8

The issue of allowing fatwa questions on this site has been brought up before. The two most pertinent examples I recall are,

In summary, despite us explicitly not being a fatwa site, we do feel that there's value in allowing fatwa questions. However, we have as so far failed to establish any sort of standard for how these fatwa questions should be framed in order to be constructive.

Many of the fatwa questions we receive have been decidedly low-quality — often from unregistered users — and typically follow a similar progression:

  • Users posts a vague one-liner asking whether such-and-such is haram.
  • One user posts a vague answer saying yes it's haram but provides no evidences.
  • One user posts a fatwa that's already readily available on the Internet.
  • One user posts a fatwa that's already readily available on the Internet.
  • Many or all of these get flagged and deleted for very low quality or for plagiariasm and/or copy-paste.

And...that's it. Maybe we'll receive a third opinion from another fatwa site, but that really depends on how often that question's even been asked before and where. Trickier questions which have not been answered by any of the usual suspects — the types of questions that Stack Exchange as a model was designed to handle — tend to just remain unanswered if we're lucky. More likely, it'll just attract vague speculation from people who are in no way qualified to give fatawa at all.

This is not quality Q&A. This is, at best, content aggregation.

And with the voting culture we have, these items (I refuse to call them answers) tend to get heavily upvoted based on agreement rather than on quality, which just turns the whole thread into a popularity contest rather than a constructive source of information.

Right now, fatwa questions are haphazard at best, often receiving little to no curation. They rarely demonstrate research effort, they are inconsistently tagged, they are not reliably voted on, and they more often than not end up being used as vehicles to push Truth rather than to advance the academic study of Islam.

As a moderator, I end up spending way too much time on cleaning these posts up, either due to flags on the answers as above or due to users arguing in comments about why their evidence or scholar is more reliable than the one in the answer itself.

The strongest argument so far against establishing a higher standard for fatwa questions is the idea that people who ask such questions are inevitably critical of any answer they receive. However, in practice this does not seem to be the case; sure, we have plenty of users who are highly critical of answers — and highly vocal in their criticism — but I'm seeing very little of this from the questioner for whom such criticism is most necessary. Many if not most of the fatwa questions I see show no indication that the user is even aware that they're asking random strangers on the Internet for a ruling rather than a team of professional scholars.

In order to be useful as a site, questioners yes need to be critical of any answer they receive, but they also need to be able to recognize the value that the Stack Exchange voting system was built to provide. So far, fatwa questions are not regularly meeting either of these criteria.

A standard is needed for these questions. We do not want to be "that Islam content farm," we do not want to breed debate or sectarianism, and we definitely do not want to be a site which encourages current and future users to follow incorrect (or outright dangerous) rulings while under the mistaken impression that they're valid.

And if fatwa questions cannot be made to work under that standard, they should have no place on this site at all.

So, keeping these issues in mind, how should we be handling fatwa questions going forward? Or should they just be made off-topic altogether?

3

As a site that is meant to be more of a study group and aims at posting all relevant views, a fatwa of any nature seems to be out of scope. Hence, what I recommend is if an answer can demonstrate the general rules with recommended actions that are generic (not contextual) or no recommended actions at all, it is on-topic. Anything else would be considered a fatwa and is off-topic. In the end, users will still need to vote based on their understanding of what a fatwa is.

Falling on the conservative side with fatwas is actually recommended. Imam Malik was asked 48 questions, he responded to 16 with recommended action and to 32 with: "I don't know." A good portion of Imam Ash-Shafi'i's answers was complete silence; when asked about it, he responded: "to decide if it is better to answer or to keep quiet." The majority of what Imam Ibn Hanbal's responses were: "I don't know for there are differences in opinions."

Ibn al-Qayyim discussed in his book _'Ilām al-Muaqi'īn what a fatwa is, when it can be issued, by whom, and what is required (content and manners) of a person seeking a fatwa. So did Ahmad ibn Hamdān in Sefat al-Fatwa (another Hanbali view), and An-Nawawi in Al-Majmū' (Shafi'ī view) and Ibn as-Salāh in Adab al-Mufti wa al-Mustafti (another Shafi'ī view), and Ash-Shātibi in Al-Muāfaqāt (Maliki view). And of course Shihab ad-Dīn al-Qarāfi in his book Al-Ihkām, which literally translates into "The perfection in the distinction of a fatwa from a ruling, and the attitude of the qādi or imam" (Arabic only, unfortunately).

Here is a very crude summary:

  • If the answer shows the general rules, this is not a fatwa and does not require a mufti.
  • If the answer shows the general rules as well as the context related to a question, this is again not a fatwa that requires a mufti.
  • If the answer shows the general rules and has a recommended action specific to the OP, it is a borderline (left to the discretion of the person answering).
  • If the answer shows the general rules and the context related to a question and a recommended action specific to the OP, this is a fatwa that definitely requires a mufti.

It is important to know that the objective of a fatwa is that it is meant to be binding Islamically but not legally. For instance, if a specific institution is deemed as dealing in riba money, Muslims are advised in a fatwa to refrain from dealing with this institution but are not required to try to close it down. This fine line, when crossed, produces what it commonly referred to as ultra-conservative views.

