Many of Ibn Baz's views and rulings are considered controversial (both inside and outside Saudi Arabia), including those relating to cosmology, women's rights, Saudi Arabia's support for the Oslo Accords, and the acceptability of stationing non-Islamic troops in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques (Haramayn) during and after the Gulf War. Osama bin Laden bitterly condemned Bin Baz and his rulings that supported Saudi Arabia's foreign policy and alliances with Western powers.
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. By the time he was thirteen he had begun working, selling clothing with his brother in a market. He also took lessons of the Qur’an, Hadith, Fiqh, and Tafsir, with the man who would precede him as the country's top religious official, Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Al ash-Sheikh. 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 twenty, he had totally lost his sight and had become blind.
At that time, Saudi Arabia lacked a modern university system. Ibn Baz received a traditional education in Islamic literature with Islamic scholars.
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.In 1992 he was appointed Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and Head of the Council of Senior Scholars and was granted presidency of the administration for scientific research and legal rulings.President and member of the Constituent Assembly of the Muslim World League.
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 popular radio program, Nurun Ala Darb ("light on the path"), in which he discussed current issues and answered questions from listeners as well as providing fatwa if needed.Bin Baz urged donations be given to the Taliban in Afghanistan, who in the late 1990s were seen by many Saudis as "pure, young Salafi warriors" fighting against destructive warlords.
Ibn Bāz was considered by many to be prolific speaker both in public and privately at his mosque. 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.
The number of books written by Ibn Bāz exceeds sixty and the subject matter covered topics such as Hadith, Tafsir, Fara'ed, Tawheed, Fiqh, Salat, Zakat, Dawah, Hajj and Umrah. He also authored a criticism of the concept of nationhood.
Bin Baz wives and children lived in the Shumaysi neighborhood of Riyadh in "a little cluster of modern two-story buildings". Like all senior Saudi clerics, his home was a gift from a wealthy benefactor or a religious foundation for his distinguished religious work.
On Thursday morning, 13 May 1999, Ibn Bāz died at the age of 88. 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. 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 and jihadists for supporting the decision to permit U.S. troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1991.
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.
Author Robert Lacey quotes a fatwa by bin Baz urging caution towards claims that the Americans had landed on the moon. "We must make careful checks whenever the kuffar [unbelievers] or faseqoon [immoral folk] tell us something: we cannot believe or disbelieve them until we get sufficient proof on which the Muslims can depend." Lacey states that "after extensive research" of bin Baz's fatawa, he (Lacey) had only been able to find this one fatwa on the subject, and no statement in it that the earth was flat. Lacey does however say that according to his source, Bin Baz 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 ... and it led him to the belief that he was not afraid to voice and for which he became notorious."
Though satirized for his belief, "the sheikh was unrepentant. If Muslims chose to believe the world was round, that was their business, he said, and he would not quarrel with them religiously. But he was inclined to trust what he felt beneath his feet rather than the statements of scientists he did not know."
According to Lacey, bin Baz changed his mind about the earth's flatness after talking to Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud who had spent time in a space shuttle flight in 1985.
However, Malise Ruthven and others state that it is incorrect to report that Ibn Baz believed "the earth is flat" Professor Werner Ende, a German expert on ibn Baz's fatwas, states he has never asserted this. 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:
Ibn Baz's second article written in 1966 also responded to similar accusations:
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.
Bin Baz has been associated with some members of the 20 November–4 December 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) in Mecca. The two-week-long armed takeover left over 250 dead, including hostages taken by the militants. According to interviews taken by author Robert Lacey, the militants (known as Beit Al-Ikhwan) led by Juhayman al-Otaybi, were students of bin Baz and other high ulema. Juhayman declared his brother-in-law, Mohammed al-Qahtani, to be the Mahdi. The Mabahith (secret police) of the minister of interior Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud
"had identified Mohammed al-Qahtani and a number of the Ikhwan as troublemakers. They had got them all safely locked up months before -- only to release them at the request of Sheikh Bin Baz."
Islam forbids any violence within the Grand Mosque. Ibn Baz found himself in a delicate situation, especially as he had previously taught al-Otaybi in Medina. The situation was compounded and complicated by the fact the Saudi government found itself unprepared and incapable of dislodging the militants from the Mosque. They asked for outside assistance from the non-Islamic French GIGN and non-Arab Pakistani SSG. Non-Muslims are not permitted within the Meccan city limits, let alone the Grand Mosque. When asked for a fatwa by the government to condemn the militants, the language of bin Baz and other senior ulama "was curiously restrained." The invaders of the Masjid al-Haram were not declared non-Muslims, despite their killings and violation of the sanctity of the Masjid, but only called "al-jamaah al-musallahah" (the armed group). Regardless, the ulema issued a fatwa allowing deadly force to be used in retaking the mosque. The senior scholars also insisted that before security forces attack them, the authorities must offer the option 'to surrender and lay down their arms.' Bin Baz, through a loophole, issued another fatwa allowing the French Special Operations Forces to do a last minute, if only temporary, conversion to Islam, to be able to enter the city and the Grand Mosque to shed the blood of militants Bin Baz refused to condemn as non-Muslim.
Ibn Baz has been described as having harsh and inflexible attitudes towards women and being a bulwark against the expansion of rights for women. 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 in the West 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."
Another key issue was to allow the wearing of the cross by non-Muslim soldiers and the carrying of New Testaments into battle against other Muslims from the holiest land in Islam. This ruling shook Saudi society like an earthquake, and remains at the heart of many violent disputes Salafi jihadis have with the House of Saud till this day.
The radical cleric Abdullah el-Faisal declared Bin Baz takfir (a Muslim traitor) who died unrepentant.
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 strict 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.
Ibn Baz deemed it mandatory to destroy media that promoted Bin Laden's views, and declared that it was forbidden for anyone to co-operate with him. He wrote:
"...It is obligatory to destroy and annihilate these publications that have emanated from al-Faqeeh, or from al-Mas'aree, or from others of the callers of falsehood (bin Laadin and those like him), and not to be lenient towards them. And it is obligatory to advise them, to guide them towards the truth, and to warn them against this falsehood. It is not permissible for anyone to co-operate with them in this evil. And it is obligatory upon them to be sincere and to come back to guidance and to leave alone and abandon this falsehood. So my advice to al-Mas'aree, al-Faqeeh and Bin Laadin and all those who traverse their ways is to leave alone this disastrous path, and to fear Allaah and to beware of His vengeance and His Anger, and to return to guidance and to repent to Allaah for whatever has preceded from them. And Allaah, Glorified, has promised His repentant servants that He will accept their repentance and be good to them. So Allah the Glorified said: "Say, 'O My servants who have transgressed against themselves. Do not despair of the Mercy of Allaah; verily, Allaah forgives all sins.' Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [39:53].