Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz
عبد العزيز بن عبد الله بن باز
The Grand Mufti
Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz (Arabic: عبد العزيز بن عبد الله بن باز) (November 21, 1910 – May 13, 1999), was a Saudi Arabian Islamic scholar and a leading proponent of the Salafi form of Islam (often referred to as Wahhabism). He was the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993 until his death in 1999. Ibn Baz’s views and rulings were sometimes controversial, particularly those relating to cosmology, women’s rights, the acceptability of stationing foreign troops in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and in relation to Osama bin Ladin.
Abdul-‘Azīz ibn Bāz
- Born: 21 November 1910 Saudi Arabia Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- Died: 13 May 1999 (aged 88) Mecca, Resting place Al Adl cemetery, Mecca
- Ethnicity: Arab
- Era: Modern Era
- Region: Middle East
- Denomination: Sunni
- Jurisprudence: Hanbali
- Creed: Athari
- Movement: Salafi
- Main interest(s): Sharia, Fiqh, Hadith
Ibn Baz was born in the city of Riyadh during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, 1910 to a family with a reputation for their interest in Islam. His father died when he was only three, placing a big responsibility on his mother to raise him. When asked about his childhood, the sheikh said: “my father died when I was three years old, and I only had my mother who took care of me and educated me encouraging me to learn more about Shari’ah; she also died when I was twenty six.”
By the time he was thirteen he had begun working, selling clothing with his brother in a market. Despite the fact that he helped a great deal in supporting his family, he still found time to study the Qur’an, Hadith, Fiqh, and Tafsir. In 1927, when he was sixteen, he started losing his eyesight after being afflicted with a serious infection in his eyes. By the time he was forty, he had totally lost his sight and had become blind.
At that time, Saudi Arabia lacked a modern university system. Ibn Baz reeived a traditional education in Islamic literature with the following Islamic scholars:
- Abdullāh bin Fayrij (from whom received education in the Qu’ran as a child)
- Muhammad ibn Zayd, the chief judge in the Eastern region.
- Rāshid ibn Sālih al-Khunayn.
- Abdul-Latif ibn Muhammad ash-Shudayyid.
- Abdullāh bin ‘Abdur-Rahmān ibn Kimar
- Abdullāh bin Qu’ood.
- Sālih ibn Hussayn al-‘Irāqi.
- Abdur-Rahmān al- Warrāq.
- Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Al ash-Sheikh, subsequently Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (1953-1969): Ibn Bāz studied under him from 1927 to 1938.
- Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul-Latif Al ash-Sheikh.
- Sa’ad ibn Hamad ibn Atiq, chief judge of Riyadh.
- Hammad ibn Farris, under whom ibn Bāz studied Arabic grammar.
- Sa’ad Waqqās al-Bukhāri, one of Mecca’s most renowned scholars in Tajweed.
- Sālih ibn ‘Abdul-Aziz Al ash-Sheikh, one of the judges in the city of Riyadh.
He had assumed a number of posts and responsibilities such as:
- The judge of Al Kharj district upon the recommendation of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul-Lateef ash-Shaikh from 1938 to 1951.
- Held a teaching position in Riyadh at the Ma’had al-‘Ilmee in 1951
- In 1951 after spending fourteen years in al-Kharj as a judge, he was transferred to Riyadh where he became a teacher in the Riyadh Institute of Science and taught in the Faculty of Sharia from 1951 to 1961.
- In 1961 he was appointed Vice President, and later President, of the Islamic University of Madinah.
- In 1970 he became the Chancellor of the University upon the death of Muhammad ibn Ibraaheem Aal ash-Shaykh and he remained chancellor until 1975.
- In 1975 a royal decree named him Chairman of the Department of Scientific Research and Ifta with the rank of Minister.
- In 1992 he was appointed Grand Mufti of the Saudi Arabia and Head of the Council of Senior Scholars and was granted presidency of the administration for scientific research and legal rulings.
- President of the Permanent Committee for Research and Fatawa.
- President and member of the Constituent Assembly of the World Muslim League.
- President of the Higher World League Council.
- President of the Islaamic Fiqh Assembly based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
- Member of the Higher Council of the Islamic University of Medina.
- Member of the Higher Committee for Islaamic Da’wah in Saudi Arabia.
