Al-Azhar University is the largest university in the world. It was established before the Bologna University in Italy. It is the third oldest university after the universities of Zaytouna and Al-Qarawiyyīn (in Tunisia and Morocco, respectively). But Al-Azhar University remained throughout centuries an educational institution, while the first two universities ceased to act for long periods of time. In its educational system, Al-Azhar Al-Sharif is the first Mosque and University to create the job of teaching assistant in the whole world. The job of the teaching assistant was to revise with the students what the professor has already taught. It was necessary for the student who wishes to join the teaching career to pass the exam, after being recommended by two remarkable scholars of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif. When he was recommended by the two scholars, he had to submit an application, attached to this recommendation, to the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar at that time. Then the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar would form a committee composed of six scholars headed by him. A seventh member was sometimes added to them if the candidate wanted to be tested in the Ḥanbaliy School of Jurisprudence. The committee would issue a decree from the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar. Each of the four Jurisprudence Schools was represented by two Sheikhs in the testing committee. The test was usually held orally for prolonged sessions. The student was orally tested in eleven disciplines, and not eleven books, which he had to completely master. If he mastered them, he would become a teacher of the third level and then later be promoted to be the second level.
At that time, Al-Azhar University provided what the universities recently started to apply, the credit hour system, offering the curriculum by more than one professor and allowing the student to make his choice. There were more than one Sheikh in the same field, and the student was the one to choose his Sheikh, without the least blame for his choice. So, the optional curricula existed at the university, as well as the oral test method which was one of the best known types of tests.
It is mistaken to believe that the history of Al-Azhar University did not date back to the establishment of Al-Azhar Mosque in 972 CE. Some people incorrectly think that Al-Azhar dates back to the year 1920 when a Royal Decree was issued to establish three new schools. In fact, that Royal Decree came within the historical framework of the development of education at Al-Azhar, which was naturally evolving at all times.
The scholars at Al-Azhar University began their educational mission to the fullest and were never limited to teaching religious disciplines, but also taught philosophy, logic, mathematics and medicine, albeit on a small scale at first, until Al-Ḥākim Bi᾿amrillāh established Dar Al-Ḥikmah. Women attended some lessons, and the study was soon expanded to include astronomy, arithmetic, medicine, architecture, geology, history, social sciences, and other fields of study. Among the most famous scholars associated with Al-Azhar Mosque and University were Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Ḥajar Al-‛Asqalāniy, Al-Sahkawiy, Ibn Taghri bardī, Mūsa Ibn Maymūn, Al-Ḥasan Ibn Al-Haytham, Muḩammad Ibn Yūnis Al-Maṣriy, Al- Qalqashandiy, and other scholars who offered the whole world a scientific product humanity owes it to them to this day.
Despite suspension of delivering sermons at Al-Azhar Mosque for about 100 years during the ᾿Ayyubī era, there are indications that lessons intermittently continued. Thanks to the Mamlūki Sultan Aȥ-Ȥāher Baybars Al-Bandaqarī who resumed delivering sermons for the Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence, and renewed and reconstructed it. So, Al-Azhar soon recovered its position as a scientific university with a great reputation in Egypt and the Muslim world.
The Mamlūki Era witnessed one of the most glorious ages of the Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, where it became well known, took its place as an educational center, and offered libraries with precious books until its library became one of the largest and greatest in the East and perhaps in the whole world, with treasures of sources of knowledge. Al-Azhar then continued to be reconstructed by a number of Mamlūki Sultans, until it became the mother school in Cairo, and the largest Islamic University, not matched by any other university in the Muslim world.
In spite of indolence and stagnation of sciences and arts in Egypt under the Ottoman rule, Al-Azhar University remained a safe haven for science and knowledge. Al-Azhar also led revolutions in the period of the French campaign against Egypt and stood with the people in choosing Muhammad Ali as the governor of Egypt.
In those long decades, Al-Azhar University was the only source for teaching sciences and the graduation of employees and teachers for the states in the Muslim world.
In the modern era, and with the renaissance initiated by Muhammad Ali, there were only students and graduates of this university to be the nucleus of the various educational institutes, established to be modern European-style education. They were the nucleus of educational missions to Europe who gained and adopted modern knowledge.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the University of Al-Azhar witnessed the beginning of reform and modernization. That was intended to transform it into an institution with an educational entity that adopted modern systems. A number of scholars started this reform, led by Imam Muhammad Abdu, where the first board of directors of this institution was formed on the 6th of Rajab in 1312 AH (1895 CE). This was followed by issuing Law No. 10 in 1911, which organized the system of study, classified it into stages, established a system for employees, and put conditions for student admission, as well as systems for examination and certificate issuing. Moreover, a supervisory body, called the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar, was also established.
