Al-Azhar University (pronounced “AZ-har”, Arabic: جامعة الأزهر الشريف; Al-ʾAzhar al-Šarīf, