Al-Azhar University

Al-Azhar University (/ˈɑːzhɑːr/ AHZ-har; Arabic: جامعة الأزهر (الشريف), IPA: [ˈɡæmʕet elˈʔɑzhɑɾ eʃʃæˈɾiːf], "the (honorable) University of Al-Azhar") is a university in Cairo, Egypt. Associated with Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo, it is Egypt's oldest degree-granting university and is renowned as "Islam’s most prestigious university".[1] In addition to higher education, Al-Azhar oversees a national network of schools with approximately two million students.[2] As of 1996, over 4000 teaching institutes in Egypt were affiliated with the University.[3]

al-azhar University
جامعة الأزهر (الشريف)
Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt
Established970/972 – Founded by Fatimids
1961 – university status
Religious affiliation
Sunni Islam
PresidentDr. Mohamed Hussin
30°02′45″N 31°15′45″E
University rankings

Founded in 970 or 972 by the Shia 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. While the Fatimids were Shia Muslims, they tolerated multitudes of different faiths coming and learning at Al-Azhar, until the time of Saladin. It was one of the first universities in the world, and the only one in the Arabic world to survive as a modern university including secular subjects in the curriculum. Today it is the chief centre of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world.[4] In 1961 additional non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum.[5]

Its mission is to propagate Islam and Islamic culture. To this end, its Islamic scholars (ulamas) render edicts (fatwas) on disputes submitted to them from all over the Islamic world regarding proper conduct for Muslim individuals and societies.

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.[6][7]


Beginnings under the Fatimids

Al-Azhar is one of the relics of the Isma'ili Shi'a Fatimid dynasty, which claimed descent from Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad and wife of Ali son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad. Fatimah was called al-Zahra (the luminous), and the institution was named in her honor.[8] It was founded as mosque by the Fatimid commander Jawhar al-Siqilli at the orders of the Caliph and Imam Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah as he founded the city for Cairo. It was begun (probably on Saturday) in Jumada al-Awwal in the year AH 359 (March/april 970 CE). Its building was completed on the 9th of Ramadan in the year AH 361 (24 June 972 CE). Both Caliph al-Aziz Billah and Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah added to its premises. It was further repaired, renovated and extended by al-Mustansir Billah and al-Hafiz li-Din Allah. 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 university which has the claim to be considered as the oldest such institution still functioning.[9]

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.[10][11] 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.[9]

Conversion to Sunniism under Saladin

In the 12th century, following the overthrow of the Isma'ili Fatimid dynasty, Saladin (the founder of the Sunni Ayyubid Dynasty) converted Al-Azhar to a Shafi'ite Sunni center of learning.[4][12] 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."[13] 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.[14]

Modern history

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".[5][15] 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.

Religious ideology

Al-Azhar has a membership that represents the theological schools of Al-Ashari and Al-Maturidi, the four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi, and Hanbali), and the seven main Sufi orders.[16] Al-Azhar has had an antagonistic relationship with Wahhabism and Salafism.[17] 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.[18]

The nineteenth and current Grand Mufti of Egypt and Al Azhar scholar, is Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam The university is opposed to 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 and accepting homosexual worshippers. The fatwa encompassed all present and future liberal mosques.[19]

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.[20] The Council consists of 40 members and as of February 2013 had 14 vacancies[21] all appointed by the current imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb,[22] who was appointed by the prior president, Hosni Mubarak. Once the remaining 14 vacancies are filled, new vacancies will be appointed by the existing Council itself.[21] All four madhahib (schools) of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence are proportionally represented on the Council (Hanafi, Shafi'i, Hanbali, Maliki) and voting is on a majority basis.[20] In addition to El-Tayeb, other prominent members of the Council include the outgoing Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa.[23] 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.[20] 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.[20]

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.[20] 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.[22]


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".[24]

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"). Shi'a fiqh (according to a fatwa by Al-Azhar, )[25] is accepted as a fifth school of Islamic thought.

On freedom of speech

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.[26][27] 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.[28] Tantawy died in 2010 and was succeeded by Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb.

On Shia Islam

In 2016 Ahmed el-Tayeb reissued the fatwa on Shia Muslims, calling Shia the fifth school of Islam and seeing no problem with conversions from Sunni to Shia Islam.[29] 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.[30][31]


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.[32]

Assassination of Farag Foda

Farag Foda (also Faraj Fawda; 1946  9 June 1992), was a prominent professor, writer, columnist,[33] and human rights activist.[34] He was assassinated on 9 June 1992 by members of Islamist group al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya after being accused of blasphemy by a committee of clerics (ulama) at Al-Azhar University.[33] Foda was one of 202 people killed by "politically motivated assaults" in Egypt between March 1992 and September 1993.[34] In December 1992, his collected works were banned.[35]

The Al-Azhar ulama had thereby adopted a previous fatwā by Sheikh al-Azhar, Jadd al-Haqq, accusing Foda and other secularist writers of being "enemies of Islam".[36] In a statement claimed responsibility for the killing, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya accused Foda of being an apostate from Islam, advocating the separation of religion from the state, and favouring the existing legal system in Egypt rather than the application of Shari’a (Islamic law).[33] The group explicitly referred to the Al-Azhar fatwā when claiming responsibility.[37] An Al-Azhar scholar, Mohammed al-Ghazali, later asserted as a witness before the court that it was not wrong to kill an apostate. Al-Ghazali said: "The killing of Farag Foda was in fact the implementation of the punishment against an apostate which the imam (the Islamic leader in Egypt) has failed to implement."[38] Eight of the thirteen Islamists brought to trial for the murder were subsequently acquitted.[39]

