Al-Azhar Grand Imams

Al-Azhar Mosque/Al-Azhar Grand Imams
Al-Azhar Grand Imams

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Maḥmoud Shaltout (1378 AH/1958 CE-1383 AH/1963 CE)

Maḥmoud Muḥammad Shaltout

Office assumption date

1378 AH/1958 CE.

Retirement date

1383 AH/1963 CE.


The First Egyptian Republic (1952-2011) CE.

A Note about the Grand Imam

     Grand Imam Maḥmoud Muḥammad Shaltout was born in Minyat Banī Manṣour, Al-Buḥaira Governorate, Egypt, on Shawwāl 6, 1310 AH/April 23, 1893 CE. Following the steps of Grand Imam Muḥammad Mouṣṭafā Al-Marāghī who played a leading role in reforming Al-Azhar, Sheikh Shaltout paid special attention to such goal. He was also concerned with rapprochement between the Islamic Schools of jurisprudence and unity among the Muslims. He continued to be promoted in positions till he was appointed as Al-Azhar Grand Imam in 1378 AH/1958 CE. During his tenure, Law No. 103 (concerning organizing Al-Azhar) was promulgated in 1961. He had a distinguished scholarly production and participated in a number of radio interviews.

Brief Biographical Notes

     Grand Imam Maḥmoud Shaltout was known for his intellectual excellence since his childhood when he joined the Alexandria Azhari Institute. After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree, he was appointed as a teacher at the Alexandria Azhari Institute in early 1337 AH/1919 CE.  In that institute, in the scholarly community, and via the press, he pursued his scholarly activities in all religious disciplines. He called for the necessity for Al-Azhar reform and independency.

     When the 1919 Egyptian Revolution broke out, Sheikh Shaltout fulfilled his required religious and national duties. He participated in the Revolution with his writings, speeches and his well-known boldness. When Al-Marāghī assumed his office as Grand Imam on Dhul-Ḥijjah 2, 1346 AH/May 22, 1928 CE, he wanted to benefit from Shaltout’s talents and wide knowledge; thus, he promoted him to teach at Al-Azhar University. Thereafter, Sheikh Shaltout was promoted to teach Islamic jurisprudence at the specialized departments, the case which was considered the highest level of teaching at Al-Azhar then.

     Sheikh Maḥmoud Shaltout was among those who called for Al-Azhar reform. Such call was also adopted by many Azhari scholars. However, it was opposed by King Fuˀād and a portion of Al-Azhar officials at that time. This led Grand Imam Al-Marāghī to submit his resignation on Jumādā Al-ˀŪlā 7, 1349 AH/October 10, 1929 CE.  Al-Marāghī was succeeded by Imam Muḥammad Al-Aḥmadī Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī who adopted careful gradual solutions, considering circumstances, and seeking mutual understanding with the political rulers concerning the reform process. As a result, many scholars and students protested against him, but he reacted to them with intensity and violence; thus, he dismissed Sheikh Shaltout together with more than seventy Azhari top scholars on September 17, 1931. After Sheikh Shaltout’s return to Al-Azhar, he resumed his reform activities. He continued to be promoted in positions until he assumed Al-Azhar Grand Imam’s position in 1378 AH/1958 CE. During his tenure, Law No. 103 was promulgated in 1961. He was known for his keenness to protect the dignity of Al-Azhar and its scholars.

     Grand Imam Shaltout continued to defend Al-Azhar until he fell severely sick and required a surgery. Although the surgery was completed successfully, his destined life span came to an end. He passed on to his Lord on Friday evening, Rajab 27, 1383 AH/December 13, 1963 CE. His funeral prayer was held in Al-Azhar Mosque in a well-attended scene, with the presence of thousands of people who recognized his efforts in reforming Al-Azhar and its administration.

Notable Contributions and Events

• Shaltout was the first to hold the title 'Grand Imam' at Al-Azhar.

• He made efforts to bridge the gaps among the Islamic schools of jurisprudence.

• He was appreciated by both the Muslim and Christian worlds; thus, four countries awarded him honorary doctorates, namely:

  • Mīdān University, Indonesia.
  • Jakarta University.
  • Chile Academy.
  • Honorary Professorship from the Cameroonian government.


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