Dr Nahla Al Saeedy confirmed her appointment as the Imam’s adviser on expatriate affairs in a Facebook post on Monday.
She becomes the first woman to hold an advisory position to the Grand Imam in Al Azhar’s 1,000-year history.
Ms Al Saeedy previously held two positions at Al Azhar; Dean of the College of Islamic Sciences for Expats and Head of the International Student Education Development Centre.
She made the talk show rounds on Monday night following her historic appointment. During a phone-in with the TV channel CBC she described her appointment as a responsibility and an honour of which she was very proud.
“Through this decision, the sheikh underscored his appreciation of the role women play in Al Azhar’s work. This appreciation is something Al Azhar’s women have grown accustomed to under the sheikh’s leadership,” she said.
She said her appointment comes as part of a 10-year strategy by Al Azhar, which is running in tandem with the Egyptian government’s Vision 2030 plan to update many of the country’s sectors to make them more effective, sustainable and reflective of the Sisi administration’s modernisation scheme.
Ms Al Saeedy said Al Azhar’s role in the country’s future would be instrumental as it is the main disseminator of Islam’s values and the correct use of the Arabic language in Egypt.
She lauded the institution’s moderateness during the phone-in.
Backlash over clerics' comments
Though it has generally been considered a moderate Islamic institution, Al Azhar has received some criticism over the past few years following its commentary on some of the country’s most high-profile cases.
The Grand Imam was condemned by women’s rights groups and activists over his claim in a 2019 televised interview that “equality between men and women goes against nature”, and that in some cases husbands are permitted to beat their wives under Islamic law.
The institution was again lambasted online in 2020 when a wave of arrests of female content creators made national headlines, with commentary from Al Azhar clerics described as “misogynistic” at the time.
Al Azhar’s upholding of “Egyptian family values” in its commentary on the trials of the content creators — since referred to as the “TikTok trials” — was also criticised by rights groups.
In June, Al Azhar again came under fire for comments on the murder of 21-year-old university student Nayera Ashraf, who was stabbed to death in the agricultural province of Mansoura by a suitor whose advances she had repeatedly rejected.
One cleric, Mabrouk Attia, was sued in July by Egypt’s National Council for Women, over his comment that Ashraf’s clothing choices had played a role in her gruesome murder.