Short definition: A non-binding Islamic legal opinion, issued by a legal scholar or institution.
Explanation: According to islawmix expert Asifa Quraishi, a fatwa (pl. fatawa) is a “reasoned legal opinion by a recognized expert in the field in response to a specific legal question.” islawmix expert Khaled Abou El-Fadl calls it a “non-binding legal opinion issued in response to a legal problem.”
A fatwa is essentially a response to a question that calls for the explication of Islamic legal texts. These legal questions can often occur in the context of emerging social or cultural trends, in which Muslims may face religio-legal quandaries without clear guidelines in the text. For example, a Muslim immigrant who moves to New York might ask a mufti via his website whether it is legally permissible for him to work as a waiter in a restaurant that serves alcohol.
Musa Furber explains in The Washington Post that:
CreativeMinds WordPress Plugin Super Tooltip Glossary
As with any legal system, not anyone is competent to deliver a fatwa, which refers, simply, to a non-binding verdict of Islamic jurisprudence. Competency comes from a rigorous legal education from within the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence, with a mastery of a particular school of law, and training in the practical application of that school on contemporary issues. There is a whole science, entitled the etiquette of verdict (adab al-fatwa), that the prospective issuer of fatwas (or someone known as a mufti) needs to learn, in order to ensure all verdicts are clear, accurate and valid.