Finally, a fatwa has to present a single view with specific recommended actions, not a discussion of all possible actions according to the different schools of jurisprudence (exceptions do occur, though). This explains why sites like Islam Q&A (mostly Hanbali) IslamWay (all schools), Islamic Fatwa (mostly Hanafi), IslamWeb (mostly Hanbali), Islam Today (mostly Hanbali), and Sayd al-Fawa'id (mostly Hanbali) almost always post only a single view. Government-sponsored sites typically follow the dominant school of jurisprudence in the country (e.g., Hanafi in Turkey, Shafi'i in Egypt, Maliki in Morroco, Hanbali in Qatar, etc.).

I have personally attended how fatwas are answered as in questions posted to fatwa sites. Typically, it is a group of people responding. Requirements are knowledge of:

  • Qur'an and Sunnah
  • Points of ijmā' and disputes among scholars
  • Opinions of the four schools of jurisprudence (both salaf and khalaf for each)
  • The principles of jurisprudence (usūl al-fiqh), knowledge of shari'a, and ability to deduce a contextual ruling.
  • The Arabic language
  • The context of the question (all the conditions: when, where, who, what, how, and why)
  • The place specific the OP when applicable (some rulings that apply in a Muslim-minority society do not apply in a Muslim-majority society, i.e., the jursiprudence of the minority)
  • Experts' opinions (typically a professor or a known expert, not a scholar, and in a good number of cases physically present during drafting of an answer) on the topic of the question to provide professional non-Islamic definitions or explanations (e.g., on Bitcoin, stock options, etc.).

If nothing else, now you know why when you post a question to a fatwa site, it takes them a few weeks (if not months) before you get an answer.

  • 1
    Sadly when investigating for fatwas on the view of our Shi'a brothers you often find only a short statement of a marji' which seems to be considered as canonical. – Medi1Saif Feb 19 '18 at 7:04
2

We have a problem with fatwa questions and we need to address it. Islamic Sharia is part of Islam and it is natural to ask questions about it. It should remain part of the scope.

Just to make sure we are meaning the same thing let me describe what I understand when we say "fatwa questions". A fatwa questions is a question about Islamic Sharia where the author seeks a fatwa regarding what they should do in a particular situation, as if they are asking a scholar who is qualified to provide fatwas.

I don't think we should allow fatwa questions, they are inherently low quality: they are about a particular person in a particular situation seeking help and typically the situation is such that is not useful or of interest to anyone else but the author. The author typically is in hurry to get an answer to the exact situation, and not interested in generalizing the situation to make it a question about Islamic Sharia and its principles rather than the exact particular situation. When they have such a question there is not much one can do for its answers. The best possible is citing a fatwa from some scholar (which you consider problematic for turning the site into a content farm) or is an argument (which you consider problematic because the person posting the answer is not qualified to provide fatwas while the person asking the question is seeking a fatwa).

I think "practical" questions about Islamic Sharia should be off-topic (questions seeking legal religious advice about what they should do in a particular situation, questions of the form "someone I know is in situation X, what should they do?"). We are not a Muslim peer-support group and we don't provide a legal religious advice service.

Here is my suggestion about what we should do when we get a fatwa question:

  • close them with a custom close reason linking to a policy post on meta which:

    1. explains the scope and why we don't allow such questions,
    2. provides a guideline with examples on how to turn such a question into a more general and useful question,
    3. provides a few links to possible sites where they can seek fatwa if they just want a fatwa and not interested in writing a question which is useful also for others.

If the author (or someone else) edits the question and makes it suitable then the question can be reopened.

  • But that's like bringing in the too-localized close reason, which has been removed on Stack Overflow and other sites for a good reason, AFAIU. – Bleeding Fingers Nov 7 '14 at 15:33
  • @BleedingFingers, it became obsolete with the introduction of custom closing reasons, more specific reasons that previously fall under too localized can be added to custom reasons. The meta.SE post is here. – Kaveh Nov 8 '14 at 20:58
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I agree with Kaveh's answer. I'd also like to call attention to the fact that the Judaism and Christianity sites both disallow "personal advice" questions. In both cases, that was decided early on, and I think helped set the tone for the sites' success. It's not too late for that to happen here, but I think part of the reason this site has so many sectarian, plagiarized, or poorly written questions and answers can be traced back to the fact that it's never nipped personal-advice questions in the bud.

  • hmm, solely personal advice questions are disallowed in this site too, but questioners put forward contemporary personal issues which this community feels can be faced by anyone.... I think only those questions tend to prevail here. I think that is what "fatwa" is... – servant-of-Wiser Apr 14 '15 at 17:41
  • if you look at provided links for definition of fatwa you see: 1) discuss.area51.stackexchange.com/questions/3928/… : " especially "Is such-and-such permissible in Islam?"-type questions " - if so , it is probably almost all questions ; 2) islam.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic : "... this is not a fatwa site. ... answers may be posted by anybody ... accept such answers at your own risk. " - if so , fatwa is when/if the answerer takes responsibility. – qdinar Sep 4 '15 at 15:38

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