Islamic scholar named Egypt's new top cleric
CAIRO -- Egypt's president named a moderate, Western-educated Islamic scholar the country's new top cleric on Friday, the state news agency reported.
The appointment makes Ahmed el-Tayeb the new grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar, the pre-eminent theological institute of Sunni Islam, the faith's majority sect. He takes over from Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, who died of a heart attack last week after heading Al-Azhar for nearly 14 years.
El-Tayeb, who was in his hometown of Luxor in southern Egypt when he received news of his appointment, said he "highly appreciates the great trust" President Hosni Mubarak has bestowed on him, the Middle East News Agency reported.
The Sheik of Al-Azhar is highly respected throughout the Muslim world, offering guidance on issues of faith in Egypt and other Islamic nations. He oversees an extensive network of Islamic schools, a university and religious institutes that open their doors to Muslims from around the world.
The sheik also advises the state on religious matters.
The French-educated el-Tayeb, 64, previously served as Egypt's Mufti, the nation's top religious law expert, for a brief stint before stepping down in 2003 to head Cairo's Al-Azhar University. He is an expert on religious philosophy and issues of faith, and has written books about science, Marxism, Islamic philosophy, and Islamic culture.
Viewed as a moderate Muslim who has encouraged dialogue with Western countries, el-Tayeb has outwardly criticized hard-line Islamists, saying the focus on rituals and outward manifestations of piety - such as Islamic garb or beards - comes at the expense of true spiritual development.
El-Tayeb also angered radical Islamists for once telling an Islamic conference that "the logic of things is change."
"Ahmad Al-Tayeb was born in the province of Qena in Upper Egypt in the family of Sufi sheikh. After the death of his father became a mentor, a Sufi tariqa.
In academic circles, “Al-Azhar” Tayeb gained fame as a respected scientist who did not go into discussion of controversial issues, and when he was mufti of Egypt not tolerate fatwas, sowing discord."