CAIRO: In his first televised interview as the new Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb addressed controversial issues such as the niqab, religious programs on satellite channels and the overall role of the institution.
With regards to niqab, I will handle the issue through education, El-Tayeb said on Sunday in an interview with “Masr Enaharda, a new nightly talk show on Channel 2 that replaced the popular “El-Beit Beitak.
He explained that he will not tackle the issue sharply, but will instead deal with the ideology through education. El-Tayeb stressed that niqab is not a religious obligation but rather a tradition handed down from older generations.
Concerning the Al-Azhar institution, El-Tayeb said, “There is no doubt that the role of Al-Azhar [has] deteriorated over the past decades.
It all started when Egypt adopted socialism in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he said, followed by the Gulf boom and the ensuing deluge of petro-dollars that helped facilitate the flow of certain religious ideas.
At the same time, he praised the institution, saying that “it is the only educational institution on earth that has survived for 1,000 years.
El-Tayeb, who had been the president of Al-Azhar University since 2003, was appointed the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar after the death of Sheikh Mohamed Tantawy on March 10.
El-Tayeb also held the post of Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the country s most senior Islamic scholar, from 2002 to 2003.
In the interview El-Tayeb also called for pulling the plug on religious programs broadcast on satellite channels.
Those programs distort the realities of Islam, he said, adding that they are more interested in ratings than in presenting Islam.
Meanwhile, he said, Al-Azhar’s clerics deal with the youth in a traditional way unsuitable for today s generation who are more “action-oriented, which is why most of the younger generations prefer television programs.
He accused such program presenters of “performing, especially when they cry on screen.
I reject their words about heaven and hell and the grave, and I intend to hold meetings to educate young people, he said.
El-Tayeb also said he refuses to attend any conference that will host Israelis – but not Jews – stressing that he refuses to visit Jerusalem as long as it is under occupation.
Although El-Tayeb said that he is not against Al-Azhar students organizing demonstrations, he emphasized that he is against injecting political ideologies into the university.
Asked about whether his new position conflicts with his current his membership in the policies committee of the National Democratic Party, he denied that the two are mutually exclusive.
It is not expected that the Grand Sheikh – or any other government official – to oppose the regime, he said.