Elements of a Fatwa & Their Contribution to Confidence in Its Validity

Earlier this week I introduced an analytical brief about the confidence Sunni Muslims place in the validity of fatwas based on how they are communicated. That brief was published with a companion brief about the confidence Sunni Muslims place in the validity of fatwas based on their elements.

As with the first brief, I conducted a survey to measure and rank the degree of importance fatwa petitioners (mustaftīs) place on each element of a fatwa when assessing whether it is valid to follow. Analysis showed that respondents place the elements in the following ranking:

  • Reputation of the person or institution issuing the fatwa
  • Textual evidence from the Quran and Sunnah
  • Explanation of evidence
  • Reference to earlier works of law
  • Inclusion of signature or official stamp

Fatwa petitioners consider the mufti to be the most important element of the fatwa with regards to validity. This may help explain the relatively low confidence fatwa petitioners have in fatwas when they are communicated through websites or newspapers, thereby removing the mufti’s form, voice, and handwriting – thus effectively reducing him to nothing more than a name.

I recommended that

  • Institutes interested in issuing or disseminating fatwas should consider the wisdom of policies which leave the mufti anonymous and unknown to petitioners.
  • Muftis who want their fatwas to be accepted with a high degree of confidence should make a point of including textual evidence with a simple explanation.

None of this is surprising. Nonetheless, it is useful to confirm our intuitions with data and to have a benchmark for future studies.

You can read the full text of the brief here.