Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tantawi, sheikh al-Azhar, dies at 81

Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, sheikh al-Azhar, the highest muslim functionary of Egypt, died Wednesday of a heart attack when he was boarding a flight on his way back from Saudi-Arabia to Egypt. He was 81. Tantawi was appointed mufti of Egypt in 1986. In 1996 he was promoted to sheikh-al-Azhar and imam of the Azhar mosque.
The Sheikh al-Azhar used to be the most important and influential dignitary of Sunni Muslim world, but lost much of this influence after under Gamal Abdel Nasser the religous sector was 'nationalized' and the sheikh became a state functionary.,
Consequently, Tantawi became a man who had to foillow the lead of the state. One of the fatwa's that may be remembered in this respect was the recent fatwa in which he condoned the construction of the underground wall between Egypt and Gaza, on the ground that ths smuggle 'of drugs' constituted a danger for Egypt. In some other respects Tantawi was quite modern. In the late 80ties he okayed organ transplants and even gender operations if there appeared to be a medical justification.  .

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