For the university in Gaza, see Al-Azhar University – Gaza.
For the historic mosque building, see Al-Azhar Mosque.
|Established||c. 972; 1048 years ago (972)|
|Religious affiliation||Sunni Islam|
|President||Dr. Mohamed Hussin|
|Global – Overall|
In addition to higher education, Al-Azhar oversees a national network of schools with approximately two million students.
As of 1996, over 4,000 teaching institutes in Egypt were affiliated with the University.
Founded in 970 or 972 by the Fatimid Caliphate 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 phases of the moon.
In 1961 additional non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum.
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, IT Education Project (ITEP) launched the H.H.
Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Project to Preserve Al Azhar Scripts and Publish Them Online (the "Al-Azhar Online Project") to eventually publish online access to the library's entire rare manuscripts collection, comprising about seven million pages of material.
Beginnings under the Fatimids
Fatimah was called al-Zahra (the luminous), and the institution was named in her honor.
Its building was completed on the 9th of Ramadan in the year AH 361 (24 June 972 CE).
The Fatimid caliphs always encouraged scholars and jurists to have their study-circles and gatherings in this mosque and thus it was turned into a madrasa which has the claim to be considered as the oldest such institution still functioning.
Studies began at Al-Azhar in the month of Ramadan, 975.
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 Saladin.
Therefore, the Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1936, 3rd vol., p. 353) writes that, "He had all the treasures of the palace, including the books, sold over a period of ten years.
Many were burned, thrown into the Nile, or thrown into a great heap, which was covered with sand, so that a regular "hill of books" was formed and the soldiers used to sole their shoes with the fine bindings.
The number of books said to have disposed of varies from 120,000 to 2,000,000."
Abd-el-latif delivered lectures on Islamic medicine at Al-Azhar, while according to legend the Jewish philosopher Maimonides delivered lectures on medicine and astronomy there during the time of Saladin though no historical proof has corroborated this.
Saladin introduced the college system in Egypt, which was also adopted in Al-Azhar.
Under this system, the college was a separate institution within the mosque compound, with its own classrooms, dormitories and a library.
Under the Mamluks, Al-Azhar gained influence and rose in prestige.
The Mamluks established salaries for instructors and stipends for the students and gave the institution an endowment.
A college was built for the institution in 1340, outside of the mosque.
In the late 1400s, the buildings were renovated and new dormitories were built for the students.
During this time Cairo had 70 other institutions of Islamic learning, however, Al-Azhar attracted many scholars due to its prestige.
The famed Ibn Khaldun taught at Al-Azhar starting in 1383.
During this time texts were few and much of the learning happened by students memorizing their teachers' lectures and notes.
In fact, blind young boys were enrolled at Al-Azhar in the hopes that they could eventually earn a living as teachers.
During the Ottoman period, Al-Azhar's prestige and influence grew to the point of becoming the preeminent institution for Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world.
During this time, the Shaykh Al-Azhar was established, an office given the leading scholar at the institution; prior to this the head of the institution was not necessarily a scholar.
In 1748, the Ottoman pasha tried to get Al-Azhar to teach astronomy and mathematics, to little avail.
During the time there wasn't a system of academic degrees, instead the shaykh (professor) determined if the student was sufficiently trained to enter a professor (ijazah).
The average length of study was 6 years.
Despite the lack of bureaucracy, the training remained rigorous and prolonged.
Students were loosely organized into riwaq (a sort of fraternity) organized according to their nationality and branch of Islamic law they studied.
Each riwaq was supervised by a professor.
A rector, usually a senior professor, oversaw the finances.
By the mid 19thC, al-Azhar had surpassed Istanbul and was considered the mecca of Sunni legal expertise; a main centre of power in the Islamic world; and a rival to Damascus, Mecca and Baghdad.
When Egypt was granted nominal independence under British military occupation, The Kingdom of Egypt's new constitution was delayed because of King Fuad I's insistence that Al-Azhar and other religious institutions were to be subject to him and not parliament.
‘Ali al-Husayni al-Haddad.
Methodological differences aside, speculation alludes to a spirit of cooperation.
Bergsträsser was certainly impressed with the work.
