Some of the terminology regarding Muslim-Western relations has been widely misused or misunderstood, confusing key issues and clouding constructive opportunities. In an attempt to improve ongoing communication, we have developed the following Terminology in Muslim-Western Relations guide. A downloadable PDF version is also available.
An opinion or pronouncement by a trained Islamic jurist, or Mufti
Why a Problem:
A fatwa is a legally non-binding opinion, but is often understood in the West to
be a religious edict that must be acted upon. It entered Western parlance with
the issuance of a fatwa calling for the death of the author, Salman Rushdie, in
the 1980s. Thus the general perception is that a fatwa is a death sentence, which
feeds into the notion that Islam is a violent religion which does not value "rights
of due process" or human life.
Another problem that has arisen is that many opinions issued by unqualified
persons recently have been called fatwas in the media; calling such
pronouncements fatwas lends such opinions a legitimacy they in fact lack.
Creates the impression that judicial systems in Muslim-majority countries are
based on the opinions of religious leaders. Although this is sometimes the case,
it is rare; by calling illegitimate opinions fatwas, the person making the
pronouncement is automatically being acknowledged as a legitimate religious
jurist, or Mufti