The word “fatwa” has become well known around the world. People often hear that a Muslim cleric or scholar has issued a “fatwa”. In some cases, this word has been associated with very negative things, such as a death sentence on a person or a severe punishment. The word “fatwa” has been made popular by media outlets looking for more sensational stories in order to capture the largest possible audience. In their pursuit of ratings, the media need to find an enemy that they can portray as evil and vicious, because such stories trigger fear in viewers and make them interested in following such stories in the media. Media outlets love to find words such as “fatwa” that they can use in their reports. This gives the report a more serious tone, and makes it appear as if the reporter is an expert on the subject, because no one knows what this word means and no one has heard it before. However, the media turns such a word into a keyword that catches the eye and the ear or the average person, all in the pursuit of more viewers and higher ratings.
So what does the word “fatwa” actually mean? It is an Arabic word, and it literally means “opinion”. Related words in Arabic are “afta”, which means to give an opinion, and “yastafti”, which means to ask for an opinion. In fact, in Arabic countries, an opinion poll is called an “istifta”, which is simply a different form of the same word. As you can see, there is nothing sinister or scary about the word itself. So why do media outlets not just say “opinion” so that everyone can understand what they are talking about? Would you care about the opinion of some cleric in Iran or Afghanistan? Probably not. But the use of a foreign sounding word such as “fatwa”, along with all of the negative and evil connotations that it carries, will catch the attention of a good number of people. This translates into more viewers, higher ratings and more advertising dollars.
This was the linguistic meaning of the word “fatwa”. In a religious context, the word “fatwa” carries more meaning. This is because when a Muslim has a question that they need to be answered from an Islamic point of view, they ask an Islamic scholar this question, and the answer is known as a “fatwa”. This “fatwa” carries more weight than just the random opinion of any person on the street. Muslim scholars are expected to give their “fatwa” based on religious evidence, NOT BASED ON THEIR PERSONAL OPINIONS. Therefore, their “fatwa” is sometimes regarded as a religious ruling.
Hence, media should stop misusing the term fatwa, personal statement/opinion of any Tom dick harry is not fatwa and muslim are not bound to follow the so called fatwa.
Any person wearing skull cap n sporting beard is not scholar of islam or representative of whole muslim community.
When a muslim needs to know the ruling of Islam in a particular case or matter, he/she consults a qualified Islamic scholar to ask for the same since not every Muslim is knows all such intricate matters. The answer given by the scholar or cleric in the light of Islamic rulings is called “fatwa”.