As the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah Aal Al Sheikh has the highest position of religious authority in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He is an Islamic scholar based in Mecca—the seat of Islam—and has influence as a leading cleric of the expansive global movement of Salafi Muslims.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz Aal Al Sheikh is chairman of the Council of Senior Scholars, a scientific consultative commission composed of leading Sunni scholars of Sharia (Islamic law). He has been behind fatwas that call for more rights for women and children. Aal Al Sheikh is also chairman of the Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Fatwas (religious edicts), a special committee designated for the researching and issuing of religious rulings and edicts on jurisprudence, the Hadith, and Aqida (creed) for the Sunni world. As head of the Presidency for Scientific Research and Religious Edicts (Dar al Ifta), Aal Al Sheikh is often the spokesperson for controversial rulings issued from the Kingdom. He is recognized for his influence in enforcing a distinct view of Islamic tradition. In 2008, he publicly criticized Muslim televangelists who encouraged Muslims to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries— stressing, instead, that only the two occasions of ‘Eid and the weekly Friday observations are valid occasions to celebrate. In this, and also in his condemnation of Turkish soap operas sweeping the Arab World, Aal Al Sheikh has stressed the importance of eliminating distracting practices. He is also ardently opposed to the practice of marrying off very young girls to older men, emphasizing its incongruence with human decency and Islamic tradition.
The Aal Al Sheikh family in Saudi Arabia traditionally controls the religious and justice establishments. They are descended from Muhammad ibn Abd Al Wahhab (1703 – 1792), the founder of Wahhabi and Salafi thought, and for 250 years have been closely associated and intermarried with the Al Saud ruling family.
As Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Aal Al Sheikh is the leading religious figure of the Saudi-based network of Salafi Muslims. The rulings derived by Aal Al Sheikh are based heavily on a literal reading of the Qur’an and emphasize the need to strip away cultural practices that have become a part of Muslims’ lives. The movement he leads is characterized by an authoritative stance on Islamic religious practice.
Grand Mufti Aal Al Sheikh is recognized as a leading contemporary scholar of Islam. He has leveraged this influence by openly speaking out against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda as entities that push a dangerous ideological terrorism. He spoke for the need for a war—to be fought by academics, the media, religious leaders and even parents—against deviant thought that leads overzealous Muslims toward extremism and violence.
In addition to the campaign in the Saudi press, there were condemnations by senior Saudi officials, chief among them King 'Abdallah himself, who sent an official message to President Obama in which he said: "We condemn these shameful terrorist acts ...and more »
He and 18 other members of the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia signed a fatwa prohibiting demonstrations. The argument for this is that Saudi Arabia is based on the Qur’an and Sunnah and that it is necessary to stay hand in hand and in obedience. Thus, reform can be accomplished through advice, not by demonstrations or methods that give rise to discord or divide the nation.