SCAF orders formation of scholars panel to elect Al-Azhar leader

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ordered on Wednesday the formation of an Islamic scholars committee to choose the head of Al-Azhar, state-run Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

The move is in line with amendments the government approved in January to the law concerning the Sunni Islam institution. The law stipulates that its grand sheikh should be elected rather than appointed by the president.

The new committee will include a maximum of 40 Al-Azhar scholars representing the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and the grand sheikh will serve as its chairman.

By law, the Senior Scholars Committee will convene every three months and is responsible for submitting nominations and electing a new grand sheikh when the post is open, as well as using its jurisprudential expertise to rule on controversial religious and social issues facing the Egyptian and Arab Sunni communities.  

The amended law includes standards for selecting committee members and gives Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb the power to appoint the first committee.  

Al-Azhar is considered the most prestigious institute in Sunni Islam. The position of grand sheikh was first created in 1690 (Hijri year 1101), and since then 43 sheikhs have held the post.

After the 1952 revolution, the government decided that Al-Azhar’s role should be diminished and in 1961, it enacted legislation to limit most of the grand sheikh’s powers. Subsequently, the Senior Scholars Authority responsible for electing grand sheikhs was abolished.

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