Al-Azhar University (// 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 "Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university". In addition to higher education, Al-Azhar oversees a national network of schools with approximately two million students. As of 1996, over 4000 teaching institutes in Egypt were affiliated with the University.
جامعة الأزهر (الشريف)
|Established||970/972 – Founded by Fatimids|
1961 – university status
|President||Dr. Mohamed Hussin|
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 phases of the moon. 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. In 1961 additional non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum.
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 Sunni 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.
Beginnings under the FatimidsEdit
Al-Azhar University is one of the relics of the Isma'ili Shi'a Fatimid dynasty era of Egypt, descended from Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad and wife of Ali son-in-law and cousin of 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 AH 359. Its building was completed on the 9th of Ramadan in the year AH 361 (AD 972). Both Al-'Aziz Billah and 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-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 Saladin.
Conversion to Sunniism under SaladinEdit
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. 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.
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". 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, Maliki, Shafi, and Hanbali), and the seven main Sufi orders. Al-Azhar has had an antagonistic relationship with Wahhabism and 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, 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.
Council of Senior ScholarsEdit
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. The Council consists of 40 members and as of February 2013 had 14 vacancies all appointed by the current imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, 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. 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. 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.
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"). Shi'a fiqh (according to a fatwa by Al-Azhar, ) is accepted as a fifth school of Islamic thought.
On freedom of speechEdit
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.
On Shia IslamEdit
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. 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.
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.
Assassination of Farag FodaEdit
Farag Foda (also Faraj Fawda; 1946 – 9 June 1992), was a prominent professor, writer, columnist, and human rights activist. 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. Foda was one of 202 people killed by "politically motivated assaults" in Egypt between March 1992 and September 1993. In December 1992, his collected works were banned.
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". 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). The group explicitly referred to the Al-Azhar fatwā when claiming responsibility. 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." Eight of the thirteen Islamists brought to trial for the murder were subsequently acquitted.
Notable people associated with the universityEdit
10th – 11th centuriesEdit
- 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 centuriesEdit
- 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
- Aliko Dangote, Nigerian business mogul and richest man in Africa studied Business at Al-Azhar
- 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 Founder of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, and a 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 a Fatwa, 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).
- Abdurrahman Wahid, Former President of Indonesia
- Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, former Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (17 March 1996 to 10 March 2010)
- Ahmed el-Tayeb, current Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.
- Muhammad Metwally Al Shaarawy is 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.
- Hashim Salamat, Founder of Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines.
- Fathulla Jameel, Former Foreign Minister of Maldives.
- Burhanuddin Rabbani, Former Soviet–Afghan War Mujahideen leader and president of Afghanistan
- 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
- Abdul Hadi Awang President of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and former Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of the Malaysian state of Terengganu
- Omar Maute Leader of Maute terrorist organization in Marawi, Philippines.
- Ossama Youssef Founder and CEO of Diwan Videos
- Panakkad Shihab Thangal A Muslim religious leader, politician and Islamic scholar from the Indian state of Kerala. Qazi to hundreds of mahals in Kerala, President IUML Kerala 1975-2009
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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
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This great mosque, the 'brilliant one'...is 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.
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In December 1992 Foda's collected works were banned
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