Ahmad al-Tayyib

Role box
• President of the Azhar University since 2003
• Grand Muftī of the Republic of Egypt, March 2002 - September 2003
• Professor of Philosophy and Theology, al-Azhar University, since 1988
Education, Career and Personal Background
Dr. Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib was born on January 6, 1946 in Luxor, Egypt. He studied Islamic philosophy and theology at the Faculty of Fundamentals of Religion (Usūl al-Dīn) at the Azhar University in Cairo, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1969. He obtained his MA from the same department in 1971 and completed his Ph.D. in 1977. After receiving his bachelor's degree, he started to work as an assistant in the philosophy and theology department. In 1972 he was made an assistant-lecturer and in 1977 he became a lecturer. In 1982, he became an assistant-professor and in 1988 he reached the position of professor at the Azhar University. He worked as the dean of the Faculty for Islamic Studies in Qina, Egypt, from 1990 until 1991, before occupying the same position in Aswan from 1995-1999. For one year (1999-2000) he was the dean of the Faculty of Theology at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan. In March 2002, he became the Grand Muftī of the Republic of Egypt (the highest official of religious law in a Muslim country) a position he occupied for a year and a half before becoming the president of the Azhar University in September 2003, a position that he still holds and which, according to him, suits him better. 2.

During his academic career he also taught at European Universities: he was a visiting professor for one month (May 9-31, 1989) at Fribourg University, Switzerland and for six months (December 1977 until June 1978) at the University of Paris in France.
  • Member of the Egyptian Society of Philosophy
  • Member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs
  • Member of the Islamic Research Institute
  • Member of the board of trustees of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union
  • Head of the Religious Committee in the Egyptian Radio and Television Union
  • Member of the interfaith dialogue committee affiliated with the Islamic Research Academy (established March 2006)
Political/Religious Involvement

Procedure of issuing fatwás
Upon assuming the office of the grand muftī of Egypt, which made him the highest legal Islamic authority in the country, Ahmad al-Tayyib declared that there needs to be moderation in juristic opinions since they change over time, just as time itself changes. However, they should not transgress the limits of the Sunnah and the Qur'ān. He also states that the Dār al-Iftā' alone cannot respond to all queries, thereby pleading for distributing the issuing of fatwás among the different Islamic institutions, so as to reach unified opinions. (This can be seen as an allusion to the time of his predecessor Nāsir Farīd Wāsil, who often issued fatwás contradicting those of the Grand Shaykh of the Azhar.) 3. He also thinks it is important to involve scholars of other disciplines in answering difficult questions concerning other specialist fields for example "genetic engineering, banking and medicine".4.

Although al-Tayyib believes that the situation of having contradictory fatwás on one issue must be avoided, he assures that it is possible to have different opinions. Nevertheless, he states that on critical issues there should be one unified voice5. so as not to confuse ordinary people. He also objects to the amount of fatwás issued on satellite channels, as they are often announced by only semi-qualified people. In addition to that, they are being commercialized and shaykhs are receiving money from media institutions for their fatwás6.. In an attempt to unify fatwá-giving in Egypt, he entrusted the Islamic Research Institute with the task of issuing fatwás, a decision that he was heavily criticized for in Sawt al-Ummah because this institute is known for its conservative attitudes7..

In accordance with his view on the procedure of issuing fatwás his view on ijtihād is also moderate. He argues that the door of ijtihād had not been closed concerning judicial opinions, only the law schools themselves and their traditions have been halted. 8.

Innovative thinking
Al-Tayyib also supports giving human judgment a more prominent role in religion, fro example by viewing the tradition of the prophet in his own time and giving precedence to interpretation and ijtihād over merely repeating and quoting traditions. 9. Al-Tayyib belongs to a group of scholars who advocate an innovative approach. He also criticizes his fellow Muslims for occupying themselves with minute questions and pretending to know the reward in the afterlife for every action. 10. He encourages them, though with harsh words, to busy themselves with the important current issues of their time, such as the lack of unity in the Islamic world. 11.

In his roles as the muftī and the President of the Azhar he has opted for a new religious dialogue within Islam, saying that this is not a service to the West but a necessity for the religion itself as until now it has occupied itself with superficial topics, conveying an incorrect picture of Islam and its believers to outsiders. 12. In accordance with this demand, he observes social trends and developments and argues that religious scholars should be aware of them; for example he agreed with a Yemeni scholar regarding his "marriage friend" fatwá [this fatwá stated that temporary marriage between young people should be allowed if the Islamic regulations (dowry, guardian etc.) are observed] and welcomed the suggestion of a female Azhar scholar, Suc.ād Sālih, to appoint a female muftī for women's affairs. 13. However, his position is not totally clear as it was reported in a more recent article that he did not comment on her suggestion. 14.

