Al-Azhar leader Sheikh Tantawi dies in Saudi Arabia
Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, who as the head of Egypt’s most prestigious seat of Islamic learning al-Azhar was Sunni Islam’s top authority, died of a heart attack on Wednesday on a visit to Saudi Arabia, religious officials at al-Azhar said. He was 81.
Mohamed Wasel, Tantawi’s deputy, will temporarily take charge of the Sunni Muslim institution until Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appoints a new head. Wasel has been heading al-Azhar’s committee for inter-faith dialogue.
Al-Azhar, which runs schools, universities and other educational institutions across Egypt and sends scholars to teach in countries across the Muslim world, receives most of its funding from the state.
“The government usually chooses a moderate sheikh and all we can ask of them is that their coming choice will be a sheikh who will work for the best interest of the people and will be biased not for the government but for truth,” Sheikh Mahmoud Hamdy Mugahed, former Azhar scholar and now parliament member, said.