fatwa, in Islamic law, an opinion made by a judicial/religious scholar (a mufti) on a legal, civil, or religious matter. The fatwa is usually a valuable source of information on any subject for private individuals or for judges or other authorities, and it is normally used as a guide and does not have the force of law. Under normal circumstances, a fatwa is legally binding only in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Fatwas are often issued to raise awareness and provide clarification regarding a specific issue for Muslims, who then may or may not follow them. Over the centuries, hundreds of thousands of fatwas have been produced. They came to the attention of many Westerners in 1989 when Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie, whom he accused of blasphemy. Another well-known and deadly fatwa was issued by Osama bin Laden in 1998 and called for Muslims to execute Americans and their allies.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.