Al Azhar has recently witnessed a number of important events in recent years, on top of which is its being honored as an international prominent institution by the Award of King Faisal for serving Islam. This award is honored by being granted to Al Azhar, and its grantor is honored as well. At its inception, Al Azhar was founded as a mosque of the city of Fatimite Cairo built by- Jawhar al Siqilli (Sicilian) in 358 H. (969 A.D.)
The original design of Al-Azhar Mosque consisted of a courtyard surrounded by three aisles. On the east, there were five corridors and on the south and north there were three corridors. At the Western Wall, there were no aisles. The main entrance of the mosque was in the middle of the northwest wall.
In about 400 H. (1009 A.D.), Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah, renewed Al Azhar, and allocated endowments to it. Many philanthropists followed suit, and Al Azhar depended on substantial Endowments. In the year 427H. (1035 A.D.) Al-Azhar was again renewed during the caliphate of Al Mustansir Billah, Ma’ad bin Az-Zahir Lazazdinallah (For dignifying Allah’s Religion). His grandson, Al Amir Biahkamallah, who acceded to the Caliphate in 495 H. (1101 A.D), followed in his track and implemented a complete renewal of Al Azhar. When al Hafiz Ledeinallah became a Caliph in 524 H. (1129 A.D.), he renewed Al-Azhar and added to it many structures. When the Fatimite State collapsed, the total area of Al-Azhar was 13000 arm lengths, that is less than half of its current area which has become today 26333 arm lengths; that is about 12000 square meters.
That was Al-Azhar’s architecture during the Fatimite era till their rule of Egypt was ended at the hands of al-Sultan Al-Nasser Saladin in A.H. 567H.(1171 A.D.) Saladin, then, suspended performing the Friday prayers in Al Azhar and closed it.
When al Zahir Baybars took over Egypt’s reign, the Friday prayers were resumed in Al Azhar Mosque. Emir Ezzedin Edimar, a prince of the Baybars’ state collected jewels from women and restored all that remained from Al Azhar’s endowments form their usurpers. He, then, renewed the Mosque’s ceilings and tiled all its floors.
Emir Badr Eddin Bilbak Al Khazindar al Zahiri, had been of great help with the renewal of the Mosque. He established a spacious court to which he allocated plantations and real-estates. He stipulated that the revenue from these endowments should be spent on those who would be sequestered in the mosque’s aisle to read the Holy Qur’an, rehearse the Mohammedan Sunnah, or teach Imam Shafi’i’s jurisprudence. That aisle was the first teaching corridor inside Al Azhar, and the prelude to its transformation into a world-famous university.
The Taybarsiyya: In the year 709 H. ( 1709 A.D.) Emir Ala’ al Din Taybars completed the construction of his Al Azhar attached school where he prescribed lessons to be taught by the Shafi’i scholars. He selected the most refined marble, and decorated its ceiling with gold. He also covered its floor with Mihrab dappled carpets. He equipped the school with a book-case.
The-Aqbaghawiyya: In 740 H. ( 1339 A.D.), Emir Aqbugha Ala’a Eddin Al Wahidi, completed the construction of his Al Azhar attached school which was linked to the Taybarism School. He constructed a minaret for the school which is one of the five current minarets of Al Azhar. Tawashi Emir Saad Eddin Basheer al Gumdar in761 H. (1360 A.D.) renewed Al Azhar Mosque and implemented important restorations to its architecture. He installed at its southern gate a free fresh water depot on top of which he built a Kuttab (school) for the teaching of the poor Muslim people. He also arranged for the delivery of lessons by Hanafi’i scholars. Moreover, he established a kitchen to provide the poor people neighboring Al Azhar with daily meals. He allocated substantial endowments for all that.