In keeping with the development of this long-established institution, Law No. 49 in 1930 was issued, establishing three schools at Al-Azhar University, namely, Islamic Theology (Uṣūlu-Dīn), Islamic Law (Shari‛ah) and Arabic Language. The law provided for the possibility of expanding the establishment of other university faculties.
In addition, the law introduced non-religious sciences in Al-Azhar institutes, such as mathematics, science and social studies, to qualify the graduates when they join the various colleges of Al-Azhar. It was followed by Law No. 26 in 1936, where a fourth stage was developed, i.e. a postgraduate stage. The march was culminated by a law called the Development Law. It was issued on July 5, 1961 under No. 103 on the reorganization of Al-Azhar. In accordance with this law, Al-Azhar established its scientific section of the university, which included a number of scientific colleges for the first time, such as the faculties of commerce, medicine, engineering and agriculture. The university's doors were opened for educating the Muslim girls by establishing a college for women, which included branches for studying medicine, commerce, science, Arabic and Islamic studies and humanities.
The modern and scientific faculties of Al-Azhar University are distinguished from other university faculties with their interest in Islamic studies in addition to the specialized fields of studies. The educational systems of the university expanded, being not confined to the limits of time and place, and moving into modern ways. The university's mission was no longer limited to religious preaching, guidance and education, but it took greater steps to be a leader in scientific research, serving the Muslim Nation, defending its beliefs and propagating moderate Islam in confronting the currents of fanaticism and extremism around the world.
Al-Azhar University has continued to provide incessant support to its foreign missions and cultural delegations, which targeted various African, European, American, Asian and Australian countries. Throughout its long history, it has also established the foundations of recognized academic systems and traditions for the universities all over the world.
Specifications of Al-Azhar Graduate
Al-Azhar University is proud of its practical faculties in the same way it is proud of the Islamic faculties, because they have a great mission. They both teach students the sciences of the world and the sciences of religion in order for them to carry the message of Al-Azhar to the whole world. This pride is based on a long history. Al-Ḥasan Ibn Al-Haytham (died in 1039 CE) is a famous optician who taught at Al-Azhar Al-Sharif. Muhammad Ibn Yunis Al-Maṣri (died in 1009 CE), the inventor of trigonometry, also taught at Al-Azhar Al-Sharif. In fact, Al-Azhar received non-Muslims at its mosques to study applied scientists, such as the well-known Jewish Mūsa Ibn Maymoun who lived in Andalusia.
Teaching practical and experiential sciences began at Al-Azhar Al-Sharif at the same time with teaching Arabic language and Shari᾿a sciences. The first group graduated from the School of Medicine in Abu Za‛bal. The number of students was 100, all of whom were Al-Azhar students. So, medicine in Egypt was known through the students of Al-Azhar.
When Muhammad Ali Pasha wanted to send educational missions to develop Egypt, he selected them mainly from Al-Azhar institution. Nine educational missions went to Italy, France, Austria, England, Russia and other countries. More than 70% of the members of these missions were from Al-Azhar. Those returned to Egypt and established Al-Alsun (languages) School, which later became the Faculty of Al-Alsun. A translation movement, a technical military school and others were also established.
Those missionary members were guided by Hassan Al-‛Attar, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, who authored on astronomy, mathematics and geography. Sheikh Ad-Damanhūriy, who authored more than 6 books on medicine and anatomy, was also a Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar. He wrote on the fundamentals of Jurisprudence as well as on anatomy.
Thus, Al-Azhar University was the torchbearer of enlightenment and the cradle of renaissance in the modern Egyptian state. It has ever since been the leader of enlightenment everywhere in the Muslim world and has always been ahead of its time. Throughout history, people with every affiliation resorted to its graduates in the villages and cities of Egypt, and all over the world, seeking their protection and guidance.
Opportunities and Competitiveness at Al-Azhar University:
The opportunities and the competitiveness of Al-Azhar University are exclusive to it because Al-Azhar has always been everyone's target. You rarely find any other institution so much sought. Al-Azhar University is distinguished from any institution in the world in that it includes students from 107 countries. There is no educational institution in the whole world that includes so many races and colors from such a large number of countries as Al-Azhar University. Due to its available opportunities, it has been hosting international students for more than 500 years. Al-Azhar University graduates are competitively needed in the various countries of the world.
