The Fiqh Councilor
in North America
YUSUF TALAL DELORENZO
A fatwa is generally understood to be an answer that is given by a scholar, or mufti, to a question on an issue of religious significance, or on a point of religious law. The first fatwa was issued by the Prophet (upon him be peace), and the practice was followed later by his companions and the jurists of succeeding generations. A fatwa differs from the ruling of a qadi (judge) in that the fatwa ruling is essentially an interpretive one, whereas the qadi's ruling becomes a binding legal judgment. Owing to its interpretative nature, then, the institution of fatwa is closely linked to ijtihad (legal interpretation), though many fatawa (plural of fatwa) are based on naql (precedent) or the ijtihad of others. However, when resort is had to ijtihad for the production of a fatwa, it becomes an effective instrument for addressing innovation and change in society, and thus an essential part of the dynamics that guarantee the continued relevancy of the Shari'a to Muslims of all times and in all places. Finally, as a fatwa is usually not binding, the word mufti is often translated as jurisconsult.
In the contemporary North American context, the fiqh councilor may be any one of several different entities. Where the term councilor is used to mean mufti, the fiqh councilor may be either an individual councilor, if his or her fiqh deliberations are undertaken without the help of others, or a council member, if his or her fiqh deliberations are undertaken in concert with other fiqh councilors. The other sort of fiqh “councilor” is not a councilor at all, but a counselor, and counseling is most often a function undertaken by a