By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst
For some, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the head of Sunni Islam's most prestigious seat of learning, was a bravely outspoken liberal; for others, a mouthpiece of the Egyptian state.
Sheikh Tantawi, who has died of a heart attack at the age of 81 while on a trip to Saudi Arabia, was not afraid of controversy.
Since his appointment in 1996 as head of al-Azhar - Egypt's 1,000-year-old mosque and university - he sparked almost constant debate because of his outspoken views.
He denounced female genital mutilation and said women should be appointed to top government jobs.
He said it was legitimate for banks to pay interest - something many clerics argue the Koran forbids.
Last year he banned the full face veil from al-Azhar's girls' schools.
He supported the right of France to outlaw the wearing of headscarves in its state schools.
He once shook the hand of the Israeli President, Shimon Peres.
Many Muslims believed that, on all these issues, he was simply doing the bidding of the man who'd given him his job, President Hosni Mubarak.
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