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Fatwas are formal legal opinions issued by a recognized religious legal authority. Fatwas are most frequently issued in response to questions about living everyday life in accordance with religious law, such as proper diet, gender relations, or the use of new technologies, for example.

However, fatwas have also been used to communicate radical anti-Western messages. In 1989, former Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini famously called for author Salman Rushdie's death for his publication of his novel, The Satanic Verses.

Other Muslim and Arab authorscondemned the fatwa:"Naguib Mahfouz, the winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature, criticized Khomeini for 'intellectual terrorism' but changed his view later and said that Rushdie did not have 'the right to insult anything, especially a prophet or anything considered holy.' The Nobel writer V.S. Naipaul described Khomeini's fatwa as "an extreme form of literary criticism."

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden issued a fatwa in 1996 titled, "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places."

The two holy places are Mecca and Medinah, both in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden's fatwa is not considered legitimate by most Muslims. He is clearly a criminal, and has no recognized religious authority. Indeed, the Islamic Commission of Spain issued a fatwa condemning bin Laden in March 2004, a year after an Al Qaeda attack in Spain killed 190 people.

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