Irshad and fatwa: clarifying what is meant by Singapore’s MUIS

A few days ago I shared an irshad (“irsyad”) from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) regarding the use of guide dogs. The MUIS website includes fatwas and irshad. Although there are stylistic resemblances, the distinction between fatwa and irshad is not immediately clear. Irwan Hadi, MUIS fatwa council secretary, clarified the difference. Irwan explains that in Singapore’s context, an irshad is

a general guidance related to emerging issues and more of provisional answers or answers which are already available within the corpus of the Islamic traditional scholarship

and a fatwa is

the unanimous decision by the Fatwa Committee (5 members in all) chaired by the Mufti, on a complicated issue which would require at times novel Islamic rulings and are based on very extensive and in depth research.

Thus, a fatwa from MUIS concerns an issue that is not easy to answer from within the existing legal corpus and, thus, requires extensive research. Additionally, MUIS does not issue a fatwa without agreement from all five committee members.

He also noted that fatwas can also be issued by individuals, though a fatwa issued after group deliberation (like a MUIS fatwa) is presumed to be sounder than one arrived at through individual deliberation.