Egypt's president named Ahmed el-Tayeb the new grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and Mosque. He takes over from Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, who died of a heart attack last week after heading Al-Azhar for nearly 14 years.
El-Tayeb, who was in his hometown of Luxor in southern Egypt when he received news of his appointment, said he "highly appreciates the great trust" President Hosni Mubarak has bestowed on him, the Middle East News Agency reported.
The Sheik of Al-Azhar oversees an extensive network of Islamic schools, a university and religious institutes that open their doors to Muslims from around the world. he sheik also advises the state on religious matters.
The post has been appointed by presidential decree since 1961 and the institution receives most of its funding from the state, opening up the post to criticism of being too close to the government.
Tayeb is known for his tough stance against the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and most organised opposition group, which remains officially banned despite popular support.
Educated in Egypt and France, el-Tayeb, 64, previously served as Egypt's Mufti, the nation's top religious law expert, for a brief stint before stepping down in 2003 to act as dean of Cairo's Al-Azhar University. He is an expert on religious philosophy and issues of faith, and has written books about science, Marxism, Islamic philosophy, and Islamic culture.
He has spent more than 40 years at the institution, receiving a PhD in religion and philosophy from al-Azhar university in 1977 before becoming a faculty member and then dean of the philosophy department.
Viewed as a moderate Muslim who has encouraged dialogue with Western countries, el-Tayeb has outwardly criticized hard-line Islamists, saying the focus on rituals and outward manifestations of piety - such as Islamic garb or beards - comes at the expense of true spiritual development.