On March 19, 2010, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appointed Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Muhammad Ahmad Al-Tayyeb as head of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious institution. Sheikh Al-Tayyeb succeeds Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, who passed away on March 10.
In 2004, Sheikh Al-Tayyeb was criticized in the U.S. Congress by the Egyptian Counterterrorism and Political Reform Act, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). The bill included numerous examples of objectionable statements and actions by Egyptian officials, many of them translated and provided by MEMRI. One example cited in the bill is of Sheikh Al-Tayyeb's call for "martyrdom attacks" by Palestinians against Israel.
In 2003, Sheikh Al-Tayyeb forbade Muslims from assisting U.S. military in operations against Muslim countries, and also called for "martyrdom" attacks against Israel, saying: "Martyrdom operations, in which the Palestinians blow up targets of the Israeli occupation, are actions that are 100% permitted according to Islamic religious law, and it is forbidden to facilitate [the American forces'] attack of a Muslim country... Any attempt to invade Iraq is forbidden by Islamic religious law and by morality, and Islam forbids it, and even commands its believers to resist attempts at invasion and occupation. Islam is against striking any Arab or Islamic city, whether it be Baghdad or in Palestine."
The following are excerpts from an extensive 2002 interview that Sheikh Al-Tayyeb gave to the Egyptian Islamic website www.lailatalqadr.com, from the MEMRI archives. Following that are excerpts from an interview he gave to Nile News TV on May 25, 2007, also from the MEMRI TV archives.
Egypt's Mufti: We Condemned the September 11 Attacks, But Since Then Our Feelings Have Changed
Our Feelings Have Changed Regarding September 11
Q: "Is what happened on September 11 in the U.S. a kind of terror?"
Mufti Al-Tayyeb: "All the Muslims, and the Arab world, rejected and condemned the event, because they wouldn't want it to happen to them, so they don't want it to happen to others. We say this because Islam prohibits such attacks on peaceful civilians. But the truth is that our feelings have changed somewhat, or considerably, because we have discovered that the American administration used this event [i.e. September 11] as a pretext to cause damage, killing, and exile throughout the entire Islamic world - and I refer primarily to Afghanistan and Palestine. Today, we still read in the Western [newspapers] that the perpetrator [of the September 11 attacks] cannot be determined with certainty, yet it was claimed from the first moment that Osama bin Laden was responsible!"
Israelis Might Have Done It
"Several days ago, we saw on television a group of Israelis deported from America because they had filmed the event - that is, they knew it was going to happen. I am not saying that the event was perpetrated by the Jews, the Muslims, or anyone else; these are things we do not know. But if it is not easy to determine who carried out the deed, how is it that the Afghan people was destroyed because of an accusation that is as yet unproven?
"…The U.S. used these events as a pretext and an excuse to destroy the Islamic world and to accuse Islam of being a religion of terror and extremism. It destroyed Afghanistan and is now occupying the land of Palestine, killing the people and massacring the children, because of these false charges."
"It is the Palestinians' Right to Blow Up whatever They Want"
Q: "You said that what happened on September 11 was a crime. Aren't the Palestinians doing the same thing?"
Mufti Al-Tayyeb: "No. The situation is completely different. What the Palestinians are doing is self-defense, defense of their religion and their homeland. They are responding to the killing and to a barbaric enemy. This situation is different than what happened in America."
Q: "Does this mean that killing Israeli civilians is permitted according to Islamic law?"
Mufti Al-Tayyeb: "I will tell you: If Israel existed within its borders and was not occupying the West Bank, and the Palestinians were entering, destroying, and killing Israelis - I would tell you that this was forbidden. But if Israel is the aggressor and the American government is behind it, and the West stands by observing, it is the Palestinians' right to blow up whatever they want. I ask [the French]: If, say, Germany were to again attack France and occupy your land, would they refrain from resisting?"
On The 'Clash of Civilizations'
Q: "In the West, the term 'Clash of Civilizations' emerged when the Westerners noticed that they were being accused by the Islamic world of being corrupt and having no values. What do you make of this?"
