Subjecting All Aspects of Life to Fatwā

  • Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
  • Mon, 03/15/2010
There is more to Islamic Law – the Sharī`ah – than the issuing of religious verdicts (fatwā). Islamic law embraces the Qur’an in all of its subtleties, the life-example found in the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and the many aspects of the faith that are readily understood by everyone. Moreover, the sphere of what is permissible in Islam is too vast to quantify. The default assumption in Islamic Law is that something is permissible unless there is clear and authentic evidence indicating that it is not permissible.

The issuing of fatwā should not be misconstrued as the governing or regulating factor of all human behavior. I know of no evidence in Islamic Law to give fatwā such a pervasive and overarching role.

Not everything in life needs to have a fatwā issued about it. Islam is much more than fatwā. We have a tendency in this day and age to give fatwā a much larger role than it actually has. It is as if we want to make fatwā to preside over every aspect of our lives. The general public is not expected to seek a religious verdict every time they wish to make a move. There are many things in life which are simple and straightforward.

Fatwā provides specific answers to specific questions that people may be confronted with individually in their religious lives or that society as a whole needs to have addressed. At the same time, life is full of all sorts of concerns. There are political matters that are best resolved through political means. There are questions of trade that are grounded in sound economic thinking. There are questions related to technology, human creativity, and social concerns. In all of these matters, there are many issues which have right or wrong answers that do not depend on religious verdicts and need solutions which religious verdicts are not suitable to address.

Therefore, it is a mistake to assume that every question of life can be addressed by fatwā. Some matters are simple and easy and do not need to be asked about. People can act in their own capacity according to their general religious knowledge. There are other matters that have been clear in Islam from its inception up to the present day wherein there is no dispute. Then there are those problematic issues which have religious dimensions that really do need to be addressed by fatwā. These are matters which have religious implications for which a clarification is needed from a religious standpoint.

We need to be cognizant of the fact that those who ask for religious verdicts are accountable before their Lord just like the scholars are. Each of us is individually accountable for our decisions and our actions. Some people ask questions about everything, dragging fatwā into all sorts of matters, hoping by doing so to absolve themselves of personal responsibility. They feel that getting an answer from a scholar makes them exempt from any liability when they act upon the scholar’s ruling.

This misuse of fatwā to shift personal responsibility onto the scholars can often lead to abuse on the part of the questioner. Many people to try and shape the scholar’s response to suit their own ends. They may pressure the scholar by loading their question with all sorts of contingencies and extraneous factors in hopes that the scholar will be compelled to declare the matter in question to be unlawful. Alternatively, they may phrase the question so that the desired answer is implicit in its wording. This is a clear abuse of the role of fatwā. Then there are those who ask for religious verdicts as a force of habit, without giving any thought to whether doing so in an instance is really necessary or appropriate.

Fatwā has an important and vital role in Islam to clarify matters wherein there are religious implications that need to be clarified. This role needs to be understood, honored and respected. It should not be abused.

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Filed under Fiqh, Islam, Religion

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