Al-Azhar - Mosque & the Oldest University in the World

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Topics: Egypt, Imam, Mufti, Fatimids, Islam, ...

In the year 970, the fourth Fatimid Caliph, the first in Egypt, decided to build the Al-Azhar Mosque (after the conquest of Egypt in 969 and the founding of Cairo). It is dedicated to the Prophet Mohammed's daughter Fatima, who was called az-Zahrā', the brilliant, from which the name of the mosque was derived (Azhar is the masculine of Zahrā').

Al-Azhar, Photo by Tentoila, Released to Public Domain.

It was the first mosque built in Cairo, although in today's Cairo there are several older mosques. This is because they were in an older city, Fustat, which was later swallowed by Cairo. Today one cannot see much of Fustat, only a few buildings remain; they can be found in “Old Cairo”.

Mosquée Al Azhar [Al Azhar Mosque], by Jean Pascal Sebah, 1880s 0r 1890s. In the Public Domain.

However, the mosque did not have this name immediately. When it was first ready to be used, in 972, it was called Gāma 'al-Mansuriyya [جامع المنصورية]', “The Mansuriyya Mosque”, after the name of Cairo at that time, al-Mansuriyya [المنصورية]. The name was then changed with the name of the city, and was called Gāma 'al-Qāhirah [جامع القاهرة]', “The Cairo Mosque”. The name Al-Azhar [الأزهر] was given to the mosque some time during the reign of al-'Azīz bi-llāh (the fifth caliph).

Al-Azhar Mosque and University, Photo by Tentoila, Released to Public Domain.

The name, Al-Azhar, applies to both the mosque and the associated university. Allegedly, the latter is the world's oldest university, and the wide-spread use of black gowns at university graduations started there; allegedly, the costume is inspired by the gowns of the graduates of al-Azhar.

Al-Azhar University, Photo by Chilloutmo, Released to Public Domain.

From the beginning, al-Azhar was the centre of learning of Ismaili Shi'ism, the same Islamic sect as the Fatmids represented. It eventually changed to Sunnite Islam and has gradually grown to become the most important centre of learning of Sunnite Islam, with official functions in Egypt. Al-Azhar is headed by a Grand Imam and a Grand Mufti, whose positions are among the most prestigious in Sunnite Islam.

Grand Mufti & Grand Imam

A Mufti is an Islamic scholar who issues fatwas, opinions on how Shariah, Islamic law, should be interpreted in different contexts.

In Ottoman Turkey, in the 16th century, people began to give official status and authority to a Mufti over all the others, he was called the Grand Mufti. Officially, he became the head of the religious establishment in the Ottoman Empire - with far-reaching religious and legal power.

In the 19th century, with the Turkish influences of Muhammad Ali, the same practice was introduced in Egypt, and from there it spread to many other countries.

Al-Azhar in Egypt is one of the foremost universities of Sunni Islam in the world. This means that the words of the Grand Mufti of al-Azhar weigh very heavy even outside Egypt's borders. So do the words of al-Azhar's head, the Grand Imam.

Egypt's current (January 2021) Grand Mufti is Sheikh Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, who took office in February 2013.

The current (January 2021) Grand Imam of al-Azhar is Sheikh Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb, who took office in 2010.

Copyright © 2018, 2021 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.

Read also my previous two articles about Fatimid Egypt: "The Fatimids of Egypt, The Only Shi'ite Caliphate in History" and Al-Hakim – The Mad Caliph.

All my articles about Egypt can be found here.

You find all my writings on Read.Cash, sorted by topic, here.

If you are interested in history and Egyptology, join my community History, Myths, Legends & Mysteries (be45).

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2 years ago
Topics: Egypt, Imam, Mufti, Fatimids, Islam, ...