The unsuccessful "caliphate conference" was held under the presidency of the Grand Chancellor of Azhar in 1926 but no one was able to gain a consensus for the candidacy across the Islamic world.
Candidates proposed for the caliphate included King Fuad.
In 1961, Al-Azhar was re-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".
Other academic sources also refer to al-Azhar as a madrasa in pre-modern times before its transformation into a 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.
Historically, Al-Azhar had a membership that represented diverse opinions within Islam.
During the time of the Ottomans, the Hanafi dean came to hold a position as primus inter pares.
It also had membership from the seven main Sufi orders.
Al-Azhar has had an antagonistic relationship with Wahhabism.
Subsequently, disputes were had between modernist intellectuals and traditionalists within al-Azhar.
The nineteenth and current Grand Mufti of Egypt and Al Azhar scholar, is Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam.
The university is opposed to overt liberal reform of Islam and issued a fatwa against the liberal Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque in Berlin because it banned face-covering veils such as burqa and niqab on its premises while allowing women and men to pray together.
The fatwa encompassed all present and future liberal mosques.
Council of Senior Scholars
Al-Azhar University's Council of Senior Scholars was founded in 1911 but was replaced in 1961 by the Center for Islamic Research.
In July 2012, after the law restricting Al-Azhar University's autonomy was modified by the incoming president Mohamed Morsi, the council was reformed.
Once the remaining 14 vacancies are filled, new vacancies will be appointed by the existing Council itself.
In addition to El-Tayeb, other prominent members of the Council include the outgoing Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa.
The council is tasked with nominating the Grand Mufti of Egypt (subject to presidential approval), electing the next Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, and is expected to be the final authority in determining if new legislation is compliant with Islamic law.
Although the council's decisions are not binding (absent new legislation), it is expected that it would be difficult for the parliament to pass legislation deemed by the council as against Islamic law.
In January 2013, Al-Tayeb referred a relatively minor issue related to Islamic bonds to the council, for the first time asserting the council's jurisdiction.
In 2013, the Council elected Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam to be the next Grand Mufti of Egypt.
This marks the first time that the Grand Mufti would be elected by Islamic scholars since the position was created in 1895.
Prior to this, the Egyptian head of state made the appointment.
Al-Azhar's muftis have a history of being consulted on political issues.
At the same time, there were many cases where the Egyptian ruler would disregard the opinion of Al-Azhar scholars.
Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy 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 added 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 reasserted that his is the best faith to follow 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").
In October 2007, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, then the Grand 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 was alleged to have stated that journalism which contributes to the spread of false rumours rather than true news deserved to be boycotted, and that it was tantamount to sinning for readers to purchase such newspapers.
Tantawy, a supporter of then 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 was not the first time that he had criticized the Egyptian press regarding its news coverage nor the first time he in return had been accused by the press of opposing freedom of speech.
During a religious celebration in the same month, Tantawy had 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.
Tantawy died in 2010 and was succeeded by Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb.
However, the NGOs report that violence and propaganda against the country's Shia minority continues.
Shia Muslims are frequently denied services in addition to being called derogatory names.
Anti-Shia sentiment is spread through education at all levels.
Clerics educated at Al-Azhar University publicly promote sectarian beliefs by calling Shia Muslims infidels and encourage isolation and marginalization of Shia Muslims in Egypt.
Scholars from Al-Azhar declared the writings to Farag Foda to be blasphemous.
Muhammad al-Ghazali, a member of Al-Azhar, declared Foda to be guilty of apostasy.
According to Geneive Abdo, Muhammad al-Ghazali also added that anyone killing an apostate would not be punished, while according to Nathan Brown, Muhammad al-Ghazali stopped just short of condoning Foroda's assassination.
Foda was assassinated in June 1992, by an Egyptian terrorist group al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya, who claimed justification from Al-Azhar's fatwas.
In response, a scholar at Al-Azhar published Man Qatala Faraj Fawda.
In 2016 the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, said that leaving Islam (apostasy) is punishable by death.
In his view, crimes, assault and treason are forms of apostasy and must be punished.
Apostates must rejoin Islam or be killed.
Notable people associated with the university
- 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 Sayd Jamal edin 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 Dar al-Ulum 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
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Azhar University.