CAIRO, March 10: Top cleric Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi died on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia of a heart attack suffered while boarding a plane, state media said.
Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar — one of Islam’s highest seats of learning — had been in Riyadh to attend the King Faisal awards ceremony, Egypt’s official MENA news agency said.
Tantawi, 81, was boarding an early morning flight when he suffered severe pain and fell on the stairs, Egyptian television said. He was rushed to the Amir Sultan hospital in Riyadh where doctors pronounced him dead. An Egyptian official said that Tantawi had died of a heart attack.
The news of his death was “an indescribable shock”, his son Amr Tantawi told the channel. “The family has decided that since God chose for him to die on Saudi land, he will be buried in Al-Baqie” graveyard in Medina, he added. Tantawi was appointed head of Al-Azhar, the 10th-century university that has trained clerics from Africa and Asia, by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1996.
“The Islamic and Arabic world has lost a scholar and a jurisprudent” who was “dedicated to his work and to everything that served the good of Islam and Muslims”, Al-Azhar said in a statement.
Tantawi’s rulings on a wide range of topics, such as the veil, abortion, suicide attacks, women prayer leaders and female circumcision, often caused a stir in the Islamic world and beyond.
“Many did not appreciate the fact that Tantawi was involved in the country’s political affairs. But he was brave,” said Mohammed Al-Hizbi, 32, an Indonesian student at Al-Azhar.—AFP
The Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz bin Abdullah al-Shaykh, believed that Islam forbids suicide attacks. He also stated that he supports the Egyptian health ministry's ban on female circumcision despite a court decision to allow the practice. He said, "I support the health ministry's decision to ban circumcision because it is a medical and not a religious matter," in an interview published in the weekly Al Musawer on July 24, 1997.
"I still believe that concerning circumcision there are specialized doctors who should do the cutting. If they say excision is unnecessary, we should listen to them," he added.