Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb (Reuters)
Egypt's Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb has appointed Mohamed Hussein El-Mahrsawy, the dean of the Arabic language faculty, as acting president of Azhar University, starting Saturday, following the resignation of Ahmed Hosny who stirred controversy with remarks on Islamic researcher Islam El-Behery.
Sources in Azhar University explained to the MENA news agency that Hosny resigned Thursday after he was criticised for describing El-Behery, who is known for controversial interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence and calls for "renewal of religious discourse," as an apostate.
Hosny had issued an apology Wednesday, saying the opinions he publicly expressed on El-Behery were personal and did not represent the official positions of Al-Azhar, stressing he believes no Muslim can be considered as an apostate unless he renounces Islam.
In his statement of apology, Hosny said he believes that only the judiciary is entitled to rule on people's actions.
Al-Azhar sources stressed to MENA that Al-Azhar, the highest seat of Sunni Islam, is a moderate institution that rejects actions by any of its members that violate the body's official stances.
Al-Azhar has repeatedly rejected calls by some to pronounce some Muslims non-believers, as long as they publicly adhere to the basic tenets of the religion despite its condemnation of some of their actions.
El-Behery stirred controversy in the past two years by criticising on his TV show on Al-Qahera wa Al-Nas the reliance of some Sunni scholars on certain historiographic sources of the Prophet Muhammad's sayings, which he claimed were not credible.
Al-Azhar, which has refrained from filing lawsuits against critics, demanded media authorities suspend El-Behery's the show, charging he conducted a "fierce campaign" against the foundations of Islam.
Following a lawsuit against El-Behery that was brought by private citizens, the Islamic researcher received a one year prison sentence in December 2015 for “contempt of religion” in connection with the content of his now-suspended TV programme, but was pardoned by a presidential decree one month before his sentence ended in November 2016.