Mufti Al-Tayyeb: "Western civilization is different than Eastern civilization, primarily in its attitude towards religion, which is divine inspiration. For us in the East, religion is sacred, and is the apex of honor in the pyramid. In contrast, in the West - as I saw when I was in France for a time - society is not interested in religion. Even if there are religious people, it is a society with a particular position on religion, a secular society. Yet this does not mean that we do not respect Western civilization. On the contrary - we absolutely respect and value it. We also think that the Muslims helped create it during the Middle Ages - though the West denies it. However, the problem arises when the West tries to impose its civilization on us. Then the clash breaks out.
"I'll give you an example. Several foreign elements maintain that sexual perversion [i.e. homosexuality] is justified. We think that it is forbidden. If these elements wish to impose this on us, under the banner of human rights, we are opposed. The West is entitled to our respect for its culture and its civilization, if we are in its country… By the same token, we too are entitled to the West's acknowledgement of our religion-based civilization, without its attempting, every so often, to sow among us certain elements that conflict with the religion… There are many good elements in Western civilization, but we are not required to accept everything it brings…"
On Freedom, Women's Rights, and Art
Q: "What is your position on the following issues: individual freedom, equality between man and woman, general moral freedom, state intervention in the affairs of the individual within his home, and literature and the cinema?"
Mufti Al-Tayyeb: "This brings us back to the previous question, and to the answer about the difference between Western and Eastern civilization in all things regarding religion. If the Western man, say, wants to satisfy his lusts and passions, he is not restricted by religion, whether in sex, food, or drink. No prohibitions apply. In contrast, we in the East are restricted by religion in all of our ways of behavior…
"With regard to equality between man and woman, Islam demands certain things of both, whether in marriage or in life in general. Therefore, perhaps, it is claimed that the Western woman is more liberated than the Eastern woman. But the truth is that in our [society] there is equality between man and woman, except in a few matters concerning inheritance. A very few matters. There are many matters in which the woman is comparable to the man, and even gets more than him… The man is fully responsible for the woman. As the Prophet said: 'Women are the sisters of men.' Moreover, we maintain that the Muslim woman is more indulged than the man. It must be remembered that Islam liberated the woman 14 centuries ago, giving her rights that Western women received only in the 19th century.
"With regard to the arts, Islam has a single goal, and that is to serve the peace-seeking human nature. Anything that actualizes this is welcomed. The problem is that there are arts that reduce man's honor, and these Islam rejects. I refer to cinema, theater, and other arts…"
Ahmad Al-Tayyeb Explains Wife Beating in Islam
(To view this clip on MEMRI TV, visit http://www.memri.org/legacy/clip/1478.)
Ahmad Al-Tayyeb: "With regard to wife beating... In a nutshell, it appeared as part of a program to reform the wife. [According to the Koran], first 'admonish them,' [then] 'sleep in separate beds, and beat them.'"
Interviewer: "I think we must stress that this pertains to a rebellious woman..."
Ahmad Al-Tayyeb: "Of course. It's not that anybody can start beating as he sees fit. [Westerners] who claim this are talking about an Islam which is a figment of their imagination. They are villains because they know there's no such thing in Islam, and they want to pin this interpretation on it. Why? Because Islamic culture is the only culture that is spreading, and is viewed with fear by people of other cultures. In any case... This method appeared as part of the treatment of a rebellious wife. I am faced with two options – either the family will be destroyed by divorce, or I can use means that may bring my wife, the mother of my children, back to her senses. The first means is admonishment.
"The second means of treatment is 'sleeping in separate beds.' Why? Because this targets the honor... A lot could be said about this. The strength of a woman lies in her ability to seduce the man. The man is strong and can do whatever he wants, but the woman has a weapon of her own. This weapon can be targeted. Many women will come back to their senses, when they realize that this is what's involved.
"By Allah, even if only one woman out of a million can be reformed by light beatings... It's not really beating, it's more like punching... It's like shoving or poking her. That's what it is."
 MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 402, " Egypt's Mufti: We Condemned the September 11 Attacks, But Since Then Our Feelings Have Changed," July 23, 2002, Egypt's Mufti: We Condemned the September 11 Attacks, But Since Then Our Feelings Have Changed .