Egypt’s top Sunni cleric dies aged 81

Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, Grand Imam of al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, dies at the age of 81.

al-Azhar Mosque - جامع الأزهر

Tantawy died on the morning of March 10, 2010 as result of a heart attack during a visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Tantawy died as he was about to board his return flight to Egypt at Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport.

His heart attack came just after he fell whilst boarding the plane. Tantawy had just attended the prize-giving ceremony for the King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam. He was officially pronounced dead at the Amir Sultan hospital.

Tantawy’s death was unexpected and he was described as being in “excellent shape and health” prior to his trip. Egyptian authorities stated that, at his family’s request, he would be buried in Medina in Saudi Arabia, which is also the burial place of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

His burial at the Jannatul Baqee cemetery took place after funeral prayers were held at the Prophet’s Mosque. Tantawy’s deputy, Mohamed Wasel, is expected to take over his duties until President Mubarak appoints a replacement.

Condolences have been sent to the Egyptian government by several national leaders and scholars. These included US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the Mufti of Singapore, Syed Isa Mohd Semai; the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim); King Mohammed VI of Morocco and President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen.

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