Fatwa is a religious edict or religious decree issued by (ideally) an Islamic religious scholar regarding issues concerning a Muslim’s life. It is not legally binding but most are akin to legal advice for most. Contrary to popular belief, a fatwa is not a death sentence, albeit it could be. A fatwa can be concerned with anything including land disputes, debts, marriage or thievery. The plural form of fatwa is fataawa.
Laws in Islam is directly influenced by the Qu’ran, sharia (Islamic law) and the Hadith, therefore fatwas are based on the contents of these books. It is not enough to order something done in a certain case, supporting scripture and corresponding reason must also accompany it. There are no laws as to who can issue a Fatwa, however ideally they are issued by muftis, or Sunni religious scholars.
A fatwa is a somewhat familiar term now even in non-Muslim countries because of the infamous fatwa issued by Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 to author Salman Rushdie, for writing the book The Satanic Verses. The fatwa called for the assassination of Rushdie and those related to the publication of the book. While Rushdie was not harmed, many suffered because of this fatwa, including the Japanese translator who was stabbed to death in his office in Japan. Up to now, the fatwa is still in effect because a fatwa can only be rescinded by the person who ordered it, and Khomeini has been dead since 1989.