"Islam has done justice to the Muslim woman and freed her from shackles and restrictions," said Al-Azhar's grand imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.
Muslim women were "influenced more by tradition and customs than by the precepts of Islam," he told the Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliaments in Abu Dhabi.
The sheikh said that in some ways the situation of women had deteriorated to a pre-Islam state, in an apparent reference to the influence of radical Islamists.
However he insisted that emulating life in the West was not the solution.
"The Western concept of modernity is not the best example to be followed by the rest of the world," he said, acknowledging, however, the "positive aspects" of scientific and humanitarian progress.
The two-day summit brings together 50 women parliamentary leaders from around the globe.