Al-Azhar Al-Sharif

Al-Azhar Al-Sharif

Table of contents

  1. History of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif
  2. Information about Al-Azhar

Al-Azhar Al-Sharif is the largest religious scientific institution in Egypt, and the world’s third oldest university after the universities of Al-Zaytouna in Tunisia and Al-Qarawiyyin in Morocco. It was established in the Fatimid era to spread the Shiite sect, and it goes through many events during successive ages to become that huge institution for which it is famous among the countries of the Islamic world.

History of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif

The Mosque of Amr Ibn al-Aas, which was established during the Islamic conquest of Egypt, and the Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulun, which was established in the city of al-Qata’i, were among the most important landmarks and educational religious institutions in Egypt, until the era of the Fatimid state began, which followed the Shiite sect, that was later called the Fatimid sect due to several splits in the sect, this was under the leadership of Jawhar al-Siqali in 969 AD, who in turn ordered the construction of a new city to be the capital and the Fatimid leadership and rule center for the Egyptian state, the construction of a palace to be the seat of government and caliphate after him, and a mosque to be the headquarters responsible for spreading the Shiite sect or the Fatimid sect to eliminate the Sunni sect in the state. Indeed the city (Cairo) was established, and the mosque was established, which was then called the Cairo Mosque before it was called Al-Azhar Mosque or Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the mosque was opened in 361 AH, specifically on the first Friday of the blessed month of Ramadan, the opening was through a huge ceremony aimed at clarifying the purpose of establishing this mosque, which is to spread the Fatimid da’wa or the Fatimid sect or the Shiite sect, and to eliminate the Sunni sect in the state.

After the Fatimid caliph Al-Muizz li-Din Allah assumed power, he saw that the speed of imposing and spreading the doctrine would be like forcing the Egyptians to follow it, and thus hatred and disaffiliation would be generated, and the doctrine might disappear quickly in the event of any problems in the state, he believed that it should be spread by persuasion through Al-Azhar mosque. The process of spreading the Fatimid sect began four years after the inauguration of the mosque, it began with teaching jurisprudence lessons because of its ease and considering it a smooth and uncomplicated introduction to spread the doctrine. Al-Muizz li-Din Allah established a new position called (Da’i Al-Dawa’) to be assumed by those responsible for spreading the doctrine, and these lessons were presented through lectures and science seminars that were approved in advance by the Fatimid caliph. After the death of Al-Muizz li-Din Allah al-Fatimi in 988 AD, i.e. after 12 years of teaching the Fatimid sect in the state, the systematic study appeared within Al-Azhar. After Al-Aziz Billah Al-Fatimi assumed the caliphate, he agreed to the minister’s offer to place a group of jurists to teach inside Al-Azhar regularly, so that about 37 jurists would take over this task and about 35 students would join the study system. The caliph allocated part of the money under the name (the allowance) to spend on students as a kind of encouragement to study at Al-Azhar, and this term remained in use until the beginning of the twentieth century.

At that time, the Al-Azhar Mosque was the first gateway to spreading the Fatimid Shiite sect in the whole world, until the end of the Fatimid state by the Ayyubids, who were followers of the Sunni sect and enemies of the followers of the Shiite sect. Therefore, they tried to eliminate the Fatimid sect in the state and eliminate the Al-Azhar mosque, in order to do so, they banned Friday prayers inside Al-Azhar, this ban lasted for 100 years, but the study continued in it as a university for religious sciences, but instead of teaching the Shiite sect only, as in the Fatimid era, the four sects were taught, and they paid special attention to the Shafi’i sect, given that the majority of Egyptians and the Ayyubid sultans followed this sect.

The prestige of Al-Azhar declined during the Ayyubid era because they established about 25 schools for religious sciences and spread the Sunni doctrine in the cities of Cairo and Fustat, which in turn attracted many senior religious scholars in the Egyptian state to teach it thanks to the strength of the state’s support for these schools, this decline continued for 100 years until the Mamluk era began and Al-Azhar’s prestige returned again.

One of the Mamluk princes called (Izz al-Din Aydamr al-Hali) during the reign of al-Zahir Baybars made renovations to the Al-Azhar Mosque, and was opened for prayer again, the Mamluks were clearly interested in the Al-Azhar Mosque and its development, as they were the ones who established the halls, which are the places that were allocated for the residence of students, whether Egyptians Or non-Egyptians, these halls continued to expand until their number reached 29, and they lasted until the twentieth century, Al-Azhar at that time and the city of Cairo were the first center for spreading Sunni Islamic sciences in the world.

