Al-Azhar University, ranking among the oldest universities in the world, is looking forward to enhancing its leading role worldwide in presenting the right Islamic principles based on moderation and excellence in education, research, and building moderate and constructive Muslim personalities, who can contribute to the development of human civilization.
Al-Azhar University is keen to introduce scientific programs conforming to the regional and international standards with a view of developing the scientific research and gathering the Islamic and human heritage as well as the most recent inventions of science and its applications together. In a word, it respects heritage and welcomes modernity as integral elements.
The university is working to achieve the following:
1. Presenting the Islamic message of moderation and tolerance through the publication of the heritage of Arabs and Muslims, enhancing the culture of social peace, addressing modern issues in different languages, and resisting extremism. As such, it works on preparing highly qualified graduates, who are aware of the basics of Islamic Da‘wah and can communicate with all locally, regionally and universally.
2. Linking academic programs with labor market needs through a variety of graduates endowed with necessary skills for the use of modern technologies.
3. Providing a good climate for scientific and technological research and introducing different advices as well as availing of up-to-date achievements.
4. Offering social services and contributing to environmental development by virtue of raising the religious and cultural awareness and open cooperation with human thinking and development in all areas.
Al-Azhar University is the largest university worldwide. It was established before the University of Bologna, Italy. It is the third oldest Islamic university after Zaytouna and Al-Qarawiyyin. For centuries, Al-Azhar has remained an institution for education whereas Zaytouna and Al-Qarawiyyin universities ceased to be so for long time. Located in Cairo—the capital of Egypt, with many branches in most of Egyptian governorates, Al-Azhar University is the world largest Islamic religious institution.
For more than one thousand years, Al-Azhar University has been a beacon of science and the scientific world center gathering students of legislative, Arabic, natural, and human sciences. It has long been a center of moderation, imparting Islamic culture, tolerance, and ethics, and denouncing extremism, and sectarian and political intolerance.
It was in ruwaqs (traditional classroom inside Al-Azhar Mosque) that kings, sultans, presidents, Al-Azhar Sheikhs, Muftis, ministers, ambassadors, scientists, and others from all corners of the world learned knowledge.
Mosque and University
Al-Azhar University is associated with Al-Azhar Mosque, dating back to the Fatimid era. Caliph Al-Mu‘izz Lidinillah al-Fatimi ordered Jawhar Al-Siqilli to lay the corner stone of Al-Azhar Mosque on Ramadan 14, 359 AH (971 CE). Al-Azhar was established as an official Fatimid mosque for its religious call and spiritual sovereignty. It was opened for prayers on Ramadan 5, 361 AH and called Al-Jami‘ Al-Azhar (Al-Azhar Mosque) after Al-Zahraa’ (may Allah be pleased with her), to whom the Fatimid Dynasty is attributed. The purpose of its establishment was initially to call for Shiite thought. However, it later became a university for the dissemination of Sunni doctrine and a center for teaching various religious and rational sciences.
At first, Al-Azhar was just a religious house of worship and spreading Shiite call. However, Minister Ya‘qub Ibn Killis advised Caliph Al-‘Aziz in 378 A.H to make it an educational institute. Study was actually conducted at Al-Azhar Mosque in the late era of Al-Mu‘izz Lidinillah Al-Fatimi. Abu Al-Hasan Ibn Al-Nu‘man, the Chief Judge, delivered the first scholarly lecture in 365 AH (Oct. 975 CE). More lectures and sessions of knowledge then followed.
Sessions of knowledge marked Al-Azhar classical method of education (in mosque and university). Students used to sit down in circles around the teacher, who would deliver his lecture to them. Jurists used to have their circles of knowledge in ruwaqs. Teachers were not authorized to teach except after passing an oral examination in eleven sciences followed by a decree by the caliph authorizing them to teach.
Al-Azhar educational system (in mosque and university) was the first to introduce the teaching-assistant job. A teaching assistant used to revise lessons with students. The student had to pass an exam, but he had to get a letter of recommendation from two remarkable scholars before it. Getting the recommendation, he would submit a request for the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar in addition to an authorization form. A committee composed of six scholars headed by the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, in addition to a Hanbali jurist when necessary, would test the student. Two scholars for each Madh-hab (School of Law) would be chosen as teachers.
The student had to pass the oral test in eleven sciences, not in certain books, and to prove qualified to teach them from memory. If authorized, he would be a third-circle Sheikh or a ‘Amud Sheikh (Professor). Later he would be promoted to the position of a second-circle Sheikh (Full Professor).
At that early time, Al-Azhar University offered, surpassing all modern rival universities, the credit-hours system. There was more than one teacher for each curriculum. Students used to choose their sheikhs without the least disturbance. In other words, Al-Azhar adopted the optional curriculum as well as the oral test, which is one of the best types of testing. It is not true that Al-Azhar University was established in 1920 under the Royal Decree to establish the first three colleges. Indeed, it had begun simultaneous with Al-Azhar Mosque itself in 972 AH. The Royal Decree came only within a historical framework to develop Al-Azhar education, which is possible at any time.
