CAIRO: The head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, one of the world’s leading Islamic seats of learning, has been replaced after labeling a controversial Muslim reformer an apostate, the institution said. The development came as Al-Azhar is pressured by critics who say the venerable Sunni authority has not done enough to counter Islamist extremism.
Ahmed Hosni Taha, the acting university president, had been forced to apologize Thursday after saying reformer Islam al-Behery was an “apostate” for attacking some of the founding scholars of Islamic law. His apology was followed by a statement Friday from Al-Azhar saying Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, who heads the institution that runs the university, had replaced Taha.
Taha had made the remarks about Behery during a television interview.
“My response ... was incorrect and it contradicts the way of Al-Azhar,” Taha said in an apology posted on the university’s website.
Behery was a talk show host who had infuriated Al-Azhar’s traditional clergy with attacks on canonical religious books and some of Islam’s most important scholars. He was sentenced to a year in prison for “insulting religion” and released in late 2016 in a presidential pardon.
Al-Azhar last month played host to Pope Francis, who visited Cairo to improve relations between Catholics and Muslims.