The Azhar is the most important religious institution in Egypt and the Islamic world. Similarly, the grand imām of the Azhar has a vital role.
Due to some of the recent stances adopted by the grand imām, which have angered Muslims and raised a lot of arguments in the Islamic world, many Muslim scholars have called for the position of the grand imām to be appointed through elections. They stress that appointing a person to such a position makes him an employee of the state and this severely influences the independence of the decisions and religious fatwás made by him. Hence, they argue that the grand imām of the Azhar should be elected by the Islamic Research Academy.
Both appointment and elections have advantages and disadvantages, emphasizes Prof. ‘Abd al-Mu‘tī Bayyūmī. However, he adds that he believes that the advantages of appointment are much less than the advantages of elections. Bayyūmī says that if the policy of elections is not applied the government should be conscious of the fact that it is choosing the shaykh who will best represent the status of the Azhar and its history.
On his part, Prof. Muhammad al-Sayyid believes that if the grand imām is appointed then his loyalty and sense of belongingness is to those who appointed him and not to the Azhar or his religious mission or Muslim scholars. This explains, he adds, why there are a lot of decisions made by the shaykh of the Azhar that are directed toward those who appointed him while they are not approved by scholars in the Azhar.
Similarly, the Islamic thinker Prof. Ahmad ‘Abd al-Rahmān sheds light on the fact that elections are a normal issue for any group who wants their leader to be choose through the will of the group. Moreover, he adds that previously all Islamic and Arab countries used to participate in electing the grand imām of the Azhar; also, sometimes he was chosen by a different country because the issue is not only an Egyptian one but one of international concern.