Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Scholars is considering a proposal to expand its membership to include representatives with non-religious backgrounds for the first time, a member of the country’s highest religious institution told Asharq Al-Awsat.
If adopted, the proposal will boost the number of members in the Council—which usually comprises between 17–21 scholars—and create specialist committees to help it adjudicate in matters that fall outside the scope of Islamic jurisprudence, better known as Shari’a law.
Members of the Council, known in Arabic as Hayat Kibar Al-Ulemma, have always been men of religious learning. Ulem, is an Arabic term meaning knowledge, with a scholar being known as an Alim (One who possesses knowledge)—the plural is Ulemma.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, a member of the Council Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mani said: “Ulem is not confined to Islamic jurisprudence scholars but also covers scholars from different fields of knowledge, such as medicine, engineering, astronomy and economics.”
The amendment is still being studied, its adoption would enable the council to perform its role in line with the requirements and developments of the twenty-first century, the Saudi cleric said.
In Islamic jurisprudence Ulem is a controversial term and according to some Islamic schools, religious knowledge is deemed superior to secular learning.
The cleric said that diversifying members’ backgrounds will have “great benefit that will reflect on the issues of the Muslim world.”
The Council was established in 1971 with Sheikh Ibrahim ibn Muhammad Al-Sheikh serving as its first head.