Al-Azhar Mosque (359 - 361 AH) / (970 - 972 CE), is the most important in Egypt and the most famous in the Muslim world. It has been a mosque and a university for more than a thousand years now. It was established for the purpose of spreading the Shiite Doctrine when Egypt was conquered by Jawhar Aṣ-Ṣiqilli, the army leader of Al-Mu‛izzulidīn Allah, the first Fatimid Caliph in Egypt. Currently, Al-Azhar teaches Islam according to the Sunni Doctrine. After founding the city of Cairo, Aṣ-Ṣiqilli started building Al-Azhar Mosque and completed it. The first Friday Prayer was held in it on the 7thRamadan 361 AH /972 CE. It is thus the first mosque to be established in the city of Cairo and the oldest Fatimid monument existing in Egypt.
Historians have disagreed on the origin of naming this mosque. It is most likely that the Fatimids named it Al-Azhar after Fatima Az-Zahrā᾿, daughter of Prophet Muḩammad (peace be upon him), out of love for her and in commemoration of her high esteem.
The Mamluke Era is one of the brightest and best times Al-Azhar ever witnessed. The Mamluke rulers competed in their service of Al-Azhar, with regard to its students, Sheikhs and architecture. They expanded their spending on it, cared about it, and added to its architectural structure.
In the Ottoman Era, the Sultans of the Othman family showed great respect for Al-Azhar mosque and its staff, despite their resistance of them and their support of the Mamlukes during their war against the Ottomans. However, this respect was not translated practically into real service, attention to its architecture, or spending on its Sheikhs and students.
During that period, Al-Azhar mosque has yet become the favorite place for the Egyptian public and the most appropriate for them to receive knowledge and understand religion. It also became the center of the largest gathering of the scholars of Egypt and began to teach some secular disciplines, such as philosophy and logic for the first time.
During the French Campaign against Egypt, Al-Azhar was the center of resistance. In its courts, the scholars planned for the First Cairo Revolution and called for it. They suffered the agonies of war against it, particularly when the Mosque’s sanctity was violated. In the aftermath of the Second Cairo Revolution, Al-Azhar’s senior scholars endured the most severe torture and pain in defense of it. They were also subjected to heavy fines. Their possessions and their wives’ gold jewelries were sold to meet these expenses. After the killing of Kleber, Al-Azhar was distressed by the killing of some of its students, especially Suleiman Al-Ḥalaby. While the French Occupation was fading, a command was issued to arrest the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sharqāwi. Thus a case of mistrust between Al-Azhar and the occupation authorities remained until their departure from the country.
After the withdrawal of the French from the country, Mohamed Ali Pasha appointed himself as the ruler of Egypt in response to the people's desire. He is the founder of the Ali family (the ‛Alawiyyīn) that ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1952. He sought to consolidate his rule by befriending the scholars of Al-Azhar. His sons and grandsons also followed his behavior. The last one of them was King Farouk, who abdicated the royal throne on the wake of the 1952 Revolution.
Subsequently, in 1961, in accordance with the law of the same year, Al-Azhar University was officially announced and many new colleges were established. Among the most famous scholars whose names are associated with Al-Azhar are Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Ḥajar Al-‛Asqalāni, As-Sakhāwi, Ibn Taghri Bardi, Al-Qalqashandi and others.
The mosque is still standing up today with its magnificent minarets defying time, and its scholars' heads reaching the sky. It was never lenient to an aggressor, and never bowed to a haughty ruler, always declaring the truth and calling to it as long as its walls and minarets remained.