Fatwa refers to interpretation and opinion on Islamic subjects given by an expert in Islamic law and jurisprudence (fiqh). An Arabic term fatwa derives from the word al-futua which, according to some linguists, signifies favour, generosity, humanity and demonstration of power. The logic behind the coinage of such interpretation of the fatwa lies in the fact that the mufti by his generosity and prudence gives his opinion towards the solution of problems relating to Islamic issues.

The fatwa indicates the proper solution of any intricate problem. According to Ibn al-Athir, fatwa implies the permission or formal recognition of any matter. According to some experts, the word fatwa is virtually derived from the term al-fatah which means confirmation and stable. Since a mufti confirm and ratify a religious issue by authentic documents and evidences with an object of solving any incidental or new problem, the fatwa emerges to be an accepted verdict. In the Holy Quran the word fatwa is used to express different meanings, such as asking of questions, verdict (Surah Nissa, verse 147) or opinion (Surah Yusuf, verse 43), decision, explanation (Surah Yusuf, verse 46) and giving solution to any matter etc. The person who delivers fatwa is called a mufti and the fatwa seeker is known as sail or mustaftee.

The trend of delivering fatwa began from the time of the Prophet (Sm) though subsequently some changes were brought in the method of giving fatwa, procedures of asking for fatwa and in their compilation. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (Sm) and the sahaba-e-kiram, the chronology of fatwa was successively maintained through memory. There was a convention that whenever any controversial issues came to the fore, the Muslims used to place them before the Prophet (Sm) for solution as he was considered by all as the most dependable person for interpretation of religious affairs and for giving verdict. Many issues placed before him by the sahabis were solved by the edicts of the Quran. For example, there are some comments in the Quran such as 'when they ask for fatwa from you, tell them that Allah is giving you fatwa' (Surah Nissa, verse 127). Sometimes, the Prophet (Sm) used to deliver fatwa through ijtehad made in the light of ilham (intuition) and knowledge from Allah. Besides, some of his companions (sahabis) like Ali Ibn Abu Talib (R), Abdullah Ibn Masud (R), Mu'az Ibn Jabal (R), Hujaifa Ibnul Yaman (R), Salman Farsi (R) and Amar Ibnul As (R) used to deliver fatwa on complex issues through ijtehad. Prophet Muhammad (Sm) not only liked the fatwas they delivered through their own discretion, rather he appreciated their perfect ijtehad and informed them of rewarding returns hereafter. After the end of the period of prophecy, the trend of question-answer process regarding fatwa continued in the time of the companions. Most of the records of the fatwa was then preserved in memory save a few being on record. Some of them were recorded by the instance of the caliphs (Khulafa-e-Rashedin), and were sent to different regions and cities. Some of the fatwas were preserved in writing by the initiative of the individuals. The compilation of the fiqh was initiated from the second half of the first Hijri. Since the trend of issuing fatwa both in written and verbal forms continued since the time of the sahabas, the distinguished sahabas were entrusted with the responsibility of issuing fatwa.

Prior to the emergence of the learned theologians during the Umayyad and Abbasid period, the qazis used to issue fatwa. In modern times, fatwa committees have been formed consisting of the noted theologians and jurists in some Muslim states. Such committees in Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have developed some features in the practice of issuing fatwa. These are firstly, fatwa was not delivered on the basis of individual opinion; secondly, fatwa was delivered only whenever required, and thirdly, all the delivered fatwas were consistent with the legal provisions of the respective countries. Some of the prominent fatwa compilations are Fatwa-e-Qazi Khan, Fatwa-e-Shami, Fatwa-e-Alamgiri.

In Indian sub-continent, it was the Darul Ulum Deoband Madrasah which for the first time established the Darul Ifta or Department of Fatwa. Muslims from far and wide used to visit the theological experts of the madrasah to get proper directives on Islamic regulations. Due to preoccupation of the alems in teaching they could not regularly respond to the questions of the people. To face the situation, the madrasah authority assigned to Yaqoob Nanutobi (R), a teacher of the madrasah, the responsibility of solution of theological problems placed by the people. After his death, this responsibility was carried by some other teachers. But with the increase in the number of solution seekers, a separate department of fatwa was introduced in the madrasah with the name Darul Ifta in 1310 Hijri. Maulana Mufti Azizur Rahman was appointed as the first mufti in charge of the department. Initially there was no provision for keeping office copy of the delivered fatwa, but from the month of Zilquad 1329 the preservation of written copies of fatwa was ensured. The number of copies of fatwa preserved stood at 37,561 by 1346 Hijri. Obviously copies of a huge number of fatwa rendered in the first 49 years could not be preserved. Subsequently, steps were taken to sort the fatwas subjectwise and were compiled in chapters and sections. Maulana Zahiruddin was in charge of sorting and cataloguing of the fatwas.

The fatwas compiled earlier were not provided with any reference or annotation. Maulana Zahiruddin collected references from authentic books of fiqh to enclose with the relevant fatwa. Simultaneously he also recorded a description of the process of codification of the respective verdict of the fatwa. In the reference, he also mentioned dates of delivery of the concerned fatwas. In the compilation of the anthology of the fatwas the interpretations were placed in the form and style of fiqh. The first volume of Fatwa-e-Darul Ulum was published in 1382 AH. Subsequently nine more volumes were published and some volumes are now ready for publication. This anthology of fatwas has earned unquestionable acceptability from all quarters. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad paid a visit to Darul Ulum Deoband Madrasah in 1370 AH. He was impressed by the gigantic rich collection of the fatwas and commented: 'With these collections another Fatwa-e-Tatar Khani can be produced. You are contributing a lot to the service of the religion. This will contribute to the easy solution of many more problems of the people.'

The learned faqih muftis of Sharsina Darus-sunnat Alia Madrasah and Madrasah-e-Alia of Dhaka have been issuing fatwas based on the Holy Quran, Hadith, Ijma and Qiyas, the sources of Islamic law and jurisprudence. A department of the Islamic Foundation in Dhaka named as Darul Ifta is listed to issue fatwa. Besides, fatwas are delivered from the Hathajari Dars-e-Nizami Madrasah and from the Chittagong Madrasah. [AKM Yakub Hossain]