Egyptâ€™s foremost Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, has died, aged 81, while on a trip to Saudi Arabia.
Sheikh Tantawi was the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar mosque and head of the al-Azhar University, Sunni Islamâ€™s centre of learning and scholarship.
He died of a heart attack in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where he was attending a prize-giving ceremony.
Sheikh Tantawi had infuriated radical Islamists with his moderate views on women wearing the veil.
His body will be taken to the Saudi city of Medina, the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad, for burial, Egyptian authorities said.
An adviser to the Sheikh told Egyptian television Sheikh Tantawiâ€™s death was a shock, as before leaving for Saudi Arabia he had seemed in â€œexcellent shape and healthâ€.
A member of Sheikh Tantawiâ€™s office, Ashraf Hassan, told news agency Reuters that Mohamed Wasel, Sheikh Tantawiâ€™s deputy, was expected to temporarily take over leading the institution until the Egyptian president appointed a new head for the body.
Sheikh Tantawi was appointed to his position by Egyptâ€™s President Hosni Mubarak in 1996.
But as a government appointee, he was always forced to negotiate a careful path between his religious imperatives and his government position, the BBCâ€™s Christian Fraser in Cairo says.
He was vocal in his opposition to female circumcision, which is common in Egypt, calling it â€œun-Islamicâ€.
Last year, Sheikh Tantawi barred female students at the university from wearing the full-face covering niqab veil.
He also caused upset other Muslim scholars by saying that French Muslims should obey any law that France might enact banning the veil.
His views on the veil prompted Egyptâ€™s Muslim Brotherhood to accuse him of â€œharming the interests of Islamâ€.
He has also condemned suicide attacks, saying extremists had hijacked Islamic principles for their own ends.
â€œI do not subscribe to the idea of a clash among civilizations. People of different beliefs should co-operate and not get into senseless conflicts and animosity,â€ he told a conference in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in 2003.
â€œExtremism is the enemy of Islam. Whereas, jihad is allowed in Islam to defend oneâ€™s land, to help the oppressed. The difference between jihad in Islam and extremism is like the earth and the sky,â€ Sheikh Tantawi said.