Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Tayeb douses the flames

The grand imam of Al-Azhar moves quickly to dampen the controversy provoked by the acting president of Al-Azhar University, writes Amany Maged

#Al-Tayeb # Taha
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The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb announced the dismissal of Al-Azhar University president Ahmed Hosni Taha and appointed Mohamed Hussein Al-Mahrasawi as acting president in his stead. Taha had been in office just three months.

The decision to dismiss Taha came 24 hours after a television programme was broadcast in which Taha branded prominent TV host Islam Beheiri an “apostate”.

Beheiri is an outspoken critic of some mediaeval Islamic scholars and has urged Muslims to ignore texts of writers such as Mohamed Al-Bukhari, Imam Malik, Imam Al-Shafei and Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal. Al-Azhar instigated legal action against Beheiri who was tried and received a 12-month sentence after being found guilty of showing “contempt for Islam”. He subsequently received a presidential pardon.

The programme in which Taha lashed out against Beheiri was broadcast on Al-Qahera wal-Nas. Following the broadcast of his remarks Taha issued an apology. He published a statement beneath the heading “An apology and an explanation”, writing: “Recourse to truth is a virtue and the attempt to discern right is better than persisting in what is wrong. It is our duty to our faith, our society and our nation to convey the whole truth, even if we have uttered something contrary to that, once we learn of our mistake.”

Regarding his comments about Beheiri, Taha wrote: “It was only when I went over my response in my mind that I realised it was entirely wrong. When I considered it honestly and objectively I understood that my response was inappropriate. It violated the approach of Al-Azhar which holds that one does not renounce Islam unless one recants the declarations with which one embraced the faith.”

Commentators say Al-Tayeb had no choice but to act quickly and dismiss Taha in order to avoid an opportunity for Al-Azhar’s detractors to attack. The issue of branding someone a blasphemer or apostate is particularly sensitive at a time when Al-Azhar has faced mounting criticism because of its refusal to condemn the Islamic State group for blasphemy. The institution, and its grand imam, has also been accused of failing in its duty to renew religious discourse.

The tensions between the president’s office and Al-Azhar are an open secret. While it is the president’s prerogative to appoint the head of Al-Azhar University, Al-Tayeb has side-stepped this by resorting to the tactic of appointing acting university heads who serve only two terms, which he can legally do.

Given existing tensions, the grand imam of Al-Azhar may well have thought he could ill-afford to exacerbate the situation by allowing Taha to cling on.

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