White House marks death of top Sunni cleric

WASHINGTON- The White House on Wednesday offered its condolences following the death of Sunni Islam's top cleric, who last year hosted President Barack Obama's landmark speech to the Muslim world.
Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, 81, died of a heart attack earlier Wednesday in Saudi Arabia.
"We express our deepest condolences on the passing of Egyptian cleric Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in a statement.

Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi in 2006 (AFP/File/Khaled Desouki)
Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi in 2006 (AFP/File/Khaled Desouki)
"As the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar University, he was a voice for faith and tolerance who was widely respected in Muslim communities in Egypt and around the globe, and by many who seek to build a world grounded in mutual respect." Sheikh Tantawi graciously hosted President Obama last June in Cairo, and we remember well his hospitality. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who mourn him on this day."
In his Cairo speech on June 4, 2009, Obama vowed to forge a "new beginning" for Islam and America in an address to the world's Muslims that promised to purge years of "suspicion and discord."
He also laid out a new blueprint for US Middle East policy, pledging to end mistrust, forge a state for Palestinians and defuse a nuclear showdown with Iran. Neither of the last two goals have yet been achieved.
Tantawi was appointed head of Al-Azhar, the 10th century university that has trained the majority of Sunni Muslim clerics, in 1996.
The State Department meanwhile called Tantawi "an important voice for dialogue among religions and communities" as it offered its condolences to the imam's family and friends as well as his many students around the world.

Thursday, March 11th 2010

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