Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz was among the highly ranked scholars of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was referred to as the Grand Mufti from 1993 to 1999. He also headed the prevention of vice and virtue propagation committee in Saudi Arabia. The committee advocated for the things that are proper, permissible, correct, and acceptable within Saudi Arabia based on Islamic teachings.
Describing the biography of Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz, Call to Islam laments, “his decisions were unchanged, and his retrogressive opinions were given great prominence in Saudi Arabia” (Para.1). Arguably, his respect in the public forums accrued from his traits characterized by bigheartedness, feel affection for the widows, underprivileged, and orphans, humility, and integrity.
Because of his high-caliber education combined with these traits, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz was accorded high respect in Saudi Arabia. Some of his rulings especially the ones related to the subject of cosmology, issues on women rights, and the appropriateness of the decision to station various foreign troop in the soil of Saudi Arabia in the era of Gulf war were often contentious thus attracting hefty controversies.
The aim of this paper is to discuss and describe the life of Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz from his childhood to his death. An effort is also made to describe his works and contributions to the society of Saudi Arabia.
His Childhood and Youth
Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz was born on 21 November (the month of Dhu al-Hijjah) 1910 in the city of Riyadh. His love for Islam reflected in his later life was largely contributed by the fact that he was born in a family that had a magnificence love for Islamic religion and its teachings.
Unfortunately, he lost his farther at a tender age. Commenting on his father’s death, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz is quoted by Call to Islam saying, “my father died when I was three years old…I only had my mother who took care of me and educated me encouraging me to learn more about Sharee’ah…she also died when I was twenty six” (Para. 3).
His mother was incredibly instrumental in bringing Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz up and or helping him to develop the capacity to memorize the Qur’aan fluently by the age of fourteen years. She also aided him to study a couple of Islamic books. Nevertheless, economic life for him was not very easy when he was thirteen years old. He worked with Muhammad, his elder brother, in the market where they sold men’s gowns (Bishts).
Although Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz played pivotal roles in supporting his single parent family, he never at any time forgot or ignored to study Hadeeth, Qur’aan, Tafseer, and Fiqh. He started to lose eyesight at the age of 16. This challenge culminated from the infliction by infections in the eyes.
This ailment continued so that at the age of 40 years, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz became blind. However, blindness did not shutter his love and desire for knowledge. He completely dedicated his life to study Islamic books. Apart from learning from the books, he also interacted and learnt more aspects of Islam from a myriad of Shaykhs.
During the early years of Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz, there were no formal schools as they are today in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, as discussed before, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz got an opportunity to acquire an immense knowledge on Islam via his undying effort to read literature on Islam coupled with the scholarly aid from the Shaykhs. Shaykh Muhammad Bin Ibraaheem abdul-Lateef Aalush-Shaykh was one of the shaykhs.
Indeed, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz spent about 10 years with the shaykh. The shaykh later picked him to become Al-Kharj judge. According to Call to Islam, other Shaykhs who were instrumental to education of Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz on Islamic matter included “Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abdul-Lateef Bin Hasan Aalush-Shaykh and Shaykh Sa’ad Bin Hammad Bin ‘Ateeq, the judge of Riyaadh city at that time” (Para.4).
In the narration of the education history of Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz, Shaykh Hammad Bin Faaris, and Shaykh Sa’d Wakhas al-Bukhaaree cannot go unmentioned.
While Shaykh Hammad Bin Faaris helped him to master Arabic grammar, Shaykh Sa’d Wakhas al-Bukhaaree was an outstanding scholar in the field of Tajweed. Therefore, Shaykh Sa’d Wakhas al-Bukhaaree helped Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin to master the reading of the holy Qur’aan.
Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin stood out as an outstanding example of good Muslim youth among those who lived in his time. According to Business and Finance Club, “…his main concern (besides studying Sharee’ah) was Da’ wah both inside and outside the country” (p.3). He also got involved in a myriad of activities of charitable organizations.
These activities included the undying support of all Da’wah organization coupled with various Islamic centers situated across the globe. He also facilitated the establishment coupled with the supervision of various schools, which offered teachings on the holy Qur’aan.
His biographers refer the effort as one that was inspired by his love for Islamic religion. Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz also took central roles in the “foundation of an organization that facilitates marriage for Muslim youth” (AbuKhalil 45). Arguably, this achievement spelt out the unquenchable thirst for Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin to establish a society that was founded on strong Islamic religious principles.
His Career and Job Titles
Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz had a well-built career profile. Between 1938 and 1951, he was recommended to serve as Al Kharj judge by his shaykh Abdul-Lateef ash-Shaikh. In 1951, he was given a teaching opportunity at Ma’had al-‘Ilmee. On his transfer to Riyadh, he taught at the faculty of sharia in the institute for science in Riyah between 1951 and 1961.
Later, in1961, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz was appointed as the deputy leader of the Islamic University of Madinah. Later, he was confirmed the head of the same university. Following the death of the chancellor of the university, Muhammad Bin Ibraaheem Aal ash-Shaykh in 1970, he assumed his position until 1975.