Some of the most prominent Muslim scholars who taught at Al-Azhar during the Mamluk era are (Majd al-Din al-Fayrouzabadi), (Abu al-Abbas al-Qalqashandi), (Ibn Khaldun), (Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti), and (Taqi al-Din al-Hamudi), with these scholars and the expansion of the halls, Al-Azhar Al-Sharif became the world’s most important Islamic religious scientific center, until the Mamluk state was defeated by the Ottomans in 1517 AD.

The Ottomans entered Egypt and deported many artisans, workers, men of science and religion, including the scholars of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and many of the books there to Istanbul, Turkey, to benefit from them, which led to the decline of Al-Azhar in its scientific, religious and cultural production, and it was forbidden to teach natural sciences there (such as geography, mathematics, etc.), but it was respected by the Ottomans, so it retained its status, and the situation remained the same until the nineteenth century.

The pattern of teaching in Al-Azhar Al-Sharif at that time was to interpret and explain old books or literature, and that was called (explanations), then someone would interpret this explanation under the name of (footnotes), followed by a third explanation under the name of (reports), this was one of the manifestations of the degrade and decline of religious sciences within Al-Azhar until the teaching of (footnotes) and (reports) was prohibited in the nineteenth century.

However, the priority of Al-Azhar at that time was to preserve the Arabic language in Egypt and the Arab world, while the state used the Turkish language in dealings, and the Arab world remained under the control of Turkish rule for 400 years.

One of the advantages of the Ottoman era on the Al-Azhar Mosque is that one of the Mamluk princes called (Abdul Rahman Katkhuda Al-Qazdagli) during the eighteenth century made the largest and most important expansion in its history, as he doubled the area of ​​Al-Azhar, and he also established a hall dedicated to those coming from Upper Egypt, focused his attention on the students of Al-Azhar, spending on them and feeding them, and took care of the mosque’s neighbors.

The position of (Sheikhdom of Al-Azhar) appeared during the Ottoman era, before this position, Al-Azhar Mosque was supervised by 3 parties, and they are

  • Caliph or one of the senior statesmen to take care of the construction and administrative aspect of the mosque.
  • Al-Azhar preacher to be responsible for religious affairs.
  • Al-Azhar scholars to pay attention to the scientific and teaching side.

The first sheikh of Al-Azhar known to history is (Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Kharashi), the appointment was done at that time through the scholars of Al-Azhar, and during the era of Muhammad Ali Pasha, he was responsible for the appointment himself.

The Egyptians resorted to the scholars of Al-Azhar to defend them from the seizure and oppression of the Mamluks and the Ottomans, so that Al-Azhar Al-Sharif became a center for the national movement and the popular leaders. Indeed, Al-Azhar scholars were able to preserve part of the rights of the Egyptians after negotiating with the Mamluks and the Ottomans, so a statement was issued prohibiting the imposition of new taxes except with the approval of Al-Azhar scholars first, and that the judicial rulings be applied to the common people, the Mamluks, the Ottomans and the masters of the state, thus transforming Al-Azhar into a center of popular leadership in 1795 AD.

Then the French campaign came and defeated the armies of the Mamluks in 1798 AD, which led to the outbreak of revolutions in the city of Cairo, and it was led by Al-Azhar scholars.

  • The first revolution of Cairo, led by Sheikh Sadat, in 1798 AD.
  • The second revolution of Cairo, led by Omar Makram, in 1800 AD.

As a result, the French forces stormed the Al-Azhar Mosque in an attempt to quell and eliminate these revolutions, they killed many of Al-Azhar scholars, imprisoned and tortured some, and imposed taxes on others. After the departure of the French, the role of Al-Azhar scholars increased, especially when they dismissed the Ottoman governor (Ahmed Khurshid Pasha), so that Muhammad Ali Pasha would take power instead.

