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Al-Azhar University (pronounced "AZ-har", ; , "the Noble Azhar") in Egyptmarker, founded in 970~972, is the chief centre of Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic learning in the world and the world's second oldest surviving degree granting university. It is associated with Al-Azhar Mosquemarker in Islamic Cairomarker. The university's mission includes the propagation of Islamic religion and culture. To this end, its Islamic scholars (ulemas) render edicts (fatwas) on disputes submitted to them from all over the Sunni Islamic world regarding proper conduct for Muslim individuals or societies (a recent example being the clarification and thus prohibition of female genital cutting). Al-Azhar also trains Egyptian government appointed preachers in proselytization (da'wa).

Its library is considered second in importance in Egypt only to the Egyptian National Library and Archives. In May 2005, Al-Azhar in partnership with a Dubai information technology enterprise, ITEP launched the H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Project to Preserve Al Azhar Scripts and Publish Them Online (the "Al-Azhar Online Project") with the mission of eventually providing online access to the library's entire rare manuscripts collection (comprising about seven million pages).


Al-Azhar university concerns itself with the religious syllabus, which pays special attention to the Quranic sciences and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, on the one hand, while on the other hand the university teaches all the modern fields of science. Thus, the university has not only fulfilled its obligations in these two fields of study but also fulfilled its obligations towards the Arabic language, which is the language of the Quran. In 1961, according to Al-Azhar university's legislatory law No. 103, new colleges of applied sciences, such as the faculties of Medicine and Engineering, were introduced to Al-Azhar university. These newly introduced faculties are not duplicates of their counterparts in other universities because they combine the empirical sciences with the religious sciences. Alongside the Egyptian students who are studying at Al-Azhar university, there are also many other students from various Islamic and European countries. These foreign Muslim students have exactly the same rights as the Egyptian students.

The university was founded by the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt, descended from Fatimah, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Fatimah was called Az-Zahra (the brilliant), and the university was named in her honor.

Studies began at Al-Azhar in the month of Ramadan, 975 AD. The university (Jami'ah) had faculties in Islamic law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, Islamic astronomy, Islamic philosophy, and logic. In the 12th century, following the overthrow of the Shia Fatimid dynasty, Sultan Saladin (the founder of the staunchly Sunni Ayyubid Dynasty ) converted Al-Azhar to a Shafi'ite Sunni center of learning. Abd-el-latif delivered lectures on Islamic medicine at Al-Azhar, while Maimonides delivered lectures on medicine and astronomy there during the time of Saladin.

In 1961, Al-Azhar was reorganised under the government of Egypt's second President Gamal Abdel Nasser and several secular faculties were added to the university, such as medicine, engineering and agriculture. An Islamic women's faculty was also added in the same year, six years after Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah had been the first woman to speak at the university.

More about History

When Jawhar the Sicilian, commander of the Fatimid troops sent by the Fatimid Caliph Almuiz to conquer Egypt, founded Cairo in 358 AH / 969 SD he built Al-Azhar mosque. The mosque was completed in nearly two years. It was first opened for prayers on 7th of Ramadan 361 A.H/ June 22, 972 AD. Since then it has become the most well-known mosque in the whole Muslim World, and the oldest university ever for both religious and secular studies.

Historians differ as to how the mosque got its name. Some hold that it is called as such because it was surrounded by flourishing mansions at the time when Cairo was founded. Others believe that it was by then considered as a good omen of the high status which the mosque was going to attain as a result of the flourishing studies being conducted in the mosque. A third group believe that it was named after "Fatima al-Zahraa" the daughter of Prophet Mohamed, to glorify her name. This last explanation sounds the most likely as Fatimids themselves were called after her.

