According to Islamic doctrine, with Muhammad's death in 632, God ceased to communicate with mankind through revelation and prophets.At that point, the rapidly expanding Muslim community turned to Muhammad's Companions, as the most authoritative voices among them, for religious guidance, and some of them are reported to have issued pronouncements on a wide range of subjects.
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The level of technical detail supplied in a fatwa, such as citations of sources or specification of legal methodologies employed, depended on the technical level of the petitioner.
In theory, a petitioner was supposed to verify the mufti's scholarly reputation, but mufti manuals (adab al-mufti) recognized that it would be difficult for a lay person to do so, and advised the petitioner to trust their sense of the mufti's piety and ideally follow the advice of a single scholar known for exemplary morals.
The spread of codified state laws and Western-style legal education in the modern Muslim world has displaced muftis from their traditional role of clarifying and elaborating the laws applied in courts.
While the proliferation of contemporary fatwas attests to the importance of Islamic authenticity to many Muslims, little research has been done to determine how much these fatwas affect the beliefs or behavior of the Muslim public.
These were generally lower- and middle-class professions such as tanning, manuscript copying or small trade.
In theory, fatwas could be delivered orally or in writing, but it is not clear how common oral fatwas were, aside from those issued by an Ottoman office established specifically for the purpose of issuing oral fatwas.
In theory, a mufti was expected to issue fatwas free of charge.
In practice, muftis commonly received support from the public treasury, public endowments or private donations. Until the 11th or 12th century, the vast majority of jurists held other jobs to support themselves.
Mufti manuals contained a number of regulations about the standard format of a fatwa, such as avoiding blank space that could be used for a spurious addition and concluding the fatwa with an expression like allahu a'lam (God knows best).