Egyptian President Names New Head of Al-Azhar

Ahmed El-Tayeb

Global media widely reported last week on the appointment of Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed al-Tayeb as head of Al-Azhar, replacing Mohammed Sayed Tantawi who died recently on a trip to Saudi Arabia. According to an Al-Jazeera report:

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has named Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed al-Tayeb as head of Al-Azhar, the country’s most prestigious seat of Islamic learning, state television reported. Mubarak, who is recovering from gall bladder surgery in Germany, appointed Tayeb on Friday, nine days after the death of Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the previous head of the institution. Al-Azhar institution, which includes a 10th century mosque, a university and several affiliated schools, is Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning. Its role is to propagate Islamic teachings and culture around the world. “I want to express my deep appreciation of the trust bestowed on me by President Hosni Mubarak,” Tayeb told the MENA news agency by telephone from his home town of Al-Qurna. The grand imam of Al-Azhar has been appointed by presidential decree since 1961 and the institution receives most of its funding from the state, opening up the post to criticism of being too close to the government. Tayeb is known for his tough stance against the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and most organised opposition group, which remains officially banned despite popular support. In 2006, he condemned a military-style parade by Brotherhood students at Al-Azhar University in which they wore black facemasks “like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Republican Guard in Iran,” he said at the time. Born in 1946, Tayeb joined an Al-Azhar affiliated school at the age of 10. He has spent more than 40 years at the institution, receiving a PhD in religion and philosophy from al-Azhar university in 1977 before becoming a faculty member and then dean of the philosophy department. Tayeb has been in charge of the al-Azhar university since 2003 and was Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest religious legal authority, from 2002 to 2003. He is widely considered to be a moderate.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood website, however, is reporting that Dr. Al-Tayeb has made positive comments on the Brotherhood:

Newly appointed top cleric Dr Ahmed Altayeb maintained that he appreciated the role of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement in Egypt. In a statement to “Ikhwanweb” the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar affirmed that the Movement was “Just as entitled as any other National political party or Islamist group to participate in its activities so long as it adhered and conformed to regulations. Tayeb asserted that he welcomed the Brotherhood’s observance to the principle of constructive criticism describing it as mature and cultured. He established that the Azhar institution was open to any Islamic effort which would benefit the Azhar’s institution and enrich its history. He rebuffed allegations that he was appointed as Grand Imam simply because he was a member of the National Democratic Party claiming that his position demanded he be neutral and any decisions made would be based on the Azhar, Egypt and Islam’s welfare in mind. With regards to the Institutions educational syllabus he denied any rumors that the system would be changed stressing that the current curriculum was suitable for all students.Tayeb concluded his statement on the current affairs taking place with the Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people and in particular the Aqsa Mosque “The Palestinian factions must set aside their differences and unite in the face of the tyranny practiced through the Israeli oppression. It is imperative that the Arab League prioritize their agenda and converse in defense of the Muslims Holy sites,

Al-Azhar is considered to be the main center of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world and founded in 970. Al Azhar is a center of Muslim Brotherhood activity and in December 2005, young men from a Brotherhood student group dressed in black and held a military-style parade, complete with martial arts demonstrations, to protest restrictions on student political activities at Al Azhar. Such demonstrations are forbidden in Egypt and the event was the subject of a great deal of local and international media attention. In July 2008 Youssef Qaradawi, a global Muslim Brotherhood leader and harsh critic of Israel, was elected to the Al Azhar Islamic Research Council. Another post discussed an October 2008 Al-Azhar fatwa (Islamic ruling) that authorized computer hacking as a form of jihad against Israel and the United States.

The Egyptian Brotherhood had demanded that the sheikh of Al Azhar be elected by Azhar scholars and not appointed by the president.

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