New Saudi Islamic affairs minister expert in jurisprudence with moderate social views

Published: Updated:

A Saudi Royal Decree released on Saturday appointed Dr. Sheikh Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Sheikh as the Minister of Islamic Affairs, Da’wah and Guidance.

Appointing Dr. Al-Sheikh was the culmination of his administrative experience and field skills acquired during his tenure in different government institutions.

Dr. Al-Sheikh is known for his expertise in Islamic jurisprudence and previously served in a number of governmental institutions, including holding important positions of Director-General of Investigations at the Saudi General Presidency, and Second Assistant Secretary General at the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars.

He received his PhD in Islamic Jurisprudence from the Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University, and previously established and ran a number of Islamic charities.

He also served as president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), before he was exempted.

During that period he made a number of regulations, first of which was to prevent the cooperators, control the pursuits and other managerial amendments that were rejected then. However, he continued his reforming plans which made the Al-Hasabh commission structured as per the mission aligned with Saudi society. He also played an intellectual role with a media presence creating awareness activities and also presence in warning about Political Islam groups.

Those amendments brought the CPVPV in line with Saudi Arabia’s intention to provide hundreds of thousands of new jobs to Saudi women in stores catering to female customers, thereby reducing the rates of unemployment amongst Saudi women.

He also worked as a consultant to King Salman, who was then the prince of Riyadh and after his exemption he withdrew from the intellectual struggle and continued his Da’wah activities until he was appointed for Islamic affairs.

Women’s issues

He is known to specialize in women’s issues in Islam, including the issues of female employment and gender mixing. The Riyadh-born cleric is as an expert in Islamic Affairs, and is well-known for his moderate approach on this issue. He is also known as a strong proponent of the concept of Saudi women working in stores that cater to a female clientele.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat published 2010, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh called on the resolution to allow women to work in stores catering to a female clientele to be quickly adopted. He also encouraged Saudi Arabian women to begin work in this field.

Speaking to Al Arabiya, former head of the Holy City of Mecca’s branch of CPVPV, said that the decision to appoint Al-Sheikh as Minister of Islamic Affairs comes from the Saudi methodology of moderation, upon which it was founded.

“Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh is one of the few who have distinguished themselves in confronting the extremist currents with courage and patriotism. He is a man who has distinguished and influential efforts, and continues his patriotism, sincerity and loyalty to the wise leadership,” al-Ghamdi told Al Arabiya.

Views on gender mixing

In some interviews, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh has stressed that gender mixing was permissible under certain conditions, as “Islamic sharia law did not completely ban gender mixing, but rather it placed this within the limits of vouchsafing freedom for men and women.”

“Therefore, when [Islamic] scholars prohibit gender mixing…they are talking about gender mixing that does not include any controls or restrictions, or what is called unrespectable gender mixing,” he stressed.

Although Al-Sheikh’s position on these issues clashes with the hardline position taken by the more conservative religious clerics and scholars, and among them members of the CPVPV.

He is widely respected for his intellect and his dependence on previous Islamic Sharia law arguments and provisions, including citations of examples from the early Islamic era.

“The decision is wise to meet the need for the current phase in Saudi Arabia where moderate men have the courage to face the currents of radicalism and extremism, because Saudi Arabia is the heart of the Islamic world. There can be no alternative methodology for moderate Islam,” Ghamdi said.

The appointment of Dr. Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh signals an end to some debates with regard to many social issues in Saudi Arabia, particularly the issue of working women, the societal and structural framework of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and controversies that have been raised by conservative religious clerics and scholars regarding some issues of female employment, driving etc.