Al-Azhar scholars fully undertook their educational mission at Al-Azhar University. They did not teach Sharia sciences only but also taught philosophy, logic, mathematics, and medicine. These sciences were first limited in scope but Al-Hakim Bi-amrillah built Dar Al-Hikmah University to enhance them. Women also attended some lessons at the time.
The study soon expanded to include the sciences of astronomy, arithmetic, medicine, architecture, geology, history, and some social sciences among other sciences. Famous scholars associated with Al-Azhar (mosque and university) include Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Taghri Bardi, Musa Ibn Maymun, al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham, Muhammad Ibn Younis al-Misri, and al-Qalqashandi among others, who introduced great scientific literature to the benefit of the entire humanity.
Despite the suspension of Friday Prayers for around one-hundred years under the Ayyubid state, there are indications that the lessons continued at intervals. Thanks to the Mamluk Sultan Al-Zahir Baibars, the Friday Prayers were recovered in line with the Sunni way. He also reconstructed and renewed Al-Azhar, restoring its position as a prestigious university noted for high reputation in Egypt and Muslim world.
The Mamluk era is one of the most glorious times of Al-Azhar (mosque and university). It came to be well known as an educational center with libraries and precious books until its library became one of the largest libraries in the east and the world. A number of Mamluk Sultans also renovated and expanded it until it became the mother school of Cairo and the largest and matchless Islamic University.
In spite of inertia and stagnation of scientific process and arts in Egypt under the Ottoman rule, Al-Azhar University remained the safe haven for knowledge and science. Al-Azhar (mosque and university) led revolutions against the French invasion of Egypt and supported the Egyptians in appointing Muhammad Ali as the governor of Egypt.
Over long decades, the University has been the only source for learning, graduation of state employees and teachers in the Islamic world. In modern times, backed by the renaissance initiated by Muhammad Ali, the students and graduates of Al-Azhar University formed the nucleus of various educational institutes established in line with the modern standards of European education. They were also the nucleus of educational missions to Europe to transfer modern knowledge.
At the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the University of Al-Azhar witnessed the beginning of reform and modernization, which aimed to transform it into an institution with a standard modern educational entity. A number of scholars led this reform. The most prominent of all is Imam Muhammad ‘Abdu, who established Al-Azhar Board of Directors Rajab 6, 1312 AH, followed by the Law no. 10 of 1911, which regulated Al-Azhar study systems and divided it into stages. He laid the regulations for employment, student admission, examination systems, and certificates. He also established a body to take charge of supervision, calling it “the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar.”
In a further development of this long-established institution, Law No. 49 of 1930 was issued to establish Al-Azhar three colleges: Usul Al-Din (Theology), Sharia, and Arabic colleges. The law provided the possibility for the establishment of other colleges. In addition, other sciences such as mathematics, science, and social studies were introduced to Al-Azhar institutes to qualify graduates joining various Al-Azhar colleges. Law No. 26 of 1936 introduced the fourth stage of post-graduate Studies.
Progress crowned in the Development Law no. 103 issued on July 5, 1961 for Al-Azhar reorganization. Under this law, Al-Azhar scientific University was established. It included a number of scientific colleges for the first time, such trade, medicine, engineering, and agriculture colleges. A college for Muslim girls was also established, including departments for the study of medicine, trade, science and Arabic, and Islamic and human studies.
Unlike other counterparts, Al-Azhar modern scientific colleges also teach Islamic studies besides other sciences. The University educational systems have greatly expanded and advanced to keep abreast with contemporary modern standards. The mission is no longer limited to preaching, guidance, and education. It has opened greater horizons to lead scientific research, serve Muslims, and defend their issues worldwide. It spreads moderate Islam in face of extremism and fanaticism trends around the world. After putting the historical academic standards and norms, Al-Azhar University continues its permanent and sustainable contributions, foreign missions, and cultural delegations to various African, European, American, Asian countries, and Australia.
Al-Azhar Graduate Qualifications
Al Azhar University takes pride in its practical colleges, as well as in Sharia colleges. They have a great mission. Students learn both natural sciences and religious sciences to carry out the message of Al Azhar worldwide. Muhammad Ibn Yunis al-Misri (d. 1009 CE), the inventor of trigonometry, and Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham (d. 1039 CE), a well-known scholar of optics, were both teachers at Al-Azhar. Al-Azhar used to welcome non-Muslims vising scholars of applied sciences to teach at the mosque, such as the Jewish author Musa Ibn Maymun, who was living in Andalusia.
Teaching practical and experimental sciences began at Al-Azhar simultaneously with teaching Arabic and Sharia sciences. The first group graduated from the medical school of Abu Za‘bal had 100 students, all of whom were Al-Azhar students. Medicine in Egypt was known through the students of Al-Azhar. When Muhammad Ali Pasha wanted to send educational missions to make renaissance in Egypt, he found only Al-Azhar institution to do the required job. Nine educational missions went to Italy, France, Austria, England, Russia, and others, of which more than 70% were from Al-Azhar. Those members returned to Egypt and established Al-Alsun School (the School of Languages), which later became the College of Al-Alsun and led the translation movement, military technical school and others.