The Beginning of the Scholarly activities at Al-Azhar: Three and half years after its establishment, Al-Azhar began to acquire its academic and scholastic nature. It was in Ramadan, 365 AH (October 975 AD) during the reign of Al-Muiz when chief justice Abu El-Hassan Ali ibn Al-Nu'man El-Kairawany sat in the court of Al-Azhar and read "El-ikhtisar" a book written by his father Abu Hanifa Al-Nu'man as a reference on Shi'ite law (fiqh). This happened in the presence of a large audience whose names were recorded in memorial of the occasion. Abu El-Hassan was the first to be given the title chief Justice. This was the first Seminar to be held at Al-Azhar which was followed by many others. Those seminars were religious, however they had political overtones. At the beginning of the reign of Al-Aziz Billah, Al-Azhar made great strides towards real academic studies. Jacob ibn Killis, the minister of Al-Mu'eiz and later of Al-Aziz read his 'Al-Risalah Al-Azizyah' on Shi'ite law. He later developed studies at Al-Azhar when he appointed thirty seven Jurists. He gave them monthly salaries and build them houses near Al-Azhar. During the Fatimid period, Al-Azhar was an essential part of the intellectual life. Beside the usual seminars, moral education sessions were held for women. Al-Azhar was also the official seat of judges on certain days and the accountant or chief tax collector "Muhtasib" for nearly two centuries. Since the collapse of Islamic Cultural Centres in Baghdad and Andalusia at the greatest centre for Arabic and Islamic studies all over the world.

Right from the beginning, the seminars held at Al-Azhar were of purely academic nature. They were inherently characterized by free scientific discussions and scholarships. There was also the system of instructors and visiting professors. Such activities worked later as the foundations of the University academic system, which became known later in both East and west. Hence, Al-Azhar has duly come to be known as the oldest religious university all over the world.

Although Al-Azhar ceased to function either as a university or as a mosque for nearly a century, during the Ayyubid reign studies were conducted in the same way as they were during the Fatimid period. However, they were mainly religious and linguistic. During the Mamluks period 648-922 A.H/ 1250-1517 A.D, Al-Azhar assumed new responsibilities towards the Muslim world.

As a result of Mughul attacks on central Asia and the shrinkage of Muslim rule in Andalusia, Al-Azhar became the only shelter for the scholars who were forced out of their homeland. Those scholars helped Al-Azhar to reach the apex of its glory during the eighth and ninth centuries A.H (14th and 15th centuries A.D). It should be mentioned here that Al-Azhar played an important role in the development of natural sciences. Some of Al-Azhar scholars studied medicine, mathematics, Astronomy, geography and history. They put much effort to advance these sciences even in times of political and intellectual deterioration and stagnation.

Under the Ottomans, Al-Azhar was financially independent because of the Waqfs (endowments), the scholars were free to choose their fields of study and the text books. Thus Al-Azhar had its own free identity and became a leading Islamic and Arabic centre.

It attracted many teachers as well as many students from all over the Islamic world. It is worth mentioning that the Ottomans never appointed one of them as Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. This high position entirely left for the Egyptians. When Bonaparte attacked Egypt in (1213 A.H / July 1789 A.D) he looked upon Al-Azhar as the most well-known university in the whole Islamic world. During his exile at Saint Helena he wrote in his diary that Al-Azhar was the counterpart of Sorbonne in Paris. He looked highly upon Al-Azhar Ulama as the elite of the educated class and as the leaders of the people. When he first set foot in Cairo he formed a special council (diwan) to govern the capital. That council consisted of nine eminent Sheikhs under the chairmanship of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sharkawi, the grand Imam of Al-Azhar at that time. The formation of this council stands as an evidences of the importance of Al-Azhar and the high status of its Ulama .

However, Al-Azhar was the meeting place for the opponents of the French occupation and the seat of the revolution. A special revolutionary committee was formed under the leadership of Sheikh Mohamed El-Sadat. When the revolution broke out against the French, the grand Imam and the Ulama Decided that it was impossible to carry on their studies, so they closed the mosque.

This has been the only time for Al-Azhar to be closed over its long history. When the French evacuated three years later, Al-Azhar resumed its normal activities and received its teachers and students. When Mohammad Ali took over the rule of Egypt in 1220 A.H 1805 A.D he planned to set up a modern state. To achieve his aim he greatly depended on Al-Azhar. He sent scholarships from among the students of Al-Azhar to Europe. These students were the pioneers who raised high the banner of the modern renaissance in Egypt. Most of the leading figures including the leader of the Orabi revolution were graduates of Al-Azhar. This also applied to the leader of 1919 revolution, Saad Zaghloul as well as many other leading personalities, Mohamed Abdu and El-Manfaloty for example completed their studies at Al-Azhar. The most significant incident was the meeting of both Muslim Ulama and Christian priests in the porticos of Al-Azhar addressing people from the pulpit of Al-Azhar .

