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Al-Azhar University, or Al-Azhar Al-Shareef (literally, "The Noble Al-Azhar"), is connected to the mosque in Cairo named to honor Fatima Az-Zahraa, the daughter of Muhammad, from whom the Fatimid Dynasty claimed descent. The mosque was built in two years from 971 CE. The school of theology (madrassa) connected with it was founded in 988 as an Ismaili Shia school, but it later became a Sunni school, which it remains to this day. It is one of the oldest operating universities in the world.
Al-Azhar is considered by most Sunni Muslims to be the most prestigious school of Islamic law, and its scholars are seen as the highest scholars in the Muslim world. A wellspring of Islamic culture that has founded many subsidiary madrassas, it is the oldest continually operated university in the world. Its stated objectives remain the propagation of Islamic culture and the Arabic language. To that end it maintains a committee of ulemas to judge on individual Islamic questions, a printing establishment for printing the Qur'an, and trains preachers trained in da'wa and the propagation of religious publicity.
Al-Azhar is run by a Supreme Council forming general policy, headed by a Grand Imam, styled the "Sheikh Al-Azhar." Unlike most universities it does not admit students who are not practicing Muslims, thus it combines the institutions of a Western theological seminary with faculties, established in 1961, of medicine and engineering.
Its library, which was consolidated in 1897, is considered second in range and importance only to Dar Al-kotob Al-Masriah in Egypt, as far as the number of Islamic books and manuscripts are concerned. The library comprises of 99,062 books consist of 595,668 volumes of the most precious manuscripts and rare books, some as old as the 8th century. The library is center of attraction to the researchers of Al-Azhar students and other Islamic universities. It contributes in propagating knowledge by making photo copies of some of the manuscripts available for the benefit of researchers from Egypt, Arab and Islamic countries. The library does not collect non-Islamic literature.
Since 1929 Al-Azhar has published a magazine (now monthly) whose stated purpose is to promulgate religious rules, subjects related to the propagating of Islamic literature, and basic jurisprudence (shariah), including sections on history, biographies, translated texts and news concerning the Muslim world.
The current Imam of Al-Azhar has declared that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and suicide bombers are "heretics" who are not following the true path of Islam. In a recent conference in Indonesia, he asked all "true believers" to deny speakers of violently heretical Islam places to speak in the mosque, thus preventing the spread of violent ideologies.
- Al-Azhar Mosque and University (official site)
- History and organization of Al-Azhar
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