The Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mosque and University is considered Sunni Islam’s highest authority in jurisprudence.
The Grand Imam can issue fatwas or rulings over worldly issues from a religious standpoint where there is disagreement among scholars.
However, Al Azhar’s leader is no longer appointed by the president and is instead elected by an institutional committee.
Based in Egypt’s capital, Cairo, Al Azhar is the most prestigious educational facility for those who enter the field of Islamic jurisprudence and learning. Al Azhar and its network of 9,000 schools across Egypt is attended by two million students.
One of the world’s oldest universities, Al Azhar was re-established during President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s reign when non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum in 1961 transforming it from an Islamic learning facility, to a fully fledged university.
In 2013, Azhar also made reforms to its curriculum, moving away from outdated passages towards teachings that are more compatible with the modern age.
“Sharia allows for rulings that are no longer applicable to the modern age to be reviewed to make it more suitable for this age,” the university’s deputy head Abbas Shuman said at the time.
Sheikh El Tayeb was the president of Al Azhar for seven years before his appointment and taught in Saudi, Qatari and Emirati universities. Born in 1946, Sheikh El Tayeb is from Luxor and was himself a student at Al Azhar University from 1971.
Through interviews, Sheikh El Tayeb stood against political Islam in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood and backed the military coup which ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
He also validated women’s ability to take on leadership positions in the corporate world and field of religion as well as their right to travel without a guardian where it is safe to do so.
In a May tweet, Sheikh El Tayeb opposed the obstruction of marriage by guardians “without adequate reasons”.
In his capacity as Grand Imam, Sheikh El Tayeb is consulted on political matters and represents the Muslim world at certain events. He co-signed the 2019 Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together with Pope Francis in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, which was the basis for the interfaith Abrahamic Family House set to open in 2022.