Controversial issues
However on other issues Al-Tayyib sticks to classical viewpoints: he denies the possibility of revising the hudūd and their punishment as they are "God's laws" and therefore unchangeable. Commenting on the Friday prayer led by the Islamic feminist Amīnah Wadūd he states that this prayer was not valid as women do not have the right to lead men in Friday prayer, saying: "All Muslims who prayed with her need to repeat their prayers".15.

Furthermore he has argued that the hijāb is an "undisputable duty"16 for women. However, he seems to have slightly changed his opinion on this matter, as in a more recent statement he explained that not wearing the hijāb is not one of the biggest sins, but is considered by the Sharīc.ah as a mere breach. 17. Commenting on the statements of Egypt's Minister of Culture Fārūq Husnī who described the hijāb as a symbol of backwardness, he stated that most Islamic scholars agree that wearing the veil is obligatory for Muslim women. 18.

Al-Tayyib has described the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers as "the highest form of martyrdom" which cannot be declared harām. 19. On several other important current issues, for example female genital circumcision, his opinion is not known as he has avoided delving into this subject area. 20.

As a muftī, Dr. Ahmad al-Tayyib did not approve of a suggestion to reform the penalty law in the field of adultery. While a betrayed wife, finding her husband and his mistress in bed and killing them, is sentenced to either life imprisonment or death, a husband who acts in the same way is not punished at all. The reform argued for the same treatment of betrayed husband and wife, whereas al-Tayyib stated that the law as a whole should first of all be in accordance with Sharīc.ah before considering gender issues, which he classed as "sub-issues".21.

In autumn 2006 the Azhar University sparked a crisis by issuing a Ph.D. thesis which stated that the periodical Rose al-Yūsuf is kāfir. Al-Tayyib did not take a particular stance over the crisis, but merely appointed a Supreme Academy Committee to examine the thesis and write a report about it. He stated that if it was found that the Ph.D. candidate did not adhere to scientific limits and principles he would be interrogated and not awarded the degree. 22. Compared to the criticisms voiced by other Azhar scholars and journalists, who expressed their sorrow and worries about the state of the Azhar and the freedom of expression, al-Tayyib had a very vague and 'mild' position. He was directly urged by c.Abd al-Muc.tī al-Bayyumī, the former dean of the Fundamentals of Religion Faculty of the Azhar in Cairo to cancel/denounce the thesis. 23.

Before this incident, al-Tayyib had criticized the ways that different groups of society claim one another kāfir, saying that the only way to fight this is to teach a moderate form of Sharīc.ah at schools and universities. 24.

Involvement in Arab-West/ Inter-Cultural and Inter-Faith Relations

As the director of the Azhar University, the oldest Islamic educational institution, Dr. Ahmad al-Tayyib is often in the spotlight and tries to defend Islam against political and religious attacks. Although most of his statements are derived from theological arguments taken from the Qur'ān, they are rationally constructed and he uses the scripture as a starting point from which he then draws his own conclusions.

Reaction to the lecture of Pope Benedict XVI
In response to Pope Benedict XVI's lecture in September 2006 he issued a five part series of articles which were published in al-Ahrām newspaper, countering the arguments of the Pontiff. Al-Tayyib pointed out the rational nature of Islam which he describes as "the substance of Islam and his teachings".25. This argument is based on the presumption that Sharīc.ah is an example of the application of reason while at the same time it incorporates reason. 26. He furthermore refers to Qur'ānic verses that show that the Islamic faith was not built on violence. 27. He does so in a clear, rational way without using exaggerated language. Finally he compares the peaceful and tolerant nature of Islam to that of Christianity, arguing that there are more references and incitements to violence found in the Bible than in the Qur'ān. 28. He quotes verses from the Qur'ān to underline his point, but he does not make any direct references to the Bible. Instead, he relies on citing Western scholars like Father Michael Prior who wrote the book "Bible and Colonialism". He also questions why Christians seem to be allowed to defend themselves while Muslims are denied this right. 29.

Reactions to Western interference
This stance of not wanting to give in to pressure also becomes obvious when examining al-Tayyib's statements concerning political or social interference in Egyptian politics or society from the West. Although he kept silent on the invasion of Iraq30. he strongly objected to such initiatives, especially U.S ones, while he was the Muftī to condemn Palestinian suicide actions as Islamically unlawful, 31. or calls for a new Islamic dialogue and a change in the Azhar curriculum. 32. He criticized the West for having double standards33. and holds that the 9/11 attacks have been exploited against Muslims. 34. He also encourages Muslims to face and oppose the, in his opinion, distorted picture of Islam in the West and accuses Muslims of passivity in not taking action against the hatred directed against them. 35.

Christian students at the Azhar?
Another sensitive issue he touches on is the admission of Christian students to the Azhar University. He states that they should not be allowed to study at this institution as he regards it as an Islamic institute for religious studies. However, the Azhar is under state-control and financed by Egyptian taxpayers, Muslims and Christians alike. 36. A lot of criticism was directed at him when he announced that Christians wanting to study at the Azhar University have to memorize the Qur'ān as normally only students from religiously oriented high schools are admitted to the Azhar. 37. In addition he stated that Christians who want to study at the Azhar seek to stir sectarian strife. 38. This sort of statement from al-Tayyib is uncommon, as he normally tends to point out the similarities between Muslims and Christians.

