CAIRO — Sheik Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, Egypt’s chief religious official and leader of Al Azhar, the oldest and most prestigious center of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, died Wednesday during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Egyptian state media reported. He was 81.
The apparent cause was a heart attack. His death was confirmed in a statement by Al Azhar.Uh oh. Fundamentalist-in-moderate's-clothing alert. Sure enough, the Sheik's "moderation" is a matter of opinion. Back in '04, for example, FrontPage Magazine opined
For more than a quarter century Mr. Tantawi was at the nexus of government and religion in Egypt, the Arab world’s largest country, working with President Hosni Mubarak’s government to try to enforce a moderate interpretation of Islam. But his pro-government decisions, authoritarian ways and willingness to deal with Israelis made him a divisive figure from the moment Mr. Mubarak appointed him sheik of Al Azhar, a complex that includes a 1,000-year-old university and mosque, in 1996.
“He preserved the moderate nature of Azhar despite the rise of the extreme current within it,” said Salah Eissa, editor of a weekly newspaper named after the capital and published by the Ministry of Culture.
But while Mr. Tantawi’s religious decisions often put him in the moderate camp at a time of fundamentalist revival, he was also criticized by liberals and conservatives in Egypt as appearing to grant religious legitimacy to government...
Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi is head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious establishment. Under Tantawi’s leadership, Al-Azhar has declared jihad against the U.S. repeatedly, and has called for suicide attacks against American forces in Iraq as recently as August. He has called Jews “apes and pigs.”Mainstream: yes. "Moderate": not so much.