According to the annual report issued by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre based in Amman, Jordan on the World's 500 Most Influential Muslims 2017, HH Prof. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, was chosen as the world's most influential Muslim.
The report gives brief sketches of the world's most 50 influential Muslims along with their pictures, confirming that the Grand Imam, who runs the foremost Sunni Islamic university, has the highest scholarly authority for a majority of Sunni Muslims worldwide and his scholarly influence as a leading intellectual of Sunni Islam spans the globe.
The report adds that Al-Tayyeb who belongs to the school of Sunni moderation, presides over the Muslim Council of Elders, established in 2014, which aims at spreading the culture of peace and coexistence all over the world, countering violence and terrorism and replying to the misconceptions about teachings of Islam by relying on Al-Azhar moderate understanding of Islam.
Moreover, the report underscores that "Al-Tayyeb has been active in trying to diffuse the influence of DA’ISH, organizing many initiatives and conferences. He has also tried to improve foreign relations and accepted an invitation to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican in May 2016".
Al-Tayyeb, the report points out, was the object of Muslim Brotherhood hostility precisely because of his defence of traditional Islam, including its spiritual (Sufi) dimension, in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood’s effort to transform Islam from a religion into a power seeking religious ideology.
It further adds that Sheikh Tayyeb has emphasized his mission to promote traditional Islam since becoming Grand Sheikh. He has stressed the importance of teaching students about Islamic heritage – considering al-Azhar graduates as ambassadors of Islam to the world. In an age where the claimants to authoritative Islam seem to be on every corner, Sheikh Tayyeb has both the institute and the personal skills to authentically claim to be a representative of traditional Islam, as practiced by the majority of Muslims throughout the ages.
The report adds also that Sheikh Tayyeb leads the second-oldest university in the world, where teaching has continued without interruption since 975 CE and that Al-Azhar represents the centre of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. It is the key institution that issues authoritative religious rulings and has provided extensive Islamic education to Egyptian and international students since its inception over a millennium ago. This history makes it a bastion of Sunni traditionalism. The graduates of Al-Azhar, confirms the report, have great respect as religious leaders within the Muslim community, and this makes the head of al-Azhar an extraordinarily powerful and influential person.
The report cites one of Al-Tayyeb's most famous statements which states: "The unity between Muslims and Coptic Christians of Egypt is something of absolute importance."
'The world's 500 Most Influential Muslims' is an annual report published for the first time in 2009 for choosing the 500 most influential Muslims all over the world. The report is published by the Royal Islamic and Strategic studies Center affiliated to the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, an Islamic institution based in Amman, Jordan. The report aims at introducing the names of the influential Muslims all over the Muslim world to the wider audience by choosing them at all fields such as politics, religion, woman, and media.
The criteria of choosing the most influential figures depend on the extent of the positive impact they achieve in their communities or even for improving the image of Islam in the minds of non-Muslims. Choosing the influential Muslims is not restricted to the religious domain only, but it extends also to include those who immensely contribute to the cultural, intellectual, financial, political, etc. fields in the Muslim world.