Ahmed Al-Tayeb was born in 1946 in Al-Kurna village in the governorate of Luxor. He received his basic education at Al-Azhar school, where he memorized and studied the Qur’an and Islamic major works and texts. He studied Doctrine and Philosophy at Al-Azhar University, where he graduated in 1969. He then earned a Master's degree and Ph.D. in Islamic philosophy in 1971 and 1977 respectively. Al-Tayeb is a hereditary Sufi shaykh and has expressed support for a global Sufi league.
He became a lecturer in 1977 and an associate professor in 1982. Since January 1988, he had been a professor of philosophy at Al-Azhar University. In addition to his academic career, Al-Tayeb served as the Grand Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt from March 2002 until September 2003. He became president of Al-Azhar University in September 2003 until he was appointed in 2010 as Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the second-oldest university in the world, where teaching has continued without interruption since 975 CE. Al-Azhar represents the centre of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. The university is considered one of the most prominent Islamic educational institutions, and the foremost centre of Sunni Muslim scholarship worldwide.
Prior to his appointment as the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and president of al-Azhar University by former president Hosni Mubarak, he was a member of Mubarak's National Democratic Party's Policies Committee. He initially refused to resign from his position in the National Democratic Party (NDP) by saying that there was no conflict between his role at Al-Azhar and membership in the party.
Al-Tayeb’s scholarly influence as a leading intellectual of Sunni Islam spans the globe. He has served as the Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Aswan, and the theology faculty of the International Islamic University in Pakistan. He has also taught in universities in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. He speaks English and French languages fluently, and he has translated several books from French to Arabic.
Al-Tayeb has emphasized his mission to promote traditional Islam since becoming Grand Sheikh. He has stressed the importance of teaching students about Islamic heritage—considering Al-Azhar graduates as ambassadors of Islam to the world. On 29 August 2016 during the World Islamic Conference held in Grozny, Chechnya, Sheikh Tayyeb defined the Sunni community (Ahl Sunnah wa Jama’a) as those who follow Imam Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari and Imam Abu Mansur Al-Maturidi and the scholars of Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi’i jurisprudence, as well as the moderate scholars of Hanbali school. He also included the Sufis following in the way of Imam Al-Junayd.
Al-Tayeb has been active in trying to diffuse the influence of ISIS, organizing many initiatives and conferences. He has strongly condemned the group, stating that it is acting "under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name 'Islamic State' in an attempt to export their false Islam.”
He has also tried to improve foreign relations and met with many foreign religious leaders and heads of states (including the Pope and Queen Elizabeth).