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Some people think that "fatwa" means "death sentence".

From RationalWiki:

The best-known sort of fatwa in the West is that which calls for the death of a blasphemer; e.g., the fatwa by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran pronouncing a sentence of death against Salman Rushdie in 1989. For this reason, some Westerners believe the word "fatwa" to be a synonym for "death warrant."

From Wiktionary:

(rare, transitive) To make somebody the subject of a fatwa, especially a ban or death sentence.

From Captain Paul Watson: Fear and Loathing of Sharks in Western Australia (he used Fatah, which is the name of a Palestinian militant group, but "fatwa" is the only word that makes sense here)

This week, this same premier of Western Australia issued a shark-hating Fatah, calling for their total annihilation.

From A Fundamental Fight

When Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or death sentence, on Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, 25 years ago, the novel became more than literature.

My assumption is that many people have heard about the Salman Rushdie fatwa, but haven't heard about more mundane, everyday fatwas, because only the former is newsworthy and relevant to non-Muslim people.

Is there any fallacy or bias that describes this process?

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It's the fallacy of induction.

No but really. People make assumptions about what things are and what words mean on the basis of the available information. If someone doesn't know anything about islamic law and hears about issuing a fatwa implying issuing a death sentences in the news, and never hears about any other sorts of fatwas, then it is not very surprising that they think that a fatwa involves a death sentence. And since there is no great international interest in more mundane fatwas, their hypothesis hasn't come into contact with falsificatory evidence. It's nothing as grand as a fallacy or bias.

  • I am not sure if it is a fallacy of induction, deduction, or both. – Guill Dec 2 '14 at 4:43

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