He quitted from this position in 1975 when “a royal decree named him the Chairman of the Department of Scientific Research and Ifta with the rank of Minister” (Call to Islam Para. 9). In 1992, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz was appointed to take the position of grand mufti of the republic of Saudi Arabia.
Serving in this capacity, he was also put in charge of the “Head of the Council of Senior Scholars and was granted presidency of the administration for scientific research and legal rulings” (AbuKhalil 53).
Until his death, he also held other positions including the presidency of the permanent committee for research and Fatawa. He was a member and the president of global league for Muslims constituent assembly. Besides, he served as a member of Islamic Da’wah higher committee for Saudi Arabia among others.
Writings, Lectures, and His Teaching
Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz gave several lectures coupled with speeches either confidentially or openly in the Mosques. Although the sermons and lectures were many, they revolved around common themes. Such themes included the position of Islam in the world coupled with specific issues that influenced Islamic Ummah or nations.
His lessons were drawn from the Fajr prayers, meetings with delegations from the Muslim nations, and sittings with people when Magrib prayers were concluded and or while attempting to resolve people’s problems and helping the needy. Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz also delivered lessons to people he invited to have lunch with after prayers of Ishaa.
Normally, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin was preoccupied with many tasks such as his ministerial job. However, he also managed to secure time to address various issues afflicting the Muslims through his books. It is important to note now that Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin’s books were over 60 different copies. Their full discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to pin point that all his books addressed a number of issues all fitting subject matters like Tafseer, Fiqh, Hadeeth, Faraa’id, and Tawheed. Some of the books also touched on issues such as Zakaah, Umrah, Salaah, Hajj, and Da’wah.
Although the entire Muslim community respected and applauded his works, they did not go without criticisms. The next section scrutinizes the critical reception of Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz’s ideas and opinions.
Critical Reception of His Important Work and Ideas
Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz’s position on women’s rights attracted many criticisms. For instance, AbuKhalil described him as being unnecessarily harsh on women by arguing that he had an altitude that was inflexible towards women (147). Marshall also accused him for “being a bulwark of restrictions on women rights” (33).
Both AbuKhalil and Marshall drew their argument from the Sharia law provision that testimonies in courts of law provided by a single woman were not sufficient.
In this regard, Marshall quotes Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz’s argument that women’s “…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” (34). Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz also went in the record to have issued fatawa unfairly against women who drove cars.
Another issue that put Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz in the light of criticisms is the issuance of a fatawa on the gulf war issues. He issued fatawa, which gave permission for deployment of troops coming from non-Muslims nations in the soils of Saudi Arabia. The sole mandate of the troops was to defend the kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the Iraqi army.
Some critics such as Kepel argue that this decision opposed the position held by Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz in 1940 in which he was opposed to the deployment of troops from the non-Muslims nation in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (125). With regard to Jehl, “his fatawa overruled more radical clerics” (17).
Responding to these criticisms, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz is quoted by Jehl condemning “those who whisper secretly in their meetings and record their poison over cassettes distributed to the people” (18). This argument means that, contradictory or not, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz’s decisions were appropriate if at all they meant protection of life.
Osama Bin Laden also criticized him claiming that he was flexible, weak, and prone to influence. This criticism arose from Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz’s decision to endorse Oslo’s peace accord signed between Israel and PLO.
However, he defended his position. To support his positions, he cited the Hudaybiyyah Treaty claiming that peace treaty, even with non-Muslim nations, was appropriate if it was instrumental to safeguarding the life of people.
On 13th May 1999, Saudi Arabia woke up to meet the reality of the death of Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin at the age of 88 years.
After the Friday prayer on 14th May 1999, several thousands of people headed by Crown Prince ‘Abdullaah, scholars, Fahd bin ‘Abdul-‘Azeez, Prince Sultaan, and many shaykhs from the Muslim nations conducted funeral prayers for the late Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz at Masjid al-Haram within the city of Mecca. He was later laid to rest at Mecca’s Al Adl cemetery the same day (Saudi Gazette Para.2).
Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin was one of the high-ranking scholars of Saudi Arabia. He dedicated his life to explore Islam and its teachings. He deployed his knowledge in a wide variety of careers, which he served diligently for the benefit of the Muslims within Saudi Arabia and the Diaspora. His works and ideas remain embedded in his scholarly works reflecting subjects such as Tafseer, Fiqh, Hadeeth, Faraa’id, and Tawheed among others.
AbuKhalil, Asʻad. The battle for Saudia Arabia: royalty, fundamentalism, and global power. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.
Business and Finance Club 2011, Fifty Years Achievements of Administrator and Ruling Master, HRH prince Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz. Web.
Call to Islam 2012, Biography: Shaykah Abdul-Aziz Bin Baaz, 2012. Web.
Jehl, Douglas. “Sheik Abdelaziz bin Baz, senior Saudi Cleric and Royal Ally.” New York times 14 May 1999: 17-18. Print.
Kepel, Gilles. The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2004. Print.
Marshall, Paul. Radical Islam’s rules: the worldwide spread of extreme Shari’a law. New Jersey: Prentice hall, 2005. Print.
Saudi Gazette. Al-Adl: One of Makkah’s oldest cemeteries, 2012. Web.