Over the years, he held a large number of positions as president or member of various Islamic councils and committees, and chaired a number of conferences both within Saudi Arabia and overseas, in addition to writing a great number of books in different fields and issuing a large body of fatwa. In 1981 he was awarded the King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam. He was the only Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia not to come from the Al ash-Sheikh family.
Ibn Bāz had undertaken a number of charitable and other activities such as:
- His support for Dawah organizations and Islamic centers in many parts of the world.
- The establishment and supervision of schools for teaching the Qur’an.
- The foundation of an organization that facilitates marriage for Muslim youth.
- The popular radio program, Nurun AlaDarb (“light on the path”), in which he discussed many current issues and answered questions from listeners as well as providing fatwa if needed.
Ibn Bāz was considered by many to be prolific speaker both in public and privately at his mosque. Like his books, his lectures and sermons were numerous and revolved frequently around the situation of the Muslim world. In addition, much of his time was devoted to the lessons he gave after Fajr prayer, teaching during the day, meeting delegates from Muslim countries and sitting with people after Maghrib prayer to provide counseling and advice on personal matters. He also used to invite people after Isha prayer to share a meal with him.
Ibn Bāz was among the Muslim scholars who opposed regime change using violence. He called for obedience to the people in power unless they ordered something that went against God.
This section requires expansion. (September 2011)
The number of books written by Ibn Bāz exceeds sixty and the subject matter covered many topics such as Hadith, Tafsir, Fara’ed, Tawheed, Fiqh and also a great deal of books on Salat, Zakat, Dawah, Hajj and Umrah.
On Thursday morning, 13 May 1999, Ibn Bāz died at the age of 88. The next day, following Friday prayer, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, Crown Prince ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz, Sultan bin Abdulaziz, and hundreds of thousands of people performed the funeral prayer at the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. He was buried in Al Adl cemetery, Mecca.
King Fahd issued a decree appointing Abdul-Azeez ibn Abdullaah Aal ash-Shaikh as the new Grand Mufti after Ibn Bāz’s death.
In his career as the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, he attempted to both legitimize the rule of the ruling family and to support calls for the reform of Islam in line with Salafi ideals. Many criticized him for supporting the Saudi government when, after the Gulf War, it muzzled or imprisoned those regarded as too critical of the government, such as Safar al-Hawali and Salman al-Ouda.
When Ibn Bāz died in 1999. The loss of “his erudition and reputation for intransigence” was so great the Saudi government was said to have “found itself staring into a vacuum” unable to find a figure able to “fill ibn Bāz’s shoes.” His influence on the Salafi movement was large, and most of the prominent judges and religious scholars of Saudi Arabia today are former students of his.
His obituary in The Independent said “His views and fatwas (religious rulings) were controversial, condemned by militants, liberals and progressives alike”. He was also criticized by hardline Salafists, Jihadists and Salafist-Jihadists for supporting the decision to permit U.S. troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1991. His obituaries in both The Economist and The New York Times made reference to ibn Baz sometimes being mocked for his highly traditionalist beliefs.
In 1966, when Ibn Baz was vice-president of the Islamic University of Medina, he wrote an article denouncing Riyadh University for teaching the “falsehood” that the earth rotates and orbits the sun. Ibn Baz’s position has often incorrectly been reported as “the earth is flat” and, according to Professor Werner Ende, a German expert on ibn Baz’s fatwas, he has never asserted this. Robert Lacey says that, according to the memory of someone who read Bin Baz’s writings, he gave an interview after publishing the article “in which he mused on how we operate day to day on the basis that the ground beneath us is flat.”
According to Lacey, this led ibn Baz to the personal belief that the earth is flat but that Muslims were nevertheless entitled to believe that the earth was spherical. Lacey acknowledges that ibn Baz issued no fatwa that the earth is flat and Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî calls those that attribute the flat earth view to ibn Baz “rumor mongers”. He points out that ibn Baz issued a fatwa declaring that the Earth is round, and, indeed, in 1966 ibn Baz wrote “The quotation I cited [in his original article] from the speech of the great scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim (may Allah be merciful to him) includes proof that the earth is round.”
In his 1966 article, ibn Baz did claim that the sun orbited the earth, and that “the earth is fixed and stable, spread out by God for mankind and made a bed and cradle for them, fixed down by mountains lest it shake”. As a result of the publication of his first article, ibn Baz was ridiculed by Egyptian journalists as an example of Saudi primitiveness, and King Faisal was reportedly so angered by the first article that he ordered the destruction of every unsold copy of the two papers that had published it.
