Sheikh bin Othaimeen was born in Onaiza, Al Qaseem region in 1929 and passed away in January of 2001. Qaseem is north of the capital and one of the most conservative parts of Saudi Arabia. It is said that his grandfather had a vision of receiving a torch from Bin Taimia, a foremost Islamic scholar, and the vision was interpreted that he would have a son or grandson that would be a great Islamic scholar too. I would just like to note here that Bin Taimia came before Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulalwahab and so even then the latter was not in the equation.
Sheikh bin Othaimeen is, to the highest degree, a respected Sunni Muslim scholar. So much so that whenever I am in a discussion about an issue with a fellow Saudi, many of them treat the Sheikh’s word on the topic almost the same as if it was the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH). Saudis and other Muslims reading this will take offence but it is nevertheless true. It is easy to understand why though because Bin Othaimeen was genuine. He didn’t care about money or fame, he truly was devoted to teaching and studying Islam. So much so that while his own family lived in a simple house built the traditional Saudi way out of mud, he hosted a school of students who came from all over the world and paid them stipends. All that was expected of them was to learn the shiekh’s version of Islam.
His overall influence on Saudi legislation and day to day lifestyle is immense, especially in the central, north and south regions. Although other sheikhs were coming to the same conclusions that he made or at least agreed with him, he was the foundation for an Islam that is based strongly on pre-Islamic regional customs and traditions. He was so popular that the kings of Saudi Arabia visited him at his home.
Another major trend that he helped set is the whole “the infidels are out to get us” ideology; a Western ambiguous “they” whose mission in life is to corrupt us and move us away from our Islamic lifestyle. I never could wrap my mind around this one because if I were a foreign government with interests in another country, I would rather have that country’s people living like monks or nomads and uninterested rather than aware and educated. That way the people won’t interfere with what the foreign governments are getting out of their fields. But to Sheikh Othaimeen our country’s resources were not as big an issue as the puritanical social and moral fabric of our society. Maintaining the status quo became a religious duty. Learning English was not to educate ourselves but to guard ourselves from the “they” infidels and to help us occasionally preach to the ignorant semi-Muslims and infidels.
According to the Shiekh, anything that would look like an imitation of the West should be religiously prohibited, including clothing and general lifestyle choices. His ideology is the real reason why women are banned from driving. And his fatwas were among the first to use the gender mixing argument. Whether we like it or not his teachings still have a deadlock on our society. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that we remain stable for at least a decade while still being exposed to the world through all these new forms of media. Once society gets it through its head that there are no evil “they” out to get their religion, then they’ll be able to see the rest of the world with compassion and be open to taking their place within a more inclusive view of the world.