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Egyptian Muslim leader, Vatican's partner in dialogue, dies at 81

Catholic World News - March 10, 2010

Sheik Mohammend Sayyed Tantawi, the head of Egypt’s Al Azhar University and the most prominent cleric in the Sunni Muslim world, has died suddenly of a heart attack while visiting Saudi Arabia. He was 81 years old.

Sheik Tantawi, who was appointed to his leadership post by Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, was a lightning-rod for controversy in the Islamic world because of his public stance against terrorism and his insistence that Muslims should respect the dignity of women.

The Egyptian cleric had welcomed Pope John Paul II to Al Azhar in 2000 during the late Pope's trip to Egypt. Later he joined with the Vatican to set up a Catholic-Islamic dialogue commission, which has issued several statements condemning the exploitation of religious beliefs to encourage violence.

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