In 1982 Ibn Baz published a book, Al-adilla al-naqliyya wa al-ḥissiyya ʿala imkān al-ṣuʾūd ila al-kawākib wa ʾala jarayān al-shams wa al-qamar wa sukūn al-arḍ (“Treatise on the textual and rational proofs of the rotation of the sun and the motionlessness of the earth and the possibility of ascension to other planets”). In it, he republished the 1966 article, together with a second article on the same subject written later in 1966, and repeated his belief that the sun orbited the earth. In 1985, he changed his mind concerning the rotation of the earth (and, according to Lacey, ceased to assert its flatness), when Prince Sultan bin Salman returned home after a week aboard the space shuttle Discovery to tell him that he had seen the earth rotate.
In addition, there was controversy concerning the nature of the takfir (the act of declaring other Muslims to be kafir or unbelievers) which it was claimed Ibn Baz had pronounced. According to Malise Ruthven, he threatened all who did not accept his “pre-Copernican” views with a fatwa, declaring them infidels. Ibn Baz wrote a letter to a magazine in 1966 responding to similar accusations:
“I only deemed it lawful to kill whoever claims that the sun is static (thābita la jāriya) and refuses to repent of this after clarification. This is because denying the circulation of the sun constitutes a denial of Allah (Glorified be He), His Great Book, and His Honorable Messenger. It is well established in the Din (religion of Islam) by way of decisive evidence and Ijma` (consensus) of scholars that whoever denies Allah, His Messenger or His Book is a Kafir (disbeliever) and their blood and wealth become violable. It is the duty of the responsible authority to ask them to repent of this; either they repent or be executed. Thanks to Allah that this issue is not debatable among scholars.”
Ibn Baz’s second article written in 1966 also responded to similar accusations:
“I did not declare those who believe that the earth rotates to be infidels, nor those who believe that the sun moving around itself, but I do so for those who say that the sun is static and does not move (thābita la jāriya), which is in my last article. Whomever says so being an infidel is obvious from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, because God almighty says: ‘And the sun runs on (tajri) to a term appointed for it’ … As for saying that the Sun is fixed in one position but still moving around itself, …, I did not deal with this issue in my first article, nor have I declared as infidel anyone who says so.”
Western writers subsequently have drawn parallels between their perception of ibn Baz and the trial of Galileo by the Catholic Church in the 16th century.
Ibn Baz has been described as having harsh and inflexible attitudes towards women and for being a bulwark of restrictions on women’s rights. Commenting on the Sharia rule that the testimony in court of one woman was insufficient, Ibn Baz said: “The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) explained that their shortcoming in reasoning is found in the fact that their memory is weak and that their witness is in need of another woman to corroborate it.”
He also issued a fatwa against women driving cars, which may have been his most well known ruling. He declared: “Depravity leads to the innocent and pure women being accused of indecencies. Allah has laid down one of the harshest punishments for such an act to protect society from the spreading of the causes of depravity. Women driving cars, however, is one of the causes that lead to that.”
During the Gulf War Ibn Bāz issued a fatwa allowing the deployment of non-Muslim troops on Saudi Arabian soil to defend the kingdom from the Iraqi army. Some noted that this was in contrast to his opinion in the 1940s, when he contradicted the government policy of allowing non-Muslims to be employed on Saudi soil. However, according to The New York Times, his fatwa overruled more radical clerics. In response to criticism, ibn Baz condemned those who “whisper secretly in their meetings and record their poison over cassettes distributed to the people.”
Osama bin Laden
Open Letter to Shaykh Bin Baz on the Invalidity of his Fatwa on Peace with the Jews. According to his obituary in The Independent, Ibn Baz held ultra-conservative views and strongly maintained the puritan and non-compromising traditions of Wahabism. However, his views were not draconian enough for Osama bin Laden who condemned ibn Baz for “his weakness and flexibility and the ease of influencing him with the various means which the interior ministry practices”.
Ibn Bāz was the subject of Osama bin Laden’s first public pronouncement intended for the general Muslim public. This open letter condescendingly criticized him for endorsing the Oslo peace accord between the PLO and Israeli government. Ibn Baz defended his decision to endorse the Oslo Accords by citing the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, saying that a peace treaty with non-Muslims has historical precedent if it can avoid the loss of life.