Mahmoud Shaltout

Egyptian imam (1893-1963)

Mahmoud Shaltout or Mahmud Shaltut (1893–1963) (Arabic: محمود شلتوت) was an Egyptian Islamic jurist and scholar. He was a reformer of al-Azhar, a center of Islamic learning in Cairo. He was the highest religious authority in Egypt during the 1960s. He was received his elementary religious education in Alexandria, Egypt. He then spent many years at al-Azhar University in Cairo. There he rose to become rector of the university. Shaltut was a very active writer on the sharia and on tafsir (explaining texts). Some consider him to be the best example of the intellectual and scholarly project of Imam Muhammad Abduh.

He was born in a farming village in Lower Egypt. Shaltut distinguished himself as a student at the religious institute of Alexandria and later at al-Azhar. He became an instructor of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) at al-Azhar in 1927. The following year, the reform-minded Muhammad Mustafa al-Maraghi was appointed shaykh al-Azhar (rector). Shaltut was one of his best supporters. When al-Maraghi was forced out of office the following year, Shaltut continued pressing for reforms.

Shaltut himself took many progressive stands. He wanted translating of the Quran. He was in favor of re-establishing relations with Shia Muslims. He suggested sending Azhari students to Europe for graduate studies. He wanted to admit women. He also wanted to add scientific and technical studies to al-Azhar. Yet he survived as a reformer within al-Azhar. This was unlike such former Azhari modernists as Taha Hussein, Ali Abd al-Raziq, and Mustafa Abd al-Raziq, who ended up on the outside. Out of favor with King Faruq, Shaltut helped deliver Azhari support to Nasser against the Muslim Brothers.[1]

His views on Shi'ismEdit

In an effort bring together Sunnis and Shiites worldwide, Shaltut issued a fatwa (religious injunction). It recognized (Twelver) Shiite law as a fifth school alongside the four Sunni schools. He recognized the Ja'fari school of law (called Ithna Ashariyya, or the Twelvers, the largest group in Shia Islam) as one of the five mainstream schools of thought in Islam. This was an important achievement in attempting to unite Muslims around the world.

The term "Ja'fari" relates to Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (d. 765). Ja'fari became increasingly used during the twentieth century in the efforts to add Shi'ism as a fifth school of law (madhhab) along with the four established Sunni schools. This led to an interview (and later a fatwa) given by the Shaikh al-Azhar Mahmud Shaltut in 1959. Shaltut went as far as declaring that Muslims are free to attach themselves to any of the five schools.[2][3]

The fatwa of Mahmud Shaltut was published (in 1959) under the title Islam: the religion of unity. It was introduced by two arguments. The historical argument about mutual respect and tolerance between different legal schools of Sunnis as well as the Shi'i school. The other was an argument about the harmful effects of prejudice between Muslim schools of fiqh. It was argued that the spirit of ijtihad had turned into antagonism and they were no longer having discussions. Shaltut feels that all schools of fiqh should be ready to accept from one another. They should accept any idea which follows Islamic principles and that ensures the welfare of family and society. As a first step the Ja'fari school of fiqh was included in the curriculum of al-'Azhar.[4]

His opinion on apostasyEdit

Shaltut is of the opinion that disbelief in Islam (kufr) is itself not a cause for killing the disbeliever. The apostate should not be killed, since the punishment for apostasy is hellfire and the apostate has no penalty in this world. Mahmud Shaltut believes this based on relevant Qur'anic evidence and concludes that apostasy carries no worldly penalty because it speaks only of punishment in the afterlife.[5]


  1. Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt by Donald Malcolm Reid.
  2. R. Brunner, Islamic Ecumenism in the 20th Century: the Azhar and Shiism between Rapprochement and Restraint (Brill, 1996), pp. 289–293.
  3. The Shi'a in Modern South Asia: Religion, History and Politics edited by Justin Jones and Ali Usman Qasmi - Page 182.
  4. Modern Islamic Political Thought by Hamid Enayat.
  5. Towards a Civic Democratic Islamic Discourse II Islam State and Citizenship by M. F. Elshayyal.

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