The Gawhariyya: Jawhar Al Qafiqbay Al Habashi constructed the Jawhari school at Al Azhar’s small northern gate toward the Corner of the Blind in 844 H. (1440 A.D.)
l The Mamuluk Sultan, Qaitbay implemented a thorough renewal of Al Azhar. He established Bab al-Muzayin and Bab al-Gindi (Gate of Qaytbay) with its minaret which is still standing. He also established a fountain, free fresh water faucet and running water facility for ablution. In 906 H. (1500 A.D. )Sultan Qansah al-Ghuri constructed his double final minaret inside Bab al-Muzayin?n. He also allocated the sum of 670 dinars for Al Azhar kitchen in Ramadan.
l Ottoman Azhar By the fall of the Mamuluk reign and the advent of the Ottoman Sultan Selim I to Egypt, the Ottomans paid particular attention the Al Azhar. At that time two important incidents had occurred:
l First, in 1161 H. (1748 A.D.) a number of astrolabes had been installed to tell the time. One of them was placed in a corner of Al Azhar courtyard; on the left side of the entrance.
l Second, Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda had made many changes and additions to Al Azhar in 1167 H. (1753 A.D.) He expanded the Kiblah aisle, renewed Bab al-Muzayin?n and Bab al-Sa’ayida (Gate of the Sa’idis, named after the people of Upper Egypt), as well as the al-Aqbaghawiyya school, and the Taybarsiyya School. He also established a basic school (Kuttab) for the education of poor Muslims. He increased the area of Al Shawam Corridor, and renewed the corridors of the Makeyyin, and Takruriyyin.
l Al Azhar had always been busy with lessons and science. Its riwaqs had been filled with students from all over the world. These riwaqs include; corridor of the Sudanese, corridor of the Moroccans, and the Jabarti Riwaq which was set aside for Al Azhar students from Abyssinia, Eritrea, and Somalia. Alberto Riwaq was for the students from Senegal, Nigeria, Guinea and Ghana. There are also Chad Riwaq, Nuba Riwaq, Yemen Riwaq, Sham Riwaq, Indonesia Riwaq, India Riwaq, Haramain Riwaq, and Afghan Riwaq.
l Al Azhar Bodies Al Azhar as it is now includes: – Al Azhar Supreme Council. – Department of Culture and Islamic Research. – Azhar Institutes. – Al Azhar University. – Azhar Library. – Islamic Research Academy. – Fatwa Committee.Sheikh Al Azhar presides over Al Azhar Supreme Council. It lies in the premises of the Sheikhdom Headquarters which had been adjacent to Al Azhar Mosque up to 1999; when it was moved to a new building constructed in the style of Islamic architecture. It is close to Al Azhar Mosque as well. The area of the new building is about 6.000 Square meters; much larger than the old building. It is also architecturally more appropriate as the sheikhdom headquarters. It was designed to house a sheikhdom specific information center as well as the offices of Al Azhar Secretary General; deputies, and public relations. The building is 6 stories high.
They are institutes established with the object of preparing young students to join Al-Azhar University. They have taken a modern and organized form since 1930; when the law of Al-Azhar Reform was issued by Sheikh al-Zawahiri, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar The most prominent of these institutes then was Al-Azhar Cairo Institute and the Institute of Alexandria, Zagazig, Assiut and the Institute of Damietta.
However, two institutes will remain the best throughout Al-Azhar’s history. They are the Institutes of Tanta and Desouq where the most outstanding Azhar scholars have studied and graduated in the recent years, including Dr. Mohammed Hussein al-Zahabi and the eminent Sheikh Mohammad Metwali Al-Sha’rawi, Dr. Youssef Al-Qaradawi, Dr. Ali Al-Sayess, Dr. Mohamed Emara, Dr. Mohamed Abdel Moneim al-Nimr, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Besar and many others. In the 1970s, and with the encouragement of Dr. Abdel Halim Mahmud, Al-Azhar former Grand Sheikh, Al-Azhar institutes have spread all over Egypt; across the villages and Cities.
Al Azhar has also adopted the construction and oversight of Azhar institutes outside Egypt. During his presidency of Sheikh Gad al-Haq Ali Gad al-Haq paid great attention to Kattatib (schools for Qur’an memorization) in Egypt which were almost extinct.
