Egypt’s Al-Azhar university replaces head in apostasy row

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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 Hosni and pending the appointment of a permanent successor.

Hosni caused controversy earlier this year when he said that Christians who are interested in joining Al-Azhar University have to save and memorize the Quran first.

He added that the university is specialized in Islamic related sciences and want to teach students about both Islamic and general sciences."

The ahramonline news site also said Hosni 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.

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