Sheikh Tantawi has been the head of the thousand-year old Al Azhar school and mosque since 1996.

Sheikh Tantawi was the closest thing that Muslim Sunni’s had to a Pope. He held the highest and most prestigious position  for learning. This man had his share of criticism. Some believe that he was only doing the biding of the man who gave him the position that he held. The man who gave him the prestigious position is non other than, President Hosni Mubarek. There were others who didn’t like that he was a progressive and a liberal thinker. How liberal you might ask?  For, the past decade more and more women have made the decision to wear the neqab (it’s also know as the berka in other countries). It’s where the woman cover from head to toe and the only part of her body that can be seen are the eyes. Sheikh Tantawi banned female students from wearing the niqab (full faced veil) at the institute. He also spoke against full female circumcision (female gentile mutilation).  Clerics argue that the Koran doesn’t condone interests being payed. While Sheikh Al Azhar said it was legitimate for banks to pay interest. He once shook the hand of the Israeli President, Shimon Peres. ( I personally don’t see why he should be shunned upon for shaking someones hand!)

The 81-year-old Sheikh died of a sudden heart attack during a recent trip to Saudi Arabia. His death has sent a shock wave through the Muslim world. There are many people who are worried who will succeed his position. The reason for their worry is because if the next person to take his position does not share his views or way of thinking, and is the complete opposite ( stricter), that could mean that there maybe some ‘new’  fatwas (rules or rulings) made that Muslims Sunni’s world-wide should abide by. Until a new head of Al Azhar is named there’s going to be a bit of tension and nervous anticipation.

May he rest in peace.

For more information; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8560149.stm

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