What is a fatwa as a "legal" concept and how is it related to what happened to Salman Rushdie?
A fatwa is a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a specialist in religious law on a specific issue. Normally a fatwa is issued at the request of an individual or judge to settle an issue where Islamic jurisprudence is unclear. Who is capable of issuing a fatwa is known as a mufti.
Since there is no centralized Islamic priesthood, there is no unanimously accepted method of determining who can issue a fatwa and who cannot, leading some Islamic scholars to complain that too many people feel qualified to issue fatwas.
In both theory and practice, different Islamic clerics may issue contradictory fatwas. What happens then depends on whether one lives in a nation where Islamic law (sharia) is the basis of civil law, or lives in a nation where Islamic law has no legal status. It should be noted that many nations in which Muslims are the majority of the population do not recognize Islamic law as the basis of civil law.
Sometimes a fatwa may call for death. Such was the case with the fatwa issued by Zamfara state in northern Nigeria calling for the death of a journalist whose writing about the Miss World pageant was followed by deadly riots. The state's deputy governor pronounced the fatwa, saying in part: "Any true Muslim would make sure that this woman's blood is spill".
Antoher notable historical and contemporary fatwa was1989 fatwa on Salman Rushdie, due to The Satanic Verses controversy, that was proclaimed by the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and that unfortunately became a death sentence that has chased Mr. Rushdie for almost 4 decades.