Notable people associated with the university

10th – 11th centuries

19th – early 20th centuries



See also


  1. Delman, Edward (February 26, 2015). "An Anti-ISIS Summit in Mecca". The Atlantic.
  2. Brown, Nathan J. (September 2011). Post-Revolutionary al-Azhar (PDF). Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. p. 4. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  3. Roy, Olivier (2004). Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. Columbia University Press. pp. 92–3. ISBN 9780231134996. Retrieved 4 April 2015. In Egypt the number of teaching institutes dependent on Al-Azhar University increased from 1855 in 1986-7 to 4314 in 1995-6.
  4. "Al-Azhar University". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2015-08-19.
  5. Skovgaard-Petersen, Jakob. "al-Azhar, modern period." Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Edited by: Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson. Brill, 2010, retrieved 20/03/2010:
    Al-Azhar, the historic centre of higher Islamic learning in Cairo, has undergone significant change since the late 19th century, with new regulations and reforms resulting in an expanded role for the university. 1. From madrasa to university
  6. "AME Info, 26 September 2005". AME Info. Archived from the original on 19 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  7. ITEP press release, 10 October 2006
  8. Halm, Heinz. The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning. London: The Institute of Ismaili Studies and I.B. Tauris. 1997.
  9. Shorter Shi'ite Encyclopaedia, By: Hasan al-Amin,
  10. Alatas, Syed Farid (2006). "From Ja¯mi'ah to University: Multiculturalism and Christian–Muslim Dialogue". Current Sociology. 54 (1): 112–32. doi:10.1177/0011392106058837.
  11. Goddard, Hugh (2000). A History of Christian-Muslim Relations. Edinburgh University Press. p. 99. ISBN 0-7486-1009-X.
  12. Encyclopædia Britannica p.37 1993 edition ISBN 0-85229-571-5
  13. , End of the Fatimid Caliphate
  14. Necipogulu, Gulru (1996). Muqarnas, Volume 13. Brill Publishers. p. 56. ISBN 90-04-10633-2.
  15. Jomier, J. "al- Azhar (al-Ḏj̲āmiʿ al-Azhar)." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W. P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010, retrieved 20/03/2010:
    This great mosque, the 'brilliant one' one of the principal mosques of present-day Cairo. This seat of learning...regained all its activity—Sunnī from now on—during the reign of Sultan Baybars...Al-Azhar at the beginning of the 19th century could well have been called a religious university; what it was not was a complete university giving instruction in those modern disciplines essential to the awakening of the country.
  16. Jadaliyya: "The Identity of Al-Azhar and Its Doctrine" by Ibrahim El-Houdaiby July 29, 2012
  17. Islamopedia: "Al-Azhar’s relations with other Sunni groups"
  18. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace" "Salafis and Sufis in Egypt" by Jonathon Brown December 2011, p 12
  19. Oltermann, Philip (2017-06-25). "Liberal Berlin mosque to stay open despite fatwa from Egypt". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  20. Hani Nasira and Saeid al-Sonny, Al Aribiya: "Senior scholars and the new Egyptian constitution", Al Arabiya, January 10, 2013
  21. Nathan J. Brown, "Egypt’s new mufti", Foreign Policy, February 12, 2013
  22. Issandr El Amrani, "Goodbye Pope, Hello Mufti", New York Times], February 13, 2013
  23. "Egypt's new Grand Mufti elected for first time ever", Ahram Online, February 11, 2013
  24. "The Grand Imams of Al-Azhar". Archived from the original on 19 June 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-24.
  25. al-Azhar Verdict on the Shia – Shi'ite Encyclopedia v2.0, Al-islam
  26. "allheadlinenews". Feedsyndicate. 2007-10-10. Archived from the original on 2010-10-01. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  27. (Arabic Online)
  28. "International Herald Tribune". International Herald Tribune. 2009-03-29. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  30. Shia Rights Watch: Egypt: For the people or against the people?
  31. Al-Monitor: Iranian cleric calls out Egypt's Al-Azhar for anti-Shiite activities Archived 2017-10-16 at the Wayback Machine
  32. Ibrahim, Raymond. "Egypt's Top "Moderate" Cleric: Apostasy a "Crime" Punishable by Death". Middle East Forum. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  33. "EGYPT: Human Rights Abuses by Armed Groups". Amnesty International. September 1998. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  34. Miller, Judith (2011-07-19). God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East. Simon and Schuster. p. 26. ISBN 9781439129418.
  35. de Baets, Antoon (2002). Censorship of Historical Thought: A World Guide, 1945-2000. Greenwood Publishing. p. 196. ISBN 9780313311932. In December 1992 Foda's collected works were banned
  36. Bar, Shmuel (2008). Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to Jihad. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 16, footnote 8.
  37. de Waal, Alex (2004). Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa. C. Hurst & Co. p. 60.
  38. Darwish, Nonie (2008). Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. Thomas Nelson. p. 144.
  39. Brown, Nathan J. (1997). The Rule of Law in the Arab World: Courts in Egypt and the Gulf. Cambridge University Press. p. 99.
  41. "Serving Dawoodi Bohras Worldwide". 2010-03-04. Archived from the original on 18 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  42. David D. Laitin, Politics, Language, and Thought: The Somali Experience, (University Of Chicago Press: 1977), p. 102
  43. "Cordoba University". Cordoba University. Archived from the original on 13 February 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  44. Supreme Court of the Government of the Maldives Archived 2010-09-10 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.