The highest authority in Sunni Islam approved a book describing the Prophet as an "imposter" and Muslims as "locusts" that the Egyptian press continued Friday to attribute to the US president's great grandfather despite denials from Washington.
"The Al-Azhar Institute for Islamic Studies approved the book titled 'The Life of Mohammed, founder of the religion of Islam and of the Empire of the Saracens'," Egyptian newspapers announced on their front pages.
The book was published in 1837 by Reverend George Bush, whom Egyptian newspapers - including state-owned publications - have consistently presented as the current US president's great-grandfather.
However, the US administration says the author of the controversial treatise is "a distant relative of the current president, five generations removed, but not his direct ancestor", according to a statement posted earlier this year on the US State Department's website.
The statement strives to distance the US administration from the views held in the book, which "is a product of its more parochial times and takes a harshly negative attitude toward Islam."
The long-forgotten volume was out of print for more than a century until after George W. Bush's election, and was chiefly written as a compilation of already existing lore on the life of Mohammed.
The 262-page book, which is available online (http://www.muhammadanism.org/bush/bush_mohammed.pdf), originally carried a lithograph of the Prophet on its cover, defying Islam's ban on representing Mohammed.
In his introduction, the author also describes his own work as "a brief sketch ... of the state of Christianity at the time of Mohammed's appearance, especially in that region of the world in which the imposter took rise."
In one passage, the author compares Muslims to locusts.
"These views have nothing to do with the attitudes of current President Bush, who is respectful of Islam as one of the worlds great religions," the US statement said, pointing out that the book had sold no more than 50 copies since being reprinted in 2002.
Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based authority which supervises the publication, translation and sale in Egypt of all writings related to Islam, could not be reached for comment Friday.
But the government-run Al-Ahram daily said it had approved the book's publication "because it is a piece of documentation that paints a lively picture of the life of Prophet Mohammed."
"The books underlines Mohammed's determination to convey his message and his refusal to give in to frustration in spite of the plots engineered against him by his enemies," the paper said, quoting an Al-Azhar brief.
Publication of Reverend Bush's work had initially been rejected by Al-Azhar and the turnaround puts an end to a year-long controversy.
An unnamed Al-Azhar official quoted in the official Al-Akhbar daily denied rumours that the publication was the result of US pressure.
"Al-Azhar does not bow to any pressure, whether foreign or local, when it comes to matters related to Islam," the cleric said.