Egypt's controversial Islamic jurist retires

Posted: Friday, April 05, 2002

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- A top Muslim authority, whose rulings sometimes embarrassed the government and fellow theologians, has retired.

Grand Mufti Nasser Farid Wassel, 65, held one of the most important seats in the Islamic world's foremost institute, al-Azhar.

Many of his edicts were overturned by his superior, Al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi. Both men are appointed by the government to issue fatwas (religious edicts) applying Islamic sharia law to real-life situations. Wassel had succeeded Tantawi, who was grand mufti for 10 years before the promotion to grand sheik.

Wassel's fatwas banned smoking, TV quiz shows and beauty pageants.

In politics, he said it was forbidden to provide defense for a man charged with espionage, and he called for a boycott of American products because of U.S. support for Israel. He also said businessmen who trade with Israel were traitors and that visiting Israel was a crime.

However, he urged the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden for trial as a ''religious duty.''

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