Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Sheikh Muhammed Sayed Tantawi

Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi

Dr. Mozammel Haque

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, a prominent voice of the Islamic world and the Head of Al-Azhar University, at the Masjid al-Haram, Makkah, in front of the Maqam-e-Ibrahim, at the Tawaf area, two/three times. It was specially when he used to come to Saudi Arabia on the occasion of the King Faisal Award-giving ceremony in Riyadh.

Now again, he came to Saudi Arabia on last Tuesday to participate in the award-giving ceremony of the King Faisal International Prize. On his way back to Cairo, while boarding an early morning flight he suffered severe pain and fell on the stairs. He was rushed to the Amir Sultan Hospital in Riyadh where doctors pronounced him dead, Inna Lillahe wa innah elaihe razeyoun.) He was 81. Tantawi’s burial took place in Jannatul Baqee cemetery in Madinah after funeral prayers at the Prophet’s Mosque.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and Minister of Defence and Aviation of Saudi Arabia, sent messages of condolences to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the death of Tantawi. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh also expressed his deep sorrow at the demise of the Egyptian scholar.

Several heads of government, leaders, scholars and Islamic workers from across the world have sent their condolences to the Egyptian government.

“Sheikh Tantawi, who was currently serving as chairman of the International Islamic Council of Dawah and Relief (IICDR), will always be remembered as a warrior for Islamic causes and for his reconciliatory approaches on issues of different religions and practices,” said IICDR’s Secretary General Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, who had been working with Tantawi for the last several years.

Dr. Naseef, who also served as Deputy Chief of the Shoura Council of Saudi Arabia, said that Tantawi’s death “was a shock as he was in better health” despite his old age. He said that Tantawi had taken a keen interest in the affairs of the IICDR, an international body representing 86 major Islamic organizations from across the world.

“The Islamic rulings (Fatwas) of Sheikh Tantawi, which at times were dubbed as controversial, carried great influence across the world and particularly in Egypt,” he said.

Sheikh Tantawi was born on 28 October 1928, in the village of Selim El-Sharqia in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Suhag. He went from the village at his youth to a religious institution in Alexandria and studied and memorised the Holy Qur’an in Alexandria and from there, he entered Al-Azhar University, graduating from the Faculty of Religious Studies in 1958. He went on to teach. In 1966, Tantawi was awarded PhD in Hadith (the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Islam’s second source after the Qur’an itself) and Tafsir, interpretation of the Holy Qur’an. He completed his own massive exegesis of the Qur’an, and this art of interpreting the Holy Book and fundamental juridical sources has remained his specialty.

By 1980, Tantawi was the head of the Tafsir department of the Islamic University of Madinah, in Saudi Arabia, a position he was hold until 1984.

In 1986, Sheikh Tantawi became Grand Mufti of Egypt and he held this position for almost 10 years, until he joined Al-Azhar in 1996. Tantawi used his position as Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University to defend traditional interpretations of Islam against challenges from radical groups such as the Taleban and Al-Qaeda.

Since 1996, Tantawi served as Sheikh of Al-Azhar University and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque. He was the leader of the most prestigious institution of Islamic learning in the world of Sunni Islam.

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