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Reuters: Head of Egypt’s al-Azhar, Tantawi, dies in Saudi Arabia


Inna lillahi wa inna alehi rajioon. May Allah forgive him for his mistakes.

CAIRO (Reuters) – Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the head of Egypt’s most prestigious seat of Islamic learning al Azhar, died of a heart attack on Wednesday during a visit to Saudi Arabia, religious officials at al-Azhar said. He was 81.

Abdullah el-Naggar, advisor to the sheikh, told Egypt’s Nile News television the death was a surprise, saying that before leaving to Saudi Arabia the sheikh had seemed in “excellent shape and health.”

A member of Tantawi’s office, Ashraf Hassan, told Reuters that Mohamed Wasel, Tantawi’s deputy, was expected to temporarily take over leading the institution until the Egyptian president appointed a new head for the body.

Al Azhar, which runs schools, universities and other educational institutions across Egypt, receives most of its funding from the state.

When he was appointed in 1996, Tantawi was viewed as having relatively liberal views on issues such as women’s rights but had been criticised by some for toeing the government’s line.

In office, he opposed female circumcision as not an Islamic practice and took a stand against the full veil, or ‘niqab’, that completely covers the face.

Tantawi issued a religious edict last year barring the niqab in al-Azhar-run all-girl schools.

A Saudi source familiar with the situation said Tantawi died of a heart attack in the Saudi capital on Wednesday.


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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").



  1. Ify Okoye

    March 10, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon.

  2. Abdihafid dahir

    March 10, 2010 at 6:28 AM

    Innallillah wa ina ilaihi rajioon.may allah make it easy for him through janna.

  3. Amatullah

    March 10, 2010 at 7:20 AM

    inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon. may Allah have mercy on him and enter him into Jannah.

  4. Shuaib Mansoori

    March 10, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    Innalillah Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’oon. May Allah have Mercy on him and grant him Jannah.

  5. Sayf

    March 10, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon

  6. AsimG

    March 10, 2010 at 9:26 PM

    I’ll say what others might say, I feel weird. Weird that this was someone who made some very controversial opinions, but weirder because I know that isn’t enough to nullify the shahadah or even the massive amount of knowledge he obtained in his life so why am I even feeling weird?

    To Allah we belong and to Allah we return.

    May Allah forgive his sins and raise his rank.

    • Uncle Tom

      March 11, 2010 at 5:22 PM

      you are feeling weird because you have issues

  7. Student

    March 10, 2010 at 9:31 PM

    Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah,

    The shaykh had a heart attack in Riyadh, was transferred to Madinah and was prayed upon in the Prophet’s Masjid after ‘isha last night – and buried in al Baqi’. They didn’t announce that it was him on the microphone, and a very, very large huge crowd had ensued to bury him.

    GhafarAllahu lah


    March 11, 2010 at 3:02 AM

    Innalillah Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’oon. May Allah have Mercy on him and grant him Jannah

    May Allah(swt) forgive the Shaikh sins and Grant him high level of paradise Ameen. What a Great Place to be buried Allah(swt) must Love him how he is brought to Madina SubhanAllah.

  9. akhan

    March 11, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon

    How ironic that the brother was buried in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. The land where most saudi women wear the niqab. Alhumdillah hib rabbil alameen

    May ALLAH forgive him all his sins, save him from the torment or the barzakh, and an-nar and enter him him into jannah.


  10. Qasym

    March 11, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon.

    What a great ending for a great man, rahimahullah, in the city of the Prophet (saw).

    SubhanAllah at how we’re losing great scholars, one after the other. May Allah (swt) preserve and protect the Ulema.

    • Imran

      March 11, 2010 at 7:08 PM

      Great man? I beg to differ. His actions speak otherwise but Allah (swt) is the ultimate judge. May Allah (swt) forgive him for his sins and grant him jannah.

      • Mustafa Å uvalija

        March 11, 2010 at 8:54 PM

        Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu,

        Couldn’t agree more. A very sobering commentary on the strange Muslim reactions (like the one above) to his death:



      • a white brother

        March 11, 2010 at 9:34 PM

        calm down akhi. i vehemently disagree with him over the fitnah he caused on more that one occasion. however, he has passed on. say inna illahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon and move on. its not befitting of a muslim to slander the dead.

        • Ibn Mikdad

          March 12, 2010 at 4:01 AM

          Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu,

          That’s exactly what the article to which I linked says. If we would literally apply “its not befitting of a Muslim to slander the dead”, it would be impossible to ever write a complete biography of a Muslim scholar, because you would have to mention his mistakes, and it would be impossible to learn anything from history because learning from history icludes learning from peoples mistakes. This man’s life (and the end of his life) must serve as a lesson to all Muslims, particularly with regards to what not to believe, say or do.



