Top Al-Azhar scholars on Monday (February 11th) elected Shawqi Ibrahim Abdel Karim Allam as Egypt's 19th Grand Mufti, in a move they say will help propagate moderate Islam.
Allam, who will succeed Ali Gomaa as Grand Mufti, received the majority of votes cast by the 40 members of the Al-Azhar Senior Scholars Authority.
He is the first elected mufti in Egyptian history. Ever since the founding of Dar al-Iftaa, headed by the Grand Mufti, in 1895, the state customarily appointed the senior scholar.
However, after the January 25th Revolution, Al-Azhar bylaws were amended to allow for the mufti's selection via secret ballot by members of the Authority. Following the election, Authority members present the results to the president for his endorsement.
Mufti candidates must be graduates of Al-Azhar University, have served in the institution as professors, have authored jurisprudential and scholarly works, and be under 60 years of age.
Authority member Abdullah al-Husseini described the election as "completely transparent" and said most Authority members have no prior relationship with Allam.
"Allam received the majority of votes because he meets two essential requirements: his views fall in line with Al-Azhar's moderate stance, and he does not have any political or partisan affiliations or inclinations," he said.
The Authority studied all the nominations it received from various Al-Azhar University branches and found Allam has a good reputation, has conducted considerable research on jurisprudence and contemporary issues and their relationship with Islam, and has a strong capacity to absorb the issues of the day with an open mind, al-Husseini said.
Mohammed Raafat Othman, also an Authority member, said the new mufti will have to shoulder heavy tasks, including firmly establishing the principles of moderation that are characteristic of Islam.
Among the challenges he will face is the "chaos of fatwas that have spread throughout Egypt recently and harmed Islam and its tolerant principles", Othman said.
"Dar al-Iftaa is a large institution and has an army of scholars and researchers who are capable of responding to such fatwas or any extremist ideas," he added.
With the new mufti's election, Al-Azhar took an important step towards achieving full independence from the executive authority, according to Mahmoud Ashour, former undersecretary at Al-Azhar.
"Allam's selection is appropriate, as he is known as a moderate thinker who renounces fanaticism, and this will affect how the followers of the various jurisprudential schools come together," he told Al-Shorfa, adding that the new mufti is qualified to do so as he conducted extensive research on fatwas and sharia law.
Allam is taking office under difficult circumstances and amid on-going struggle between moderate and extremist currents, Ashour said.
He said he hopes Dar al-Iftaa will play an important role in propagating moderate Islamic thought, particularly as the new mufti has no discernible political leanings.
The Egyptian Grand Mufti issues fatwas for Muslims in all countries of the world in accordance with Islamic sharia. He supervises Dar al-Iftaa's fatwa secretariat, which comprises a large team of jurisprudence and sharia scholars and researchers.
Dar al-Iftaa also has co-operation protocols with numerous academic bodies and research centres in Egypt that assist in issuing fatwas.