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The importance of a fatwa and a mufti

Question:

What do the experts of shari’ah say regarding the fatwa of a mufti? What function does this have in Islamic governance?

Answer:

The fuqaha (jurists) have mentioned that a fatwa is an explanation of the commands of Allah ﷻ which is given within the bounds of clear Islamic evidences.

A mufti is honoured to be counted as an inheritor of the Prophet ﷺ. It is mentioned in the Sunnan of Abu Dawud that the Beloved Messenger ﷺ said, “Verily, scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets. The Prophets do not pass on gold and silver, but rather they pass on knowledge.”

One of the roles of a mufti is to inform others of matters regarding the religion which people are unaware of. The Prophet ﷺ has mentioned the importance of this in numerous narrations. “O people! Those who are present inform those who are absent.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari) In another narration the Prophet ﷺ said, “Inform others of that which you have heard from me, even if it is a single ayah.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari) The Prophet ﷺ also said, “You are listening to me, and it will be heard from you, and heard from those who heard it from you.” (Sunnan Abi Dawud)

It is for these reasons that a mufti has such an important role. To be counted as an inheritor of the Prophet ﷺ dictates that one must uphold the best character, carry great wisdom along with expert knowledge, and stay true to the teachings of the Beloved Prophet ﷺ. Likewise, there is a great responsibility in issuing a fatwa and fulfilling this fard al-kifaya (communal obligation).

The fuqaha agree that learning the Islamic sciences and being able to issue a fatawa is a fard al-kifaya. When a question is asked, if there is only one mufti present at the time or in the entire locality then the obligation will fall upon him to answer. If there is more than one mufti present, then it will be a fard al-kifaya for them to answer.

A fatwa informs the questioner of the correct ruling regarding any given matter, but it is not the job of a mufti to enforce it. It will be necessary for the questioner to act upon the fatwa in the following scenarios.

  1. The questioner agrees to accept whatever fatwa is given.
  2. The questioner begins to act upon the fatwa
  3. The questioner is content that the fatwa has been given according to shari’ah.
  4. When the questioner tried to clarify any issue, if there was only one mufti present then his fatwa must be followed. If the questioner also asked another mufti and received the same answer from both then the fatwa must be followed. If two different answers were given, then the questioner will act upon which ever one he deems correct. If he is unable to distinguish between the two answers then the questioner should act upon the fatwa of the mufti that is better known to him and where his heart is content. The Prophet ﷺ mentioned, “Ask your heart, even if people inform you otherwise.” (Musnad Imam Ahmad)

And Allah ﷻ knows best.

This Fatwa is written by Dr. Hafiz Muhammad Munir Al-Azhari