Answered by Shaykh Abdurrahman ibn Yusuf Mangera
In the name of Allah, the Inspirer of truth,
A mufti could normally be defined as someone well-grounded in Islamic law who has acquired the ability from qualified teachers to issue formal legal rulings on matters concerning Islamic law.
Reaching this status normally requires that one study the principle books of fiqh, usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence), books of fatawa (legal verdicts), and other related subjects, and then sit with muftis and practice researching issues of fiqh and providing answers to them with reference to the source books. Studies in other Islamic sciences are also very important: for instance aqida, tafsir, and hadith, since many fiqhi questions involve these subjects and a mufti is oftentimes required to have deep understanding of these sciences too.
In the Dars-e-Nizami system of the Subcontinent, the Mufti course is normally pursued after completing the Alim course (6-8 years). The Mufti course minimally takes between 1-4 years depending on the institution or madrasa. However, all this means is that the madrasa will provide the student the permission (ijaza) to issue fatwas after completing the course if they determine that the student has gained sufficient expertise in doing this. It is then up to the person to continue furthering his research and keep abreast of the various fiqh texts and fatawa and provide legal assistance to people who need answers to the more subtle and deeper issues of Islamic law. Some scholars who have studied Islamic law well (for instance through the Alim course or such) are also able to provide answers to many legal questions, even though he has not completed the Mufti course. Over time such scholars develop a proficiency in this reward and come to be accepted as scholars who can issue legal opinions. This was predominantly the case in the past and is still the case in many countries today.
However, a scholar becomes a good Mufti by continuing to answer and research issues of fiqh until he develops a great insight into these matters and fiqh becomes a second nature for him.
In some countries, they will only grant the title of Mufti to the scholar who has been placed in the official position of Mufti in the city (e.g. Mufti of Damascus) or the country (e.g. Mufti of Egypt), even though other scholars in the area may also have similar or greater ability to issue formal legal opinion but will not be given the title of mufti.
Hence, in your case after you have studied American law (or while studying it) you can begin to study fiqh and the other Islamic sciences and then advance to the higher books of fiqh full time in a madrasa or with a proficient Islamic scholar. This will insha' Allah grant you the ability to eventually become a mufti.
And Allah guides whom He wills.
Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf
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