The Gravity of Issuing Fatāwā (1)

by | 15 Jul 2020 | Miscellaneous, Research & Articles


We are living in a time when many unqualified individuals tend to express their views on Islam. And likewise, those people who have not studied the rulings of Islam, its jurisprudence, theology and all its various sciences have a tendency of speaking on these grave subjects based on their opinions driven by desires.

The task of issuing fatāwā is one which cannot be handled by someone who has not studied the various Islamic sciences, especially that of issuing legal juristic rulings. Dr Ṣalāḥ Abu l-Ḥājj writes in his muqaddimah (introduction) of Is‘ād al-Muftī[1] that many institutes are negligent toward teaching the science of answering legal rulings.

If our Dars-e-Niẓāmī institutes are examined, one will notice that a special course has been constructed to be taught after the ‘ālimiyyah course known as Takhaṣṣuṣ fi l-Iftā’ wherein students are taught how to deal with contemporary issues and equally, how to answer fatāwā. If a person has not studied this science under a competent muftī, he is unqualified to issue legal rulings. The reason for this is that he will be unable to reconcile between the evidences and various riwāyāt of the madhhab leaving the laymen confused.

It has been observed that a number of graduates love diving into answering fatāwā without understanding the seriousness of this action. It is then that we find ‘ulamā’ adopting isolated opinions from the scholars of the madhhab and straying from the manhaj of iftā’ (may Allah protect us). Students as well as graduates who have not studied the field of Rasm al-Muftī must be cautious in their steps. Shaykh ‘Awwāmah states, “The religion of Allah is above being left as a plaything in the hands of the jesters simply because the unqualified claim to practice the sunnah. Every person has its experts and a person should not transgress his limits.” [2]

After understanding that not every person is actually qualified to issue fatāwā, it is also important to know how serious it is to issue a fatwā without knowledge. Thereafter, we will look at the attitude of our pious predecessors in issuing fatāwā and how cautious they were.

The Gravity of Issuing Fatāwā and Being Bold therein

When a muftī issues a fatwā, he is in effect speaking on behalf of Allah. It is as if he is saying that Allah has disapproved of this and approved of that. It is extremely crucial for the one giving a fatwā that he seeks the ḥaqq (truth) and avoids issuing rulings according to the interest of the people which may appeal to one’s nafs.

Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) has said: “Whosoever was issued a fatwā which was not substantiated correctly, then the burden of sin will be upon the one who issued the fatwā.” [3]

In another narration, Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) is reported to have said: “Verily, Allah will not take away knowledge all at once. Rather, He will take it away by the death of scholars, until no (true) scholar will remain and then the masses will make ignorant people their leaders. They will be deviated and will also deviate others.” [4]

Shaykh ‘Atiyyah Ṣaqr writes: “The one who is unaware of a particular ruling should consult the specialists (of that field). And whosoever issues a ruling without the correct knowledge has lied upon Allah and His Messenger (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), hence, he is deviated from the straight path and he will deviate others. Thus, it is not permissible for the one who does not have sufficient knowledge to issue a fatwā. Rasūlullah (Ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was asked about:

  • ar-Rūḥ
  • The People of al-Kahf
  • Dhū l-Qarnayn

He did not answer until waḥy was revealed in which he was given the answers for the three questions.” [5]

Al-Barā’ ibn ‘Āzib (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) said : “I saw 300 from the people of Badr; every one of them would desire that their companion gives a fatwā and not them.” [6]

Ibn al-Munkadir states: “A muftī is the joining point between Allah and His creation, so he should be wary of his steps. It is compulsory for him to remain silent if he fears making an error.” [7]

Sufyān ibn ‘Uyaynah said: “I met jurists (fuqahā’) who disliked issuing fatāwā until they would consider it necessary. He also said: Those who are the most competent in issuing fatāwā generally are the most silent in them, and those who are ignorant are the most vocal.” [8]

Imām an-Nawawī writes: “Know well that the position of iftā’ is very sensitive. It is a lofty position and holds great virtue because the muftī is the heir of the Prophets and he is fulfilling a Farḍ al-Kifāyah.” [9]

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr narrates with his chain of transmission to ‘Uqbah ibn Muslim who said: “I stayed in the company of Ibn ‘Umar (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā) for 34 months. Most of the time when he was asked a ruling, he would reply, “I don’t know”. He would then turn towards us and ask, “Do you know what these people are trying to do?  They wish to make our backs a bridge for them to jahannam.” [10]

The Attitude of our Salaf (Pious Predecessors)

One of the students of Imām Mālik said: “By Allah! When [Imām] Mālik was asked a question, his condition would become such as though he is standing between jannah and jahannam.” [11]

Al-Imām al-A‘ẓam Abū Ḥanīfah said: “If I did not fear knowledge being lost, I would not have issued a fatwā for anyone.”

Abū Ḥafṣ an-Naysābūrī states: “An ‘ālim should be such that when a question is posed to him, he fears being questioned on the day of qiyāmah (reckoning): ‘From where did you respond?’” [12]

Ibn Mahdī: “I heard [Imām] Mālik say: ‘At times when I receive a query, I spend nights awake in trying to solve that query.”

For more quotes on Tahayyub as-Salaf li l-Futyā, see Muftī Taqī ‘Uthmānī’s Uṣūl al-Iftā’ wa Ādābuh along with its commentary, al-Fatḥ ar-Rabbānī.

Important Advice to the Muslim Masses

In this era of technological advancements, one of the biggest harms the Muslim ummah has faced is that any incompetent person is able to use social media and issue fatāwā. After reading the above statements, one can easily conclude that issuing a fatwā is not something to be taken lightly. Moreover, laymen should consult reputable, competent ‘ulamā’ for their dīn-related queries and not seek advice from self-proclaimed people of knowledge on social media platforms.

It is a sad reality that individuals who sin openly have now become the primary source of seeking knowledge for many. Every person out there with “Abu” or “Ibn” attached to their name does not just somehow qualify as a muftī. These so-called muftīs who perform their own principle-less ijtihād are in reality leading people away from the pristine teachings of Islam. I will leave you with this profound and extremely relevant statement of Ibn Sīrīn (raḥmatullāhi ‘alayh): “Verily, this knowledge is dīn, so be careful who you take your dīn from.”

May Allah Ta‘ālā protect us from the mischief of the mischievous and keep us steadfast on the straight path, āmīn.

Bilal al-Mahmudi

26 Dhul-Qa’dah 1437 / 30 August 2016

[1] Is‘ād al-Muftī ‘alā Sharḥ ‘Uqūd Rasm al-Muftī by Dr. Ṣalāḥ Muḥammad Abū l-Ḥājj (Dār al-Bashā’ir al-Islāmiyyah). See P. 7 onwards.

[2] Athar al-Ḥadīth ash-Sharīf. P. 69–70.

[3] Ibn Mājah (1/20), Musnad Aḥmad (2/321), Sunan al-Dārimī (1/69), al-Mustadrak (1/183)

[4] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (1/50), Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim (4/2058)

[5] Is‘ād al-Muftī (68) – Fatāwā al-Azhar (10/196)

[6] Al-Faqīh wa l-Mutafaqqih (2;165)

[7] Fayḍ al-Qadīr (1/205–206)

[8] Al-Fatḥ ar-Rabbānī Sharḥ Uṣūl al-Iftā wa Adābuh (P.58)

[9] Al-Majmū‘ Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab

[10] Jāmi‘ Bayān al-‘Ilm wa Faḍlih (P. 316, 899)

[11] Same as 8

[12] Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm ad-Dīn (1/395)


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