Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
Valerie: al-Azhar was founded by the Fatimid caliphate as a mosque in 970 A.D., with a madrassa, or religious school, added in 972 A.D. It was fully organized and functional as a center for advanced Islamic learning by 988 A.D. Under the Fatimids, al-Azhar was a center of Shi'i theology and jurisprudence, an identity that changed under the successive Sunni dynasty of the Ayyubids. al-Azhar was transformed into a center for the study of Sunni schools of law with a focus on Qur'anic sciences, though it did lose some prominence under the Ayyubids. al-Azhar was fully revived as the heart of Egyptian Islamic learning under the Mamluks, who added extensively to the architecture of the mosque/madrassa and eventually assumed full patronage of it in the late 1300s. The Ottomans that assumed control over Egypt in 1517 continued expanding upon al-Azhar and solidified the mosque/madrassa as the center of Egyptian Islam.
al-Azhar is intimately connected to the ulema, or the class of advanced relgious scholars that influence and judge the application of Islam in politics and daily life. The ulema was based out of al-Azhar since its foundation. Students of al-Azhar would traditionally live at the madrassa and received daily rations of food, as described in Zayni Barakat. Learning was done in small groups led by shaykhs who emphasized mentorship, rote memorization, and Socratic dialogue in the education of the students. Students of al-Azhar would often go on to assume leadership roles in mosques, become Muslim jurists, or take positions in politics.
al-Azhar became a university in our conception of the word in the 1960s when faculties such as medicine and engineering were added, though the main focuses of the school today are still Qur'anic sciences, the Arabic language, Islamic theology, and jurisprudence. It houses an enormous library, considered the second most important in the Middle East in terms of the amount of Islamic documents it contains. al-Azhar maintains an immense influence over Islamic thought today and is home to a Supreme Council (the modern ulema) who continue to issue fatwas (religious judgments concerning law) about numerous modern issues.
Posted at Dec 06/2010 02:52PM:
ian: Key concept here. Center of learning and worship. Moves from being strictly sectarian to a more broad educational portfolio -- it changes with the times we might say.