When the 1952 revolution took place, Al-Azhar was one of the society that has been modernized and developed so that it can effectively carry out its illuminating role for the welfare not only of Egypt, but also of the Arab and whole Islamic world

Magazine publishing

Since 1929, Al-Azhar has published a magazine (now monthly) whose stated mission is to publicise religious rules, subjects related to Islamic literature, and basic jurisprudence (shariah), including sections on history, biographies, translated texts, and news concerning the Muslim world.

Political views

Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, the current Imam of Al-Azhar, has declared that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and suicide bombers to be "heretics" who are deviating from the true path of Islam. At a conference in Indonesiamarker, he called on all "true believers" to deny proponents of extremist and heretical forms of Islam the opportunity to give speeches in mosques, with a view to preventing the spread of violent ideologies.

Ali Goma'a, the Egyptian Mufti associated with Al-Azhar, has also declared that Islam authorizes the thwarting and eradication of those who kidnap and kill civilians in Iraqmarker since they wreak havoc on Earth.

Sheikh Tantawy has noted that among the priorities of Muslims are "to master all knowledge of the world and the hereafter, not least the technology of modern weapons to strengthen and defend the community and faith". He adds that "mastery over modern weaponry is important to prepare for any eventuality or prejudices of the others, although Islam is a religion of peace.".

Sheikh Tantawy also reasserts that his is the best faith to follow (a tenet common to proponents of many religions) and that Muslims have the duty of active da'wa. He has made declarations about Muslims interacting with non-Muslims who are not a threat to Muslims. There are non-Muslims living apart from Muslims and who are not enemies of Islam ("Muslims are allowed to undertake exchanges of interests with these non-Muslims so long as these ties do not tarnish the image of the faith"), and there are "the non-Muslims who live in the same country as the Muslims in cooperation and on friendly terms, and are not enemies of the faith" ("in this case, their rights and responsibilities are the same as the Muslims so long as they do not become enemies of Islam").

On freedom of speech

In October 2007, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, the current Imam of Al-Azhar, drew allegations of stifling freedom of speech when he asked the Egyptian government to toughen its rules and punishments against journalists. During a Friday sermon in the presence of Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and a number of ministers, Tantawy is alleged to have stated that journalism which contributes to the spread of false rumours rather than true news deserves to be boycotted, and that it is tantamount to sinning for readers to purchase such newspapers. Tantawy, a supporter of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, also called for a punishment of eighty lashes to "those who spread rumors" in an indictment of speculation by journalists over Mubarak's ill health and possible death. This is not the first time that he has criticized the Egyptian press regarding its news coverage nor is it the first time he in return has been accused by the press of opposing freedom of speech. During a religious celebration in the same month, Tantawy released comments alluding to "the arrogant and the pretenders who accuse others with the ugliest vice and unsubstantiated charges". In response, Egypt's press union issued a statement suggesting that Tantawy appeared to be involved in inciting and escalating a campaign against journalists and freedom of the press.

Notable persons associated with the university

Al-Azhar University has had a huge impact on the religious, cultural and political arena in Egypt, the Arab World, and the wider Muslim world

1800 - early 1900s



  • Mohammed Burhanuddin, Dai of Dawoodi Bohra done rediscovery of Al-Azhar University's past History and was Awarded Ph.d from Al-Azhar University[36014].

See also


  1. Alatas, Syed Farid, 2006. From jami`ah to university: multiculturalism and Christian–Muslim dialogue, Current Sociology 54(1):112-32
  2. AME, 26 September 2005
  3. ITEP press release, 10 October 2006
  4. Britannica article
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica p.37 1993 edition ISBN 0852295715
  7. Online)
  8. International Herald Tribune
  9. David D. Laitin, Politics, Language, and Thought: The Somali Experience, (University Of Chicago Press: 1977), p. 102

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