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3 moderates vie for top Azhar job
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 18 - 03 - 2010

Three hand-selected candidates for the high office at Al-Azhar-Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning-contend to succeed Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, who died in Saudi Arabia earlier in the month.
The Government of Ahmed Nazif is vetting prospective candidates Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt; Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, the Minister of Waqfs (Religious Endowments); and Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the President of al-Azhar University and a former Grand Mufti.
Nazif will nominate one of these scholars to President Hosni Mubarak after he returns from Germany, where he had his gallbladder and a growth removed from his small intestine in an operation carried out on March 6.
Each one of the three contenders has a good chance to succeed Tantawi, who died at the age 81.
Gomaa, a prominent authority on Sunni Islam, has a doctorate degree in theology and philosophy. Gomaa, who also holds a BA degree in accounting from Ain Shams University in Cairo, is not an Azharite.
Gomaa, who became the Grand Mufti of Egypt in 2003, has been in favour of a dialogue with Islamist hardliners, saying that it could help diminish terror attacks in Egypt.
He has written 27 books, published in Egypt and abroad.
Gomaa headed Darulefta'a, the Egyptian State-run institution, which presently issues 1,000 fatwas, or religious edicts, a day .
He said that only serious Islamic scholars with degrees in Islamic studies from recognised Islamic institutions had the authority to issue religious legal rulings.
Gomaa approved many of Sheikh Tantawi's views on banning the widely practised female genital mutilation (FGM) and barring female students wearing the niqab (a full-face cover) from entering Al-Azhar-run universities and schools.
Zaqzouq, the soft-spoken Minister of Waqfs (Religious Endowments), is the second favourite for Al-Azhar's top post.
He has been in charge of religious endowments since 1996.
Known for his moderate views, Zaqzouq obtained a PhD degree from Munich University, Germany, in 1964.
He has moderated the religious discourse in Egyptian mosques and established a unified call to prayers nationwide.
Minister Zaqzouq, a strong believer in the continuity of inter-faith dialogue, has opened the way to a more thoughtful understanding of Islam, say his supporters.
He always says that Muslims should sit down and reason with people who disagree with them, instead of denouncing each other's cultures and faiths.
“Dialogue with the non-Muslims goes hand in hand with Islam's rich humanitarian tradition,” Zaqzouq, who has to his name more than 25 books, said.
Zaqzouq, who has been very close to the late Sheikh Tantawi, confirms that his Ministry is not under any kind of political pressure.
Ahmed el-Tayyeb, is seen as the third candidate for Al-Azhar's top post.
He obtained a PhD from Fridge University near Paris. When he returned to Egypt in 1977, Gomaa taught philosophy and theology at the Faculty of Theology, Cairo University.
In 1999, he became the dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Aswan. During his long teaching career, he worked at many Arabic and non-Arabic Islamic universities.
El-Tayyeb was named as Egypt's Grand Mufti in 2002 and held that prestigious post for 18 months only after which he tendered his resignation to the President. Now, he is the President of Al-Azhar University.
El-Tayyeb has been an advocate of moderation and tolerance.
He has been calling for renewing the Islamic discourse in light of recent international developments in Arab countries and in the world in general. He also encourages interaction between Islam and the West.
El-Tayyeb has also helped open channels of communication between Al-Azhar University and many European and Asian countries where the students are taught the diversity of the Islamic heritage.

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