CAIRO - A draft bill proposing reform of Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, by defining the age of appointment and retirement of scholars is facing opposition from young preachers.
The retirement age for the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar cannot be 80. This does not conform to divine norms, Rabei Marzouq, a 36-year-old Cairo-based preacher, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
"When a person gets older, he does not maintain the same concentration span. He loses the ability to administer matters."
A bill has been proposed to define the age of appointment and retirement of Al-Azhar scholars.
The bill states that a potential candidate should be known for his piety, hold a PhD, be well-published and at least 60 years old.
It includes suggestions to re-instate the Senior Scholars Authority to elect the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, replacing a 1961 law by late Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser, which stated that the Grand Imam should be appointed by the Egyptian President.
The proposed bill also includes a clause setting a retirement age for the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.
The bill sets the age of retirement for the Grand Imam at 80, though incumbent Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb has suggested setting the age at 70.
But this has provoked anger from some Al-Azhar scholars, who said that the move is meant to facilitate the nomination of members Islamic Research Academy, the authority that issues fatwas, to the new body.
They make laws that suit them exactly as [toppled President Hosni] Mubarak did when he amended [the constitution] to cede his place to his son, said Marzouq, adding that the minimum age should go down to 45.
Some scholars argue that barring younger generations from taking Al-Azhar's top posts undermines efforts to reform the authority.
Al-Azhar can become powerful when its children are invited to give their opinion on how to achieve renaissance, said Marzouq.
But having a shelter for the elderly come to us with a law is no different from what Nasser did in 1961.
Marzouq's Coalition of Revered Al-Azhar Pundits has proposed a six-page bill to revamp the religious authority.
In addition to stressing the need to revive the Islamic Scholars Authority, the proposal holds that all endowments should be brought back under Al-Azhar's control, not under the Ministry of Religious Endowments.
It also suggests that the ministry should cede control of nearly 110,000 mosques to Al-Azhar to ensure the independence of their religious discourse from government meddling.
Moreover, it calls for bringing Dar al-Ifta (Fatwa House), which issues religious fatwas under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, under Al-Azhar's control.
But the proposal is opposed by Al-Azhar members.
Al-Azhar has a lot of responsibilities in different social, political and religious realms. We cannot overload it with the endowments and Dar-al-Iftaa, said Mohamed Raafat Othman, who has been part of the Islamic Research Academy for over ten years.
We should be seeking decentralization in administration, he added.
Established in 359 AH (971 CE), Al-Azhar mosque drew scholars from across the Muslim world and grew into a university, predating similar developments at Oxford University in London by more than a century.
Al-Azhar, which means the "most flourishing and resplendent," was named after Fatima Al-Zahraa, daughter of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
The first courses at Al-Azhar were given in 975 CE and the first college was built 13 years later.
Al-Azhar first admitted women students in 1961, albeit in separate classes.Also in 1961, subjects in engineering and medicine were added to course on Shari`ah, the Noble Qur'an and the intricacies of Arabic language.