          • Amad

            March 12, 2010 at 4:26 AM

            There is a time and place for all things. Do we see the scholars of the ummah, even the ones who disagreed with him vehemently, taking his death as an opportune time to discuss his mistakes? We don’t. We should learn something from that. At this time, we should just ask for forgiveness for the man, and if there is to be a refutation, then that has to be done in a scholarly fashion someday.

            And as one of my beloved shayookh, Shaykh Mamduh Mohamed (of Houston fame) added on his facebook status, one day in the near future we’ll be thinking that Tantawi wasn’t that bad compared to the new appointee (whoever that may be), may Allah forgive us and have mercy on our situation.

        • Abu Bakr

          March 18, 2010 at 3:26 AM

          Just a note, although Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’un is frequently said at the passing of the dead, it is not particular to that. It is for the strike of any calamity, and a death is not always a calamity.

          That said, I think this death is indeed a calamity. Allah alone knows what greater evil may come from whomever Mubarak appoints as his successor.

          Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’un

  11. PakistaniMD

    March 11, 2010 at 10:17 PM

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon.

    I have a question: Why are some news sites reporting that his views on Female circumcisions were opposed by ‘conservatives’? Who are these so-called ‘conservatives’? I have not heard of one legitimate scholar who condones FGM.

  12. Ibn Mikdad

    March 12, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu,

    “Do we see the scholars of the ummah, even the ones who disagreed with him vehemently, taking his death as an opportune time to discuss his mistakes? We don’t.”

    I’m not for discussing his “legacy”, I’m simply disturbed by the sympathy some people seem to have for him, or at least an attitude of lenience they have taken towards him. Because his mistakes are not the mistakes an average orthodox scholar makes, they’re far beyond that.



    • another white brother

      March 12, 2010 at 8:05 AM

      Yes and the prophet (saw) did warn us about wicked/corrupt scholars. However, Tantawi is dead and nobody is doing any historical revisionism and elevating him to lofty levels: we all remember his errors (remember, his problems go much farther than the niqab and hand shaking incidents lest we forget his ruilings on the Gaza/Egypt wall). However, the man is dead and his affairs are to Allah now and it doesn’t reflect well on us to talk ill of him.

    • Qasym

      March 12, 2010 at 12:41 PM

      So you’re willing to throw everything he did down the drain because he made a few mistakes? And even those mistakes he made very recently (we don’t know how much old age and his sicknesses played a part in those).

      But it’s ok…I guess you guys (the one criticizing) are the real scholars because not only is it ok to slander a dead person, but it’s also not ok to make mistakes.

      Teach us please.

      • abdullah

        March 14, 2010 at 7:40 AM

        akhi it is halal to warn against a preson who is known for innovations (even if he is dead) so that the laymen do not get influenced by his innovations

  13. jenan

    March 12, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    May Allah forgive him and grant him into jannah. Just because he banned niqab doesn’t make him a bad guy. The fact of the matter is while niqab is part of islamic tradition is not part of islamic law. It is just an option and not a moral obligation. Whether a woman decides to pursue or practice that option is her business. I don’ agree with him banning it because that is denying the women the option of whether they want to choose it or not. However, i don’t agree with imposing it on a woman either. Female circumsion is a disgusting evil act and I am glad that he spoke against it. It is against islamic law by all means and has killed many young girls in the process. For those who criticize him, i have one thing to say. He was an avid islamic scholar of the oldest muslim university? Who are you to judge him? The only thing you are doing is further sowing the seeds of fitnah for this ummah that have already been firmly planted by the kuffar. Our problems is not that we disagree or agree. Our problem is that we use our disagreements to despise and hate one another. Just because you agree or disagree with your brother or sister in faith doesn’t mean you are still not part of the same family. May Allah grant our ummah unity and move our hearts together. May Allah grant Sheikh tantawi peace and eternal paradise. Do not wish evil on your brother because of difference of opinion. Islam is a diverse religion with a diversified population. ALL YOU HATERZ step back or go home!!!

  14. Umm Bilqis

    March 12, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    Inna lillah wa inna illahi rajoon. May Allah forgive us all Insha’Allah.

  15. theSeeker

    March 14, 2010 at 5:22 AM

    “ALL YOU HATERZ step back or go home!!!”

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Please don’t hate the ‘haterz’. Appreciate their attitude coming from a love for their deen. The resulting behaviour may be incorrect but understand where they are coming from. It’s mututal understanding that will bring us closer and not condemnation of each other. Let’s pray for all of us to come together following the deen brought by the Messenger of Allah, the blessings of Allah and peace be upon him.

    Wassalamu alaikum

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