Al-Azhar University (ahz-har ;Arabic: جامعة الأزهرالشريف) Jāmiʻat al-Azhar (al-Sharīf), “the (honorable) Azhar University”) is a university in Cairo, Egypt. Founded in 970 or 972 by the Fatimids as a centre of Islamic learning, its students studied the Qur’an and Islamic law in detail, along with logic, grammar, rhetoric, and how to calculate the lunar phases of the moon. By bringing together the study of a number of subjects in the same place it was one of the first universities in the world and the only one to survive as a modern university including secular subjects in the curriculum. It is today the chief centre of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world. It is the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt. In 1961 additional non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum.
It is associated with Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo. The university’s mission includes the propagation of Islamic religion and culture. To this end, its Islamic scholars (ulamas) render edicts (fatwas) on disputes submitted to them from all over the Sunni Islamic world regarding proper conduct for Muslim individuals andsocieties. 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).
The madrasa is one of the relics of the Isma’ili Shi’a Fatimid dynasty era of Egypt, descended from Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad and Ali son-in-law and cousin of prophet Muhammad. Fatimah, was called Al-Zahra (The luminous), and it was named in her honor. It was founded as mosque by the Fatimid commander Jawhar at the orders of the Caliph and Ismaili Imam Al-Muizz as he founded the city for Cairo. It was (probably on Saturday) in Jamadi al-Awwal in the year 359 A.H. Its building was completed on the 9th of Ramadan in the year 361 A.H.(972 AD) Both Al-‘Aziz Billah and Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah added to its premises. It was further repaired, renovated and extended byAl-Mustansir Billah and Al-Hafiz Li-Din-illah. Fatimid Caliphs always encouraged scholars and jurists to have their study-circles and gatherings in this mosque and thus it was turned into a university which has the claim to be considered as the oldest University still functioning.
Studies began at Al-Azhar in the month of Ramadan, 975. According to Syed Farid Alatas, the Jami’ah had faculties in Islamic law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar,Islamic astronomy, Islamic philosophy, and logic. The Fatimids gave attention to the philosophical studies at the time when rulers in other countries declared those who were engaged in philosophical pursuits as apostates and heretics. The Greek thought found a warm reception with the Fatimids who expanded the boundaries of such studies. They paid much attention to philosophy and gave support to everyone who was known for being engaged in the study of any branch of philosophy. The Fatimid Caliph invited many scholars from nearby countries and paid much attention to college books on various branches of knowledge and in gathering the finest writing on various subjects and this in order to encourage scholars and to uphold the cause of knowledge. These books were destroyed by Salah-ud-Din Ayyubi in the same manner in which he exterminated the Fatimids and thus these Fatimid treasure were lost forever. In the 12th century, following the overthrow of the Ismaili 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 lectureson Islamic medicine at Al-Azhar, while theJewish philosopher Maimonides delivered lectures on medicine and astronomy there during the time of Saladin.
In 1961, Al-Azhar was established as a university under the government of Egypt’s second President Gamal Abdel Nasser when a wide range of secular faculties were added for the first time, such as business,economics, science, pharmacy, medicine,engineering and agriculture. Before that date, the Encyclopaedia of Islam classifies the Al-Azhar variously as madrasa, center of higher learning and, since the 19th century, religious university, but not as a university in the full sense, referring to the modern transition process as “from madrasa to university”. 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.
Al-Azhar has a membership that represents the theological schools of Al-Ashari and Al-Maturidi, the four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Malaki,Shafi, and Hanbali), and the seven main Sufi orders. Al-Azhar has had an antagonistic relationship with Wahhabism or Salafism. According to a 2011 report issued by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Al Azhar is strongly Sufi in character:
“Adherence to a Sufi order has long been standard for both professors and students in the al-Azhar mosque and university system. Although al-Azhar is not monolithic, its identity has been strongly associated with Sufism. The current Shaykh al-Azhar (rector of the school), Ahmed el-Tayeb, is a hereditary Sufi shaykh from Upper Egypt who has recently expressed his support for the formation of a world Sufi league; the former Grand Mufti of Egypt and senior al-Azhar scholar Ali Gomaa is also a highly respected Sufi master.”
The nineteenth and current Grand Mufti of Egypt and Al Azhar scholar, Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam is also a Sufi.
Notable people associated with the university
10th – early 11th centuries
- Fatimid commander Jawhar at the orders of the Caliph Al-Muizz (972)
- Al-‘Aziz Billah(975–996) and Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah(996–1021)
- Al-Mustansir Billah(1021–1036) and Al-Hafiz Li-Din-illah
19th – early 20th centuries
- Muhammad Abduh and Sayed Jamaledin Afghani, founder of Islamic Modernism
- Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, founder and leader of Black Hand
- Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, Mufti of Jerusalem
- Ahmed Orabi, Egyptian nationalist and army general who led the Urabi Revolt against Khedive Tewfik
- Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (he graduated from Darul ‘Uloom which is an affiliate of Cairo University)
- Mehmed Handžić, a leader of Bosnian revivalists, one of authors of Resolution of Sarajevo Muslims and chairman of the Committee of National Salvation
- Omar Abdel Rahman, leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which has been designated a terrorist group by the governments of the United States and Egypt; currently serving a life term for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing
- Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, the leader and founder of The Islamic Political Party, Hizb ut-Tahrir (The Party of Liberation)
- Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, co-founder and leader of Hamas
- Saad Zaghlul, leader of 1919 revolution in Egypt
- Taha Hussein, Influential Egyptian writer and intellectual
- Muhammad Ma Jian, translator of the Qur’an into the Chinese language
- Ahmad Meshari Al-Adwani, Kuwaiti poet and writer of Kuwait’s national anthem Al-Nasheed Al-Watani
- Ahmad al-Ghumari, Moroccan cleric, enrolled in 1921, dropped out due to a death in the family
- Abdullah al-Ghumari, Moroccan cleric, graduated from Azhar in 1931
- Abu Turab al-Zahiri, Indian-born Saudi Arabian writer
- Akhtar Raza Khan, the de-facto grand mufti of India.
- Mohammed Burhanuddin, Dai of Dawoodi Bohra researched and rediscovered Al-Azhar University’s past History and was Awarded Ph.d from Al-Azhar University.
- Abdullah Yusuf Azzam a highly influential Palestinian Sunni Islamic scholar and theologian
- Shire Jama Ahmed, Somali linguist who devised a Latin script for the Somali language.
- Mahmud Shaltut,Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, issued in 1959 aFatwa, declaring that Al-Azhar recognizes Shi’ism as a valid branch of Islam
- Abdel-Halim Mahmoud,Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, introduced the study of Sufism as a science through his writings and lectures on the matter
- Ahmed Subhy Mansour, Islamic scholar, cleric, and founder of the Quranists, who was exiled from Egypt, and lives in the United States as a political refugee
- Taha Jabir Alalwani, President of Cordoba University (Ashburn, VA, USA), former Chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, and the President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia (USA).
- Gus Dur,Former President of Indonesia
- Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy,former Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (March 17, 1996 to March 10, 2010)
- Muhammad Metwally Al Shaarawyis an Egyptian Muslim jurist
- Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Former President of The Republic of Maldives.
- Abdulla Saeed, Former Chief Justice, and Justice Supreme Court of The Republic of Maldives.
- Abdulla Mohamed, Chief Judge, Criminal Court of The Republic of Maldives.
- Fathulla Jameel, Former Foreign Minister of Maldives.
- Muhammad Jameel Didi Maldives Author and writer
- Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat Mursyidul Am (Spiritual Leader) of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and former Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of the Malaysian state of Kelantan