A brief overview of the subject matter is presented below.
The phrase fiqh al-waaqi‘ refers to two things:
1. Understanding the circumstances of the person who asked for the fatwa, his situation and the situation of his country. No fatwa should be offered before the Mufti completely understands the context in which it is to be applied.
2. Understanding what is going on in the world including current events, political analysis, finding out about national and international matters by reading books and newspapers and following the news.
With regard to the use of this phrase in the first sense, we say: There is no doubt that the issuing of a fatwa requires the mufti to have an understanding of the Qur'aan and Sunnah, and scholarly consensus, and he should also understand the realities of people’s situations, time and place, otherwise his fatwa may not meet the people’s needs or may be beyond their ability to implement it because it is far away from the reality of which that mufti is unaware. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said: The mufti or judge is not able to issue a fatwa or verdict without understanding two things: (i) Understanding and having a good grasp of reality: he should have a good understanding of what is happening, on the basis of circumstantial evidence and other signs, so that he has a full understanding of it. (ii) Understanding what is required in the light of these circumstances, which means understanding the ruling of Allah that He issued in His book or on the lips of His Messenger concerning this reality, then he should apply the one to the other. I‘laam al-Muwaqqi‘een, 1/87
With regard to fiqh al-waaqi‘ in the second sense, there are people who go to one extreme or another, exaggeration or neglect, concerning this matter. Following is a summary of what we have come to know from scholars:
Fiqh al-waaqi‘ in the correct shar‘i sense is undoubtedly something obligatory, but that is a communal obligation (fard kifaayah): if some of the scholars undertake it, the obligation is waived for the other scholars, let alone seekers of knowledge and let alone the ordinary Muslims. Hence moderation is essential when calling upon Muslims to be aware of fiqh al-waaqi‘, and we should not overwhelm them with political news and analysis of western thinkers.
The ruling on a thing is a projection of one’s understanding of it, and that cannot be achieved except by understanding the circumstances surrounding the issue for which they have to give an answer. This is one of the bases of giving rulings and fatwas in particular, and is one of the principles of knowledge in general. So fiqh al-waaqi‘ means understanding what concerns the Muslims with regard to their own affairs or the matters which can impact them.
Understanding reality in order to reach the shar‘i ruling is an important duty that a specialised and smart group of seekers of knowledge have to do. This is just like any other branch of knowledge, whether it has to do with sharee‘ah, social sciences, economics, military matters or any other branch of knowledge that is of benefit the Muslim ummah and will bring it back to its position of glory and leadership, especially when these branches of knowledge are developing from one time and place to another.
Focusing on Fiqh Al-Waaqi alone can lead to misguidance if a person does not have a good understanding of what is right and what is wrong and is not aware of the deceptions some of the news outlets very boldly engage in spreading.