Information on whether Hezbollah can issue a fatwa, and on which ways it can be applied [LBN21480.E]

According to The Encyclopedia of Islam (1991), a fatwa is an

opinion on a point of law, the term "law" applying, in Islam, to all civil or religious matters. The act of giving a fatwa is a futya or ifta; - the same term is used to denote the profession of the adviser; - the person who gives a fatwa, or is engaged in that profession, is a mufti; - the person who asks for a fatwa is a mustafti.

The institution of the futya corresponds with the Roman institution of jus respondendi and is comparable with it in many respects (866).

According to a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut who has published numerous articles on Lebanon, as well as a book entitled The Public and Social Services of the Lebanese Militias (1994), as an organization, Hezbollah cannot issue a fatwa (4 Sept. 1995). The professor stated that fatwas are performed by respected Islamic clergymen (ibid.). Clergymen who aspire to pronounce fatwas have to obtain the status of "Marja" (the full term is "Marja-è Taghlead", or Source of Imitation) (ibid.). A "Marja" is a very respected position in the Shi'a clergy. The status of "Marja" requires indepth knowledge of Islamic literature, the professor added (ibid.). Hussein Fadlallah, a Lebanese Shi'a cleric renowned in the Islamic world for his books and teachings, has recently become a "Marja" (ibid.). When Fadlallah became a "Marja" it was considered a great honour for the Lebanese Shi'a community (ibid.). The professor considers it unlikely that any clerics in the Hezbollah would have that type of religious expertise and was not aware of any cases where a cleric of the Hezbollah issued a fatwa (ibid.). Fatwas are broadcasted and publicized (ibid.). One of the first fatwas that Fadlallah issued was a recommendation to people to drive carefully (ibid.). This fatwa was published in the Lebanese newspapers and is well-known throughout the population (ibid.). Reuters published an article on this fatwa (10 Apr. 1995). The professor stated that this fatwa was aimed at diminishing the number of car accidents on Lebanese roads (ibid.).

The professor stated that a fatwa is essentially a pronouncement by a respected religious man (ibid.). Muslim believers can choose to obey or not obey this pronouncement (ibid.). A fatwa cannot be applied per se, it is a pronouncement and it is up to people to obey it as representing a just and legitimate interpretation of the Quran (ibid.). "It is like the Pope's pronouncements, there is no way to enforce them, but people who believe in it will obey its message", the professor added.

According to a human rights lawyer in Beirut, a fatwa is a religious pronouncement (17 Aug. 1995). Fatwas have a social impact as long as Muslim believers wish to obey it (ibid.). The lawyer stated that, as far as he recalls, he was not aware of any cases where Hezbollah "enforced" a fatwa on non-Hezbollahis (ibid.). The lawyer stated that fatwas are dangerous when they involve a death sentence against a person (ibid.). There are no special groups or squads that enforce fatwas other that the community of Muslim believers, the oumma (ibid.).

A person who contravenes a fatwa such as the one pronounced against collaboration with the South Lebanese Army (SLA) and the Israeli army, could be in danger only if the person is a well-known public figure and that it is well-known that he/she collaborated with these two groups, the lawyer added (ibid.). There are cases where people came to Beirut to ask for forgiveness for their collaboration with the SLA and the Israeli army, and many of them have been forgiven (ibid.). The lawyer was not aware of any cases where a person was killed through the pronouncement of a fatwa, although it is possible in theory (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


The Encyclopedia of Islam. 1991. New ed. Vol. 2. Edited by B. Lewis, Ch. Pellat, and J. Schacht.

Human Rights Lawyer, Beirut. 17 August 1995. Telephone interview.

Professor of political science, American University of Beirut. 4 September 1995. Telephone interview.

Reuters. 10 April 1995. "Lebanon Moslem Cleric Bans Breaking Traffic Rules." (Nexis)


Arab Press Service Organization. 27 May 1995. "US Vetoed Hizballah in New Government" (Nexis)

The Dallas Morning News. 18 February 1995. Youssef Ibrahim. "Religious Edicts Sow Divisions in Islamic World." (Nexis)

The Encycloperdia of Islam. 1991. New ed. Vol. 2. Edited by B. Lewis, Ch. Pellat, and J. Schacht.

The Financial Times [London]. 6 June 1995. Roula Khalaf. "Survey of Lebanon". (Nexis)

Institutional Investor. April 1994. "Rafik Hariri's Solidere Achievement." (Nexis)

Reuters. 10 April 1995. "Lebanon Moslem Cleric Bans Breaking Traffic Rules." (Nexis)

_____. 14 January 1995. "Lebanon Shi'ite Issues "Fatwa" on Nuclear Treaty." (Nexis)

United Press International (UPI). 19 June 1994. Nala Razzouk. "Thousands of Shiites Mark Ashoura." (Nexis)