Following are excerpts from interviews with the Sheik of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on April 2, 2010 and on BBB Arabic TV on April 5, 2010:
Interviewer: With regard to the new fatwas on women's issues – every day, we hear such fatwas, like allowing women to lead men in prayer. Where were these fatwas all this time, and why are they being issued now?
Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb: These fatwas on women's issues were not issued by Al-Azhar. There is not a single Al-Azhar scholar who claims that it is permissible for women to lead men in prayer. Al-Azhar has always taught that women cannot lead men in prayer, but there is nothing wrong with leading women in prayer. These things are meant to cause confusion, and to undermine social and religious stability in Islamic societies.
We are against normalization of relations [with Israel]. We have declared, live on TV, that we oppose this normalization, and that we are against people visiting Jerusalem under Israeli colonialism. This is the position of Al-Azhar. We are independent.
I think it is important to allow [Iranian students] to study at Al-Azhar, so that they will get to know the Sunni doctrine. The only thing I am against is Shiite proselytizing in Sunni countries. I oppose this categorically. I am against proselytizing. I am against the formation of Shiite cells among the Sunni youth, in Egypt or elsewhere.
Interviewer: Don't you think that the Shiite students who come from Iran might have a political agenda, rather than the desire to strengthen ties?
Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb: We will be vigilant about this, of course. We will neutralize any political agenda of the Shiite students. On this we are in agreement with many Shiite scholars in Iran. Just as they reject any Sunni attempt to convert Shiite youth to the Sunni denomination, we have the same right, and we must exercise it.
There is rapprochement in the theological aspect, but if traps are set for the Sunni youth, so that they will convert to Shia, and form a Shiite center, which will lead to fighting... This has nothing to do with Islam or with ideological matters. This is a purely political matter.
BBC Arabic TV:
Interviewer: Sheik Al-Qaradhawi has warned against a Shiitization campaign in Sunni societies. Do you share his fears?
Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb: Yes, absolutely. I have identified a plan or movement not toward Shiite-Sunni rapprochement, but toward the Shiitization of Sunni youth. Just as I would not accept a campaign in Tehran of Najaf to make Shiite youth convert to the Sunni doctrine, I will never agree to a similar Shiite campaign in any Sunni country.
For a non-Muslim to rule a country with a Muslim majority is illogical and unacceptable, in terms of religion, as well as democracy. Otherwise, you should let me make a Muslim the ruler of Britain. Would you accept such a thing?
Interviewer: Since you believe in democracy – what if a Copt presents his candidacy?
Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb: Sir, presenting candidacy is open [to everyone], within certain constraints. Nobody is preventing anyone from doing so. But if you are talking about a member of a minority ruling a country, bring a member of your Muslim minority, and make him or her British PM, Queen of England, or U.S. President. If this seems conceivable to you – you can ask me these questions when you have done this.