The influence and power of Al-Azhar scholars remained for a short period during the rule of Muhammad Ali until he decided to banish Omar Makram in 1809 and he took control of the country’s political affairs and Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, for fear of any other popular movements that might affect the country’s affairs, and after the Sheikh of Al-Azhar was chosen by the scholars of Al-Azhar themselves, he decided to undertake this task himself, he was very interested in sending scholarships of Al-Azhar students to study abroad. In his era, prominent and important names appeared at Al-Azhar, such as (Rifa’a at-Tahtawi), so that the educational movement developed within Al-Azhar, and new movements appeared to renew Islamic thought, one of the most important pioneers of these movements was (Muhammad Abduh).

Then, after that, the Orabi movement appeared under the leadership of Ahmed Orabi, which the Sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Grand Mufti of Egypt at the time (Sheikh Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Abbasi) was not enthusiastic about, which enabled the Orabi followers to persuade Khedive Tawfiq to dismiss him from the sheikhdom of Al-Azhar, indeed this matter was completed, and Al-Abbasi retained the position of fatwa only, and (Sheikh Shams Al-Din Al-Anbab) replaced him.

With the entry of the British into Egypt, the Orabi followers decided to prepare a statement to dismiss Khedive Tawfiq for his collusion with the British. They asked the scholars of Al-Azhar to endorse this statement, and most of them agreed to do so, including (Al-Anbabi) and (Sheikh Muhammad Abduh), but (Al-Abbasi) refused to sign this statement because he believed that the one who has the right to dismiss the Khedive is the Ottoman caliph. This led to the Egyptian government and the British attacking the scholars who signed this statement, which made (Al-Anbabi) resign and (Al-Abbasi) took over in his place again, who stayed for only 4 years and also resigned, and (Al-Anbabi) returned to the sheikhdom again.

During the reign of (Al-Anbabi) and (Al-Abbasid) in the sheikhdom of Al-Azhar, a great development took place, such as the issuance of laws that regulate the teaching process by conducting tests under the supervision of Azhar scholars from different sects, except for the Hanbali sect due to the small number of its students. These tests were conducted on 11 subjects taught there over the course of 11 days.

New laws were issued during the reign of Khedive Abbas Helmy II to organize Al-Azhar during the years 1895 AD, 1908 AD, and 1911 AD, and the minimum age for joining Al-Azhar Mosque was set at 15 years, education was divided into stages equivalent to primary, secondary and higher education. Al-Azhar institutes were organized, and the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar and a body of senior scholars were established, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar acquired the title (the Great Imam), in 1930 AD specializations were established for the first time (Arabic language, Sharia, and the fundamentals of religion), and separate colleges were opened for these three disciplines to be the first Azhar colleges.

With the outbreak of the July Revolution of 1952 AD, a set of laws was issued to organize and restructure Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, including Law No. 103 of 1961 AD, which defined Al-Azhar’s bodies, including the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar, and an Islamic Research Complex was established to be a residence for students from all over the world. New colleges were also established to teach non-religious sciences, such as medicine, engineering, and others, in addition to the establishment of a girls’ college to allow them to enroll in studies there, which still exists to this day in Nasr City, Cairo. The appointment of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar became in the hands of the President of the Republic after the dissolution of the Council of Senior Scholars under this law, and Al-Azhar became in the form in which it is known until now.

After the revolution of January 2011 AD, Law No. 13 of 2012 AD was issued, which included amendments to the Al-Azhar system, one of these amendments is the formation of the Council of Senior Scholars again, thus the appointment of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar became one of the tasks of the council, this law gave Sheikh of Al-Azhar the same rank as the Prime Minister.

Information about Al-Azhar

  • Al-Azhar Al-Sharif is an Egyptian Islamic religious scientific institution consisting of 8 bodies.
  • It includes 11,000 Azhar institutes inside Egypt, and 23 institutes abroad, 16 of which are located in African countries, 4 institutes in Palestine, and the rest in Iraqi Kurdistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • It includes a huge library with more than 110,000 books in more than half a million volumes, including 40,000 books in the form of manuscripts.
  • Al-Azhar Al-Sharif annually sends missions of Azhar scholars to spread the Islamic religion and its sciences on the continent of Africa.
  • Annually, about 30,000 students from more than 100 countries join Al-Azhar to study at their own expense.
  • Al-Azhar also provides 4,000 scholarships annually for non-Egyptian students, provided they pass an Arabic language test that is held in Egyptian embassies in countries abroad.
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