Researcher of Political Science & Classical Islam. Initiated by the Khwajagan i-Naqshband.
Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mosque collapsed at the Riyadh International Airport as he was about to board a flight
By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent Published: 12:19 March 10, 2010
Riyadh: Mohammad Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al Azhar Mosque and the Grand Shaikh of Al Azhar University, died Wednesday of a heart attack, while on a visit to Saudi Arabia.
Witnesses told Gulf News that Tantawi collapsed at the Riyadh International Airport as he was about to board his flight back to Cairo on Wednesday.
He was rushed to the Emir Sultan hospital in Riyadh where doctors proclaimed him dead.
The official Mena news agency reported that Tantawi, 81, was in Riyadh to attend the King Faisal awards ceremony.
Tantawi will be buried in Madinah, according to his family.
Abdullah Al Naggar, advisor to the shaikh, told Egypt’s Nile News television the death was a surprise, saying that before leaving to Saudi Arabia the shaikh had seemed in “excellent shape and health.”
A member of Tantawi’s office, Ashraf Hassan, told a news agency that Mohammad Wasel, Tantawi’s deputy, was expected to temporarily take over leading the institution until the Egyptian president appointed a new head for the body.
Born on October 28, 1928, Tantawi was appointed the Grand Mufti of Egypt in 1986.
He held the position for almost 10 years, until he was appointed Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mosque and Grand Shaikh of Al Azhar University, the highest seat of Sunni learning, by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1996.
Al Azhar has schools, universities and other educational institutions across Egypt.
Tantawi’s views on a wide range of subjects, such as the Islamic veil in France, abortion, suicide bombings and women imams, often created controversies.
Late last year, Tantawi caused a big stir in Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country, when he banned the niqab (a full-face veil) at woman-only institutions of Al Azhar, which is one of the Sunni world’s most influential seats of learning.
At the time, Tantawi said that the niqab “is a traditional costume, which has nothing to do with Islam”.
A few weeks later, a similar ban was imposed by authorities at Egypt’s public universities, much to the protest of Islamists and human rights activists.
Two years ago, Tantawi, often criticised as a pro-government cleric, came under fire in Egypt when he was shown in pictures shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres at a conference on inter-faith dialogue in Geneva.
An embattled Tantawi said he had not recognised Peres.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. But anti-Israel feelings run high in the Arab world’s most populous country.
In 1997, he lent his blessings to a controversial campaign launched by the Egyptian authorities against female genital mutilation. He said the centuries-old practice was un-Islamic.
“The Ulema (theologians) of Islam are unanimous in agreeing that female circumcision has nothing to do with Islam,” he was quoted as saying.
In 2001, he drew massive criticisms for condemning suicide bombings as being against Islam. His fatwa was declared as the Palestinians were engaged in their intifada against Israeli occupiers, much to support from many Egyptians.
In December 2003, Tantawi angered many Muslims when he said that the French government had the right to ban the hijab (a headscarf worn by Muslim women) in schools.
Tantawi was no stranger to controversy as Grand Mufti of Egypt either. He issued a contentious fatwa (a religious edict) ruling that the interest rates offered by banks to depositors comply with the Islamic Sharia (law)
Tantawi led the prayers at the funeral of Palestinian icon Yasser Arafat in 2004.
Azhar Imam orders niqab off, wants ban
CAIRO – The head of Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni world, has ordered a school girl to remove her niqab during a visit to an Al-Azhar school, saying he would seek an official ban for the face veil in schools, Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper reported on Monday, October 5.
“Why are you wearing the niqab while sitting in the class with your female colleagues?” Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi asked the 8th grader.
The young girl was shocked with the question coming from the country’s top scholar.
A teacher intervened to explain.
“She takes off her niqab inside the class, but she only put it on when you and your entourage came in.”
But Sheikh Tantawi was not satisfied and insisted that the young girl takes off the face cover.
“The niqab is a tradition and has nothing to do with Islam.”
After the girl complied he insisted she should not wear it any more.
“I tell you again that the niqab has nothing to do with Islam and it is only a mere custom. I understand the religion better than you and your parents.”
Most Muslim women in Egypt wear the hijab, which is an obligatory code of dress in Islam, but an increase in women putting on the niqab has apparently alarmed the government.
