Al-Azhar University (pronounced "az-HAR", Arabic: الأزهر الشريف; Al-ʾAzhar al-Šarīf, "the Noble Azhar") in Egypt, founded in 975, is the chief centre of Arabic Literature and Sunni Islamic learning in the world and the world's oldest surviving degree granting university. It is associated with Al-Azhar mosque in Islamic Cairo. The university's mission includes the propagation of Islamic religion and culture. To this end, its Islamic scholars (ulemas) render edicts (fatwas) on disputes submitted to them from all over the Sunni Islamic world regarding proper conduct for Muslim individuals or societies (a recent example being the clarification and thus prohibition of female genital cutting). Al-Azhar also trains Egyptian government appointed preachers in proselytization (da'wa).
Its library is considered second in importance in Egypt only to the Egyptian National Library and Archives. In May 2005, Al-Azhar in partnership with a Dubai information technology enterprise, ITEP launched the H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Project to Preserve Al Azhar Scripts and Publish Them Online (the "Al-Azhar Online Project") with the mission of eventually providing online access to the library's entire rare manuscripts collection (comprising about seven million pages).
HistoryThe university was founded by the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt, descended from Fatinah, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Fatimah was called Az-Zahra (the brilliant), and the university was named in her honor.
Studies began at Al-Azhar in the month of Ramadan, 975 AD. The university (Jami'ah) had faculties in Islamic law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, Islamic astronomy, Islamic philosophy, and logic.
In the 12th century, following the overthrow of the Shia Fatimid dynasty, King Saladin (the founder of the staunchly Sunni Ayyubid dynasty) converted Al-Azhar to a Shafi'ite Sunni center of learning.In 1961, Al-Azhar was reorganised by the Nasser government and several secular faculties were added to the university, such as medicine, engineering and agriculture. An Islamic women's faculty was also added in the same year, six years after Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah had been the first woman to speak at the university