A fatwa (plural in Arabic is fatawa, in English fatwas) is a legal opinion issued by an Islamic law specialist on a specific issue. The task of issuing fatwas (ifta) is one entrusted to leading Islamic scholars or jurists as the ruling or opinion must be arrived at through a deep understanding of Islamic law using the correct Islamic methodology (fiqh) as outlined in Chapter 1. As Islam has no centralized, international priestly hierarchy, there is no uniform determinant as to who can issue a valid fatwa; nor is there one definitive academic qualification or admission process. By tradition these highly respected jurists are adult, Muslim, males (although this is now being challenged by modernist scholars, as discussed later), who are trusted, reliable, free of the causes of sin and defects of character, firm in thought and upright in conduct. They are known as ulama (singular alim). In the Shia tradition jurists are also known as foqaha (singular faqih). Some are given the specialist task of issuing fatwas and are given the revered title of ‘mufti’ in the Sunni schools, or ‘ayatollah’ in the Shia tradition. As an alim one may engage in collective reasoning based on the principles of Islam (ijtihad) and become a member of scholarly body, such as a council of ulama. One North African mufti has stated simply that anyone who is learned and whose religious sentiments are recognized by others may issue a fatwa. Today the important requisites for ifta are recognition by a significant number of followers
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