Al-Azhar Al-Sharif is the largest Islamic religious academic institution in the world. Al-Azhar Al-Sharif represents the Muslims’ academic center of attraction. For more than a thousand years, it has been a beacon of science and a center of attention for students from everywhere to learn legislative, Arabic, natural and human sciences. It has long been a center of moderation, spreading the culture and the teachings of Islam and its tolerance, with no exaggeration, extremism, sectarian or political intolerance. In its ruwāqs (i.e. traditional classrooms inside Al-Azhar Mosque) kings, sultans, presidents, sheikhs of Al-Azhar, muftis, ministers, ambassadors, scholars and others from all the corners of the world learned useful knowledge.
The history of Al-Azhar Mosque dates back to the Fatimid Era. The Caliph Al-Mu‛izzulidīn Illah Al-Faṭimiy ordered Jawhar Aṣ-Ṣiqilliy to lay the cornerstone of Al-Azhar on the 14th of Ramadan 359 AH (971 AD). Al-Azhar was established by the Fatimid state as an official mosque. It was a platform for the state’s religious mission and a symbol of its spiritual sovereignty. It was inaugurated on the 5th of Ramadan 361 AH. It was named Al-Azhar Mosque after Fāṭimah Az-Zahrā᾿ (Prophet Muḩammad's daughter, may Allah be pleased with her), to whom the Fatimids are attributed.
The purpose of its establishment was initially to call for Shiite thought, but it soon became a university for teaching the Sunni doctrine, where the students receive various religious and rational sciences, thanks to Minister Ya‛qūb Ibn Killis, who suggested to Caliph Al-‛Aziz in 378 AH to turn it into an institute for learning, after it had been limited to religious rituals, confined only to the Shiite call.
The study was actually launched at Al-Azhar Mosque in the late era of Al-Mu‛izzulidīn Illah Al-Faṭimi when the Chief Judge, Abul-Ḥasan Ibn Al-Nu‛mān Al-Maghribiy, delivered the first educational ring in the year 365 AH (October 975 AD), and then other such academic classes followed.
Educational rings formed the classical method and basis of the study at Al-Azhar Mosque and University, where the teacher sat to read his lesson before his students and listeners who formed a circle around him. The jurists sat in the place allocated for them inside Al-Azhar's ruwaqs. The teacher was allowed to teach only after being authorized by his professors according to the test system which was all oral in eleven disciplines. Then, the Caliph would issue an official license for him to teach the students.