The total number of the teaching staff at Al-Azhar University is now 15,155 members, and the total administrative body of the university is 13,074 employees. All these people serve approximately 500,000 students, including international students.
Al-Azhar University has 23 different practical faculties, some of which are duplicated, the case which qualifies it to compete for leadership and excellence. For example, while each of the other universities typically includes one faculty of medicine, science, engineering, pharmacy, or dentistry, Al-Azhar University has four faculties of medicine, 3 faculties of science, 3 faculties of engineering, three faculties of pharmacy, a fourth one being now under construction in Luxor, and three faculties of dentistry, a fourth one being now under construction in Luxor. All of this shows a high competitiveness power for Al-Azhar University even at the level of practical colleges.
Al Azhar University has 34 scientific and theoretical colleges and 45 Shari‛a colleges, with a total of 79 faculties, 47 for boys and 32 for girls. There also are two nursing institutes.
While each of the other universities often has a single university hospital, Al-Azhar University has six such university hospitals, offering medical services to the public six times as much as that of any other university.
All of this puts the power of competitiveness of Al-Azhar University at stake. It has what other universities do not. It has a recently opened hospital with an area of 124,000 square meters, the largest hospital in the Middle East, with a helipad.
Al-Azhar University approach and the features of its graduates:
The characteristics of Al-Azhar University graduates are what make them effectively compete with any graduate in the universities of the world, because the curricula at Al-Azhar University are based on three pillars that are not available in any educational institution in the whole world:
The first pillar is that the university teaches its students the traditional sciences of the Qur᾿ān and the Sunnah.
The second is that it teaches them logical sciences, which train the students on good understanding and reasoning. A student of Al-Azhar understands a text from several perspectives which are by no means contradictory. A student who is instructed in traditional sciences alone only has one perspective of understanding that he cannot go beyond. Such a student may end up being narrow-minded, the case that can lead him to accuse others of disbelief. This is not at all the case at Al-Azhar.
The third pillar is that the university instructs applied sciences, in addition to Shari‛ah and Arabic linguistics, so the student of Al-Azhar is grown up as a rational person, as reason is never in contradiction with the traditional sciences of the Qur᾿ān and Hadith. Hence, there is a sectarian diversity, and a wonderful acceptance of the other in Egypt. Then, we note that pluralism and acceptance of the other are among the features of the Al-Azhar approach, thus we may find in the same household one who worships his Lord according to the Ḥanafiy School, another on the basis of the Shafi‛iy School, and a third on the Malikiy School, without causing any offense to anyone, or considering anyone wrong.
By using traditional sciences, logical sciences, and natural sciences, this education creates a mind capable of assimilation, and keeping pace with evolution. Thus, the graduates of Al-Azhar University learn to integrate in understanding the texts, and learn that traditional sciences are the tool to understanding the transmitted texts in the correct intended meaning.
In the faculties of Shari‛ah, the students study new approaches to contemporary issues which deal with up to date questions. The academic theses registered at the university also deal with such contemporary issues. Thus, the student at Al-Azhar is instructed that religious jurisprudence is reconsidered according to the nature of time in order to suit the need of the contemporary people. The University believes that while the texts are limited, the facts to be derived from them are not. So, texts must cover all the facts and all cope with all the developments.
Thus, Al-Azhar University continues to raise the students on the basis of a rational approach, the case which dates back to more than a thousand years. The whole world has now recognized such an approach and adopted it. Therefore, the curricula of Al-Azhar University remained a true inheritance of prophethood. It is through these approaches that the world has come to recognize the real value of the Islamic curricula, with due respect of the message of Islam and its Prophet (pbuh). Through the texts of these curricula, the people of the world have known about the history of our nation and civilization, and about the men and heroes who made its glory. From the sciences of Al-Azhar and its university, the real criteria -by which people measure the pulse of life and according to which they define the measure of right and wrong- were established not only at the level of the individual behavior, but also at the scope of the cultural human societies.
The University of Al-Azhar will remain the scientific and academic reference for the Muslims and non-Muslims with respect to the sciences of Islam, Arabic linguistics, and other social and humanitarian disciplines. Through its scientific research, academic and cultural stock, Al-Azhar University has been able to provide effective solutions to the problems that threaten the human societies in the various fields of knowledge. Visit Al-Azhar University Website.