Al-Azhar University also known as Jamiat Al Azhar al Saif, meaning the noble Azhar, is a center of learning in Cairo, Egypt. It was established as an Islamic Institute or a madrasa in 972 and specialized in offering courses pertaining to the field of Arabic Literature and Sunni theology and sharia. It is regarded as the second oldest University both around the world and in Egypt. It was initially established as the Al Azhar mosque. However, it slowly developed into an Islamic educational institute over the years. Al Azhar’s main aim involves spreading Islamic faith and culture around the world. To this day, Islamic scholars at the institute issue fatwas based on arguments and situations put forward to them from around the Sunni world. These fatwas cover a wide range of topics such as Islamic law, appropriate behavior for individual Muslims, etc. In 1961, following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and the establishment of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s government, Al Azhar started offering programs apart from Islamic subjects such as science, engineering, pharmacy medicine, etc. That same year, a women’s department was also established as part of the university. Today, al-Azhar has positioned itself as a profoundly significant institution in Egypt and around the world.
Initially established as a mosque by the Fatimid dynasty, it slowly evolved into a university over the years. Its construction was authorized by the fourth leader of the Fatimid Dynasty, Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah, in Cairo which at that time was the newly founded capital city of Egypt. It was the first mosque to be constructed in Cairo, and took approximately two years to build. It was completed in the year 972, after which it opened for prayers during the month of Ramadan.
Since the Fatimid dynasty was descendant from Fatima, daughter of the Prophet P.B.U.H., it is widely thought that the university was named after her. Fatima was also known as Az Zahra (the brilliant or the shining one), thus, giving the university its name. Another theory regarding how the institution got its name is that the mosque was surrounded by large mansions and palaces during the year it was established. Al Azhar was originally established as a base for spreading the Ismaili sect of Shiite Islam. The Fatimid Dynasty used it as a means to publicize the teachings of the Ismaili school of law. This sect of Islam was taught at both the caliph’s palace and at al Azhar. It became a leading institution for Islamic learning in the world and was used as a center for issuing all religious judgments. In 973, the mosque was designated as the official place of congregational gathering for the Eid ul Fitr prayers in Cairo. In 988, Al Muiz appointed Yaqub ibn Killis, a person with extensive knowledge of Islamic law as one of the prominent instructors at Al Azhar. Yaqub bin Killis is mainly credited with advancing Al Azhar as a center for Islamic learning. The next year, the authorities at Al Azhar appointed several other instructors and religious scholars to teach at the mosque, thus, forming a base for the institution to become the most prominent Islamic university in the world. From 975 to 996, during the reign of Al Muiz’s son al Aziz, the mosque expanded even further. These expansions were carried out till the remaining of the Fatimid dynasty. The Fatimid dynasty is also credited with establishing Al Azhar’s library by providing it with numerous Ismaili manuscripts. A Mamluk leader
However, following the overthrow of the Fatimid dynasty by the Ayyubid Empire led by Saladin in 1171, the mosque saw a period of negligence. The Ayyubid dynasty was a firm Sunni empire and disapproved of the Shiite teachings taught at the university. The manuscripts provided by the Fatimid dynasty were destroyed, and funding for the students and professors was stopped. However, the policies of this dynasty are regarded as a key factor for converting Al Azhar to a Sunni...