. Yes, you are absolutely correct. I can use my mind. I do not have to feel that I am compromising my faith by rejecting an edict that makes little or no sense.

    We do need to have a discussion on how to be free from people and be a slave to Allah subhana talla. It makes the heart sing; if only we could remain in that state.

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