The ministry of religious endowments has recently distributed booklets in mosques against the practice.
The majority of Muslim scholars believe that a woman is not obliged to cover her face or hands.
They believe that it is up to every woman to decide whether to take on the face-cover or not.
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar imam vowed to issue a ban against the face-veil in all schools linked to Al-Azhar.
“I intend to issue a regulation to ban the niqab in Al-Azhar schools,” he said.
“No student or teacher will be allowed into the school wearing the niqab.”
Established in 359 AH (971 CE), Al-Azhar mosque drew scholars from across the Muslim world and grew into a university, predating similar developments at Oxford University in London by more than a century.
Al-Azhar, which means the “most flourishing and resplendent,” was named after Fatima Al-Zahraa, daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The first courses at Al-Azhar were given in 975 CE and the first college was built 13 years later.
Al-Azhar first admitted women students in 1961, albeit in separate classes.
Also in 1961, subjects in engineering and medicine were added to classes on Shari`ah, the Noble Qur’an and the intricacies of Arabic language.
Sheikh Tantawi’s remarks coincided with those of Higher Education Minister Hani Hilal who has banned the face-veil in student hostels.
“Face-veiled students are free to do what they want outside the hostels but there is no room for the niqab inside the women-only hostels,” he said earlier this week.
Many students demonstrated against the minister’s statements and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights plans to take him to court.
“The minister’s decision violates the principles of privacy, personal freedom and freedom of faith, which are guaranteed by the constitution.”
Kuwaiti scholars reject Saudi fatwa to kill those who refuse gender segregation
Manama: Leading religious scholars in Kuwait have rejected a fatwa or religious edict seeking to put to death opponents of strict segregation of men and women, saying that it was a call for sedition and chaos within the Islamic nation.
Saudi religious figure Shaikh Abdul Rahman Al Barrak on Tuesday said that the mixing of genders at the workplace or in educational institutions was religiously prohibited on the grounds that it allowed seeing what must not be seen and engaging in forbidden conversations.
Those who refuse to abide by strict segregation between men and women should be put to death, he said.
However, Kuwaiti scholars said that such an edict could come only from “a senile person or someone who wants to sow sedition in the nation by allowing the killing of innocent people.”
“Officials need to step in promptly and make the authors of such edicts face legal measures to ensure that no innocent people are killed or abused by those who want to implement the fatwas,” said Dr Ajeel Al Nashmi, the head of the GCC Religious Scholars League.
Islamic Studies professor, Dr Bassam Al Shatti, warned that edicts that allowed the killing of people were very dangerous.
“Only the authorities have the right to apply legal punishment or penalties. Religious figures can advise and explain matters to people, but sentences are the prerogative of the rulers,” he told Kuwaiti daily Al Watan on Wednesday. “Allowing people to take the law into their hands would result in social chaos and in killings which are forbidden in Islam,” he said.
Leading Kuwaiti scholar Shaikh Ahmad Hussain blasted the fatwa, saying that Islam was very strict about killing people intentionally.
“All the teachings in the Quran and in the Prophet’s Sayings stress that killing is not allowed. God said that ‘whoever kills a believer it is as if he killed all people’. So we have to be careful about issuing edicts that encourage or allow people to kills others,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there are scholars who harm the religion through issuing strange edicts. Only the rulers of a country have the right to take action against those who must be punished.”
Friday, 15 March, 2002, 12:19 GMT
Saudi religious police ‘stopped’ fire rescue: 15 girls dead
Saudi Arabia’s religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.
In a rare criticism of the kingdom’s powerful “mutaween” police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday.
About 800 pupils were inside the school in the holy city of Mecca when the tragedy occurred.
According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islam.
One witness said he saw three policemen “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya”.
The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police – known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned “it is a sinful to approach them”.
The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out.
“Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,” the newspaper concluded.
Families of the victims have been incensed over the deaths.
Most of the victims were crushed in a stampede as they tried to flee the blaze.
The school was locked at the time of the fire – a usual practice to ensure full segregation of the sexes.
The religious police are widely feared in Saudi Arabia. They roam the streets enforcing dress codes and sex segregation, and ensuring prayers are performed on time.
Those who refuse to obey their orders are often beaten and sometimes put in jail.