Al-Azhar University started to take up its contemporary identity in the year 1930 with the promulgation of Al-Azhar Reform Law when two colleges were founded, namely, the Colleges of Arabic Language and Shari’a Law. After the 1961 Law of the Development of Al-Azhar, Al-Azhar University consisted of the following Faculties: the Faculty of Fundamentals of Religion and the Faculty of Shari’a Law, the Faculty of Transactions and Management, the Islamic Faculty for Girls, the Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Agriculture.
The Egyptian Government had allocated a new site to Al-Azhar University-at the New Nasr City in Cairo, where the University has expanded. It also opened branches in most of the governorates of Egypt. The largest branch of Al-Azhar University is in Assiut. Al-Azhar University is the largest of all the Egyptian and Arab universities.
Inside Al-Azhar there were book cases in all its Riwaqs. The Europeans in the 19th century sought to loot the books. However, Sheikh Muhammad Abdou realized that and started to collect the Riwaq bookcases in Al-Azhar General Library.
The Library books had been recorded in two voluminous register-books where 18564 volumes had been recorded. The Aqbaghawiyya School attached to Al-Azhar was utilized as the headquarters of the Library in 1994. It was then moved to new headquarters currently known as as Al-Azhar’s Dar-al Kutub (Al Azhar Main Library), which was built according to the international architectural library systems. An up-to-date management system has also been developed for this library.
The importance of Al Azhar main Library is ascribed to the fact that it houses rare Islamic .manuscripts which are not available in any other library in the world. It has accrued more importance through the personal libraries dedicated to it such as the library of Suleiman Pasha Abaza presented by his inheritors in 1889, the library of Halim Pasha, presented to Al Azhar in1912, and the library of Sheikh Abdel Qader Al Rafie’ endowed to Al Azhar in 1927. Al Azhar main Library also houses precious Islamic artifacts and antiques including Holy Qur’an cases, Mamuluk and Ottoman Qur’an books, astronomical devices, and antique pens.
Islamic Research Academy
The Islamic Research Academy was established in 1961. The Academy had replaced the Board of Senior Ulema (scholars), which had its prestige, dignity, and reverence. It was respected by all Muslims in all parts of the world. The establishment of the Academy was based on the Law of Al-Azhar Reform, approved by the of the Egyptian People’s Council in 1961.
The Islamic Research Academy is a Jurisprudence competent authority to examine major problems faced by the Muslim community. The Academy provides indisputable views and has the decisive say in this respect. During his term of office, Sheikh Gad al-Haq Ali Gad al-Haq, played a prominent role in confronting what the Cairo International Conference on Population, held in 1994 had tried to pass such as abortion, homosexuality and the same-sex marriage, etc.
The Academy has also been monitoring all publications against Islam; in addition to following up the problems of Muslim minorities in the world. The Academy includes in its membership 35 scholars, and it has 12 Committees. In spite of the great role the Academy has been playing, the majority of Al-Azhar scholars still wish for the return of the old Board of Scholars, founded in 1931.
Sheikh Mustafa Al-Maraghi was the first one to think of the establishment of the Fatwa Committee in Al-Azhar in the year 1935. This Committee is an important reference and authority for all Muslims on the world level. The first structure of the Committee comprised a group of senior scholars; some of whom had later acceded to Al-Azhar Sheikhdom., including: Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout, Sheikh Mahmoud Al Sobki, and Sheikh Mohamed Abdallah Draz.
The most prominent Committee chairperson was Sheikh Atia Sakr, who had issued a great Encyclopedia of his fatwas which were recorded in more than 30 volumes. Each volume contained several chapters collecting fatwas relating to certain cases or particular areas.
One of the most prominent contemporary members of the Committee is Dr. Ali Gomaa, professor of Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar and Egypt’s Grand Mufti. The Committee receives five hundred men and women on daily basis. The people’s queries and the Committee members’ responses are recorded to be used when necessary.