CAIRO – Muslim scholars have chosen a professor of Islamic jurisprudence to become Egypt’s new Mufti, the first time the top religious leader be elected since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
“Dr Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, professor of Islamic law in Tanta University, got the highest number of votes and the matter has been sent to the president to issue his decision,” Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Abdel Karim, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence, was elected on Monday by the newly-formed council of senior scholars.
A panel of Muslim scholars took the decision after “detailed study of the applicants based on scientific legal standards, the adoption of Al-Azhar’s moderate agenda and an estimation of their psychological and moral suitability”, the statement said.
Abdul-Karim will replace Ali Gomaa, who served under Mubarak.
The new mufti is the first ever elected Mufti since the 1952 revolution.
In the past, the position was traditionally filled by top scholars from Al-Azhar, who were generally staunch backers of whoever ruled the country.
“This is the first time Azhar clerics choose an Azhar scholar in balloting,” said Mahmoud Azab, an advisor to Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb.
“This is a new tradition we hope will continue.”
Al-Azhar has sought to position itself as a moderate force above the political fray.
The new mufti’s election came amid media reports that Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Rahman al-Bar had been among the candidates, but he did not make it to a short list of three scholars.
“It seems some council members were sensitive to the strong public resistance to Bar’s nomination, which led them to change their mind,” an official in the mufti’s office told Reuters.
The new mufti, Abdel Karim, is not known to hold any political affiliations.
The runner-up, Attiya al-Sayyid Fayad, has written commentaries for the Brotherhood’s website and was reported to have been a member of the Islamist group on whose ticket President Mohamed won the presidential election in June.
Abdel-Karim will be the country’s 19th Grand Mufti since 1895.
The Grand Mufti has a variety of tasks in Egypt. He reviews and ratifies death sentences issued by courts.
He is also responsible for announcing the dates of the months based on a lunar calendar, which in turn determines when the important Muslim fasting month begins.
In response to citizens’ requests, he issues religious edicts, known as fatwas, and he gives opinions over government policies.