henever I mention the word “fatwa’’ to friends in the West, they usually equate it with a death sentence. This stems from what I expect is the most famous fatwa of modern times, the one the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran leveled against the author Salman Rushdie in 1989, accusing him of blaspheming Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses and sentencing him to death. In the ensuing years, the fatwas that have attracted the attention of most foreign correspondents (I spent five years in Cairo as bureau chief for the New York Times) have been those with some manner of grim punishment involved.
But actually a fatwa, which simply means a legal opinion drawn from religious law, can be devoted to any topic, large or small, and the devout seek them out constantly like grease that smoothes all manner of daily decisions. Throughout the Islamic world, religious scholars issue fatwas on questions ranging from household quandaries to major issues of public policy.
Excerpt reproduced with permission from Foreign Policy, www.foreignpolicy.com. Copyright 2009 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive LLC. Read the full article at[http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4868&page=0]