Drama in Top Islamic Institution as Al-Azhar Chief Replaced in Egypt

Ahmed Hosny reportedly labeled researcher Islam El-Behery as an apostate, leading to his removal

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, left at the university's headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, April 26, 2017.
Amr Nabil/AP

The head of Egypt's Al-Azhar university, the 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim learning, has been replaced after describing a leading Islamic researcher as an apostate, official media reports said on Saturday.

Al-Azhar said its Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, had named Mohamed Hussein al-Mahrsawy, dean of the Arabic language faculty, as the university's acting president following the resignation of Ahmed Hosny and pending the appointment of a permanent successor.

The ahramonline news site said Hosny had quit after being criticized for describing researcher Islam El-Behery, known for controversial interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence, as an apostate.

The shake-up comes as the university, one of the most prominent Sunni academic institutions, faces criticism from Egypt's parliament and sections of the media, who say its clerics have resisted pressure to modernize their religious discourse to help the fight against extremism.

Al-Azhar last month played host to Pope Francis, who visited Cairo to improve relations between Catholics and Muslims.