Al-Azhar: Centuries of Islamic knowledge

Nesmahar Sayed , Tuesday 19 Mar 2024

This week Al-Azhar Mosque celebrates its 1,084th anniversary, reports Nesmahar Sayed

Al-Azhar: Centuries of Islamic knowledge


Al-Azhar Mosque, a beacon of Islamic civilisation and one of the most famous mosques in Egypt and the Islamic world, celebrated its 1,084th anniversary this week.

Al-Azhar had historical and national stances regarding life in general while confronting the invaders of the land of Egypt, Ahmed Omar Hashem, a member of Al-Azhar Scholars Council, said at a ceremony marking the milestone.

According to Hashem, Al-Azhar played a crucial role in Egypt’s history. It resisted the French campaign against Egypt and led revolutionaries who also opposed French and English colonialism.

History states that Jawhar Al-Siqilli, leader of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Al-Fatimi, established Al-Azhar Mosque on 24 Jumada Al-Awwal, 359 AH (4 April 970 AD) that is, a year after the founding of the city of Cairo. Its construction took 27 months and it was soon transformed into a scientific university and was given the name Al-Azhar Mosque.

In May 2018 the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar, headed by Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb, decided to mark the opening of Al-Azhar Mosque on 7 Ramadan 361 AH as a day to celebrate the anniversary of its founding.

On the occasion, Al-Tayeb wrote on Facebook and X that since the first prayer held in the mosque, Al-Azhar has become a beacon of culture, a haven for scholars, students of science and researchers, and a destination for scholars from all over the world.

According to Al-Azhar Undersecretary Abdel-Rahman Al-Duwaini, the institution maintains Egypt’s security. “Intellectual and ideological security… is no less important than the external security of the homeland. Thought and belief are the security of the nation,” Al-Duwaini said during the celebration marking the anniversary. “It preserves belief and faith, and preserves identity.”

Al-Duwaini stressed that Al-Azhar is a comprehensive institution with a body of senior Al-Azhar scholars devoted to understanding issues that preoccupy people and to reach an opinion that responds to their needs.

It also houses an Islamic research complex that works to renew Islamic culture. Moreover, Al-Azhar preachers work across the world. In addition, there is the decades-old Al-Azhar University that has benefited society and the world with graduates who have become symbols and role models for others, and fatwa (religious edict) committees in every country. “This great institution, with the roles it plays, the work it performs and the initiatives it launches, confirms that it is an institution that honours the past, reads the present, and seeks the future,” Al-Duwaini added.

Al-Azhar has another important role through its academia. According to Abdel-Moneim Fouad, the general supervisor of the mosque’s Rowaq Al-Azhar (learning circles, comparable to Greek Stoa), Al-Tayeb directed that such academic circles be reinstated to address ideas and developments that appear daily. Fouad pointed out that there are 1,000 teaching institutes covering Sharia sciences and the Holy Quran, and which now receive more than 70,000 students nationwide, covering all of Egypt’s governorates, including cities along the border.

Mohamed Al-Abeedy, an imam at the Ministry of Endowments, said Al-Azhar has survived that long because of its moderation, tolerance, and acceptance of Islam’s various doctrines.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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