Inter-religious dialogue
At the beginning of 2007 al-Tayyib published a newspaper article series in al-Ahrām entitled, 'Islam and other religions' wherein he emphasized the common base, roots and origin of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 39. He also argues that Islam must overcome its "self-centeredness" and stop seeing the other as an enemy but learn to accept it. To underscore this, he cites several verses from the Qur'ān that mention religious tolerance. 40. This is a rare example of al-Tayyib voicing a critical statement directed at his own faith in an inter-religious debate as where he normally takes a more defensive stance. In intra-faith discussions however he tries to make Muslims aware of their weaknesses.

Al-Tayyib aims to foster understanding between different religions, especially between Islam and Christianity, and cooperation between different cultures by supporting exchange. He applauded the Chinese Ministry of Religious Affairs' attempt to promote scientific and cultural cooperation41. and supports exchange with Western students42.. The inter-religious relationship inside Egypt is also a matter of concern for him. He appreciates the work of Arab-West-Report43. and takes part in interreligious meetings like the iftār-parties organized by Pope Shenouda44..

He is also committed to interreligious dialogue at an international level: He encourages Azhar scholars to take part in interfaith conferences46. and does so himself. Speaking at these meetings, he emphasizes the peaceful nature of Islam and the Muslim view that all three heavenly religions relate to one God and therefore the acceptance of others is included in Islamic religious principles. However, he always argues from an Islamic point of view and does not attempt to see the world through the eyes of other non-Muslims. Thus he also focuses on the defense of Islam, however in a comprehensive and calm manner. He strives to represent Islam in the best possible light, talking about it in a very positive way and accordingly does not mention its weaknesses and thus lacks a certain amount of self-criticism. Furthermore he does not distinguish between Islam as the religion and Muslims as the people sometimes practicing it in a way which does not conform to Islam in its essence. 47.

Concerning intra-Islamic relations, al-Tayyib holds that the shīc.ah are just as Muslim as the sunnī. 48.

Nushin Atmaca, July 2007.

Additional Information on Other Issues

1 based on http://www.arabtext.ch/lichter-des-islam/CV_Tayyeb_EN.pdf.
2 AWR 2003, 40, art. 10.
3 RNSAW 2002, 11, art. 6.
4 RNSAW 2002, 11, art. 7.
5 RNSAW 2002, 14, art. 3.
6 AWR 2006, 49, art. 47.
7 RNSAW 2002, 15, art. 2.
8 AWR 2006, 49, art. 47.
9 AWR 2007, 1, art. 4.
10 AWR 2006, 49, art. 47.
11 AWR 2006, 48, art. 45.
12 RNSAW 2002, 14, art. 3.
13 AWR 2003, 9, art. 21.
14 AWR 2004, 38, 23.
15 AWR 2005, 15, art.7; AWR 2005, 13, art. 27.
16 RNSAW 2002, 52, art. 5.
17 AWR 2006, 49, art. 47.
18 AWR 2006, 49, art. 27.
19 RNSAW 2002, 15, art. 15.
20 AWR 2002, 12, art. 3.
21 RNSAW 2002, 28, art. 5.
22 AWR 2006, 50, 7.
23 AWR 2006, 50, 14.
24 AWR 2006, 20, art. 13.
25 AWR 2006, 45, art. 14.
26 AWR 2006, 45, art. 14.
27 AWR 2006, 46, art, 7.
28 AWR 2006, 48, art. 7; AWR 2006, 49, art. 11.
29 AWR 2003, 29, art. 8.
30 AWR 2006, 26, art. 30.
31 AWR 2002, 21, art. 10.
32 AWR 2005, 13, art.27.
33 AWR 2002, 21, art. 10.
34 AWR 2002, 36, art. 2.
35 AWR 2003, 15, art. 9.
36 AWR 2005, 34, art. 21.
37 AWR 2005, 32, art. 8; AWR 2005, 34, art. 21.
38 AWR 2007, 8, art. 63.
39 AWR 2007, 1, art. 11.
40 AWR 2007, 2, art. 38.
41 AWR 2005, 9, art. 20.
42 AWR 2007, 8, art. 16.
43 AWR 2004, 51, art.1.
44 AWR 2002, 46, art. 6.
45 AWR 2006, 31, art. 25.
46 AWR 2005, 37, art. 3.
47 cp. his paper: Tolerance in Islam, Islam and other religions, http://www.arabtext.ch/lichter-des-islam/20060615/Tolerance%20in%20Islam.pdf. (checked 22.07.2007.)
48 http://www.jurdab.com/vb/archive/index.php/t-948.html. (checked 22.07.2007)


Biographical material:

other sites:

Further reading


Nushin Atmaca, July 2007.