Sheikh Al-‘Attar, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh, wrote in astronomy, mathematics, and geography. He recommended those Al-Azhar students for missions. Sheikh Al-Damanhuri, who authored more than six books on medicine and anatomy, served as the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar. He skillfully and equally wrote on anatomy and usul-ul-fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence). Al-Azhar University carried the torch of enlightenment and renaissance in modern Egypt. It led enlightenment everywhere in the Muslim world in all times. Al-Azhar graduates throughout history educated the Egyptians and Muslims in villages and cities as exemplars of guidance and knowledge to whom others would resort for help.
Al-Azhar Opportunities and Competitiveness of Al-Azhar University:
The opportunities and the competitiveness of Al-Azhar University are exclusive. Al-Azhar is prestigious and eminent. Al-Azhar University is distinguished from other international institutions; it includes students from 107 countries. There is no educational institution in the world including such different ethnic backgrounds. Giving a unique opportunity, Al-Azahr for more than five centuries grants free scholars for students. Al-Azhar graduates are competitively in high demand in various countries worldwide. Al-Azhar faculty members are 15155 while the administrative body has 13074 employees. All these serve approximately 500000 students, including international students.
The University has 23 practical faculties with several faculties bearing the same name. This qualifies it for pioneership and excellence. For instance, any university has one medicine or science faculty, but Al-Azhar University has four faculties of medicine and three faculties of science. If another university has one engineering or pharmacy faculty, Al-Azhar University has three each in addition to another pharmacy faculty under construction in Luxor. Likewise, Al-Azhar University has three faculties of dentistry and one under construction in Luxor. This reveals the competitiveness of Al-Azhar University even at the level of practical colleges.
Al-Azhar University has 34 scientific and theoretical colleges and 45 Sharia colleges. The total is 79 colleges, 47 of which are for men and 32 are for women. (Note: Refer to the Information Center.)
If other universities have a single university hospital, Al-Azhar University has six university hospitals and offers medical services to the public six times higher than any other university. This places Al-Azhar University as most competitive university. It has matchless advantages and has recently opened a hospital with an area of 124,000 square meters, the largest hospital in the Middle East, with an airfield.
Features of Al-Azhar Graduates
Al-Azhar graduates can compete with any other graduates worldwide. Simply, Al-Azhar curricula are based on three pillars, which are not available at any educational institution in the world:
First: The University teaches sciences of transmitted texts; namely, the sciences of Quran and Sunnah.
Second: It also teaches rational sciences, such as intermediary instrumental sciences, giving students a good training for good perception. Al-Azhar student understands texts as multi-faceted concepts in openness without conflicts. However, following texts only without taking into consideration rational sciences leads to limited understanding and deviation, which unfortunately results in excommunicating other, but such deviation has no place at Al-Azhar.
Third: The University teaches applied sciences as well as Islamic and Arabic sciences. As such, Al-Azhar student is rational and open-minded. S/he is has deep enlightenment to remove conflicts between logic and scripture on one side and between life affairs and religion on the other. Hence, the diversity of Muslim Schools of Law and the acceptance of the other are deeply rooted in Egypt.
Pluralism and acceptance of the other mark Al-Azhar approach. We find in the same house a person who follows the Hanafi School of Law and another following the Shafi‘i School, and still other one following the Maliki school without blaming each other's views or accusing other another of errors.
This education, based on such scriptural sciences and logic-based sciences, produces open-minded graduates, who are able to keep up with progress. The graduates of Al-Azhar University learn how to form an integrated view of religious texts. Besides, they learn that logic-based sciences are the way to understanding scriptural sciences correctly.
As far as theological colleges are concerned, students study a new curriculum entitled “the contemporary issues.” It explores all new issues. The university theses also study such nascent issues. The university strongly believes that every age should have its suitable jurisprudence and that texts are limited in letters while incidents are limitless. In other words, texts should cover all incidents and respond to new issues.
Therefore, Al-Azhar University educates students the sound methodologies, which date back more than one thousand years and have approved worldwide. Through such methodologies, the world realizes the value of Islamic systems, message, and Prophet. Al-Azhar University's curricula prove the real heir of the Islamic Knowledge delivered by the Prophet. Through the texts of these curricula, others came to know about the Islamic history, civilization, and heroes as well as the makers of Muslim glories. Al-Azhar sciences inspired people with the real standards of life and truth as well as the criteria of right and wrong concerning individual conduct as well as the standards of right and wrong on societal, cultural, civilizational, and national levels.
Al-Azhar University will remain the scientific and academic authority for Muslims and others in the sciences of Islam, Arabic, and other social and humanitarian disciplines. Through its academic, scientific, and cultural reserves, it continues to provide effective solutions to problems that pose a threat to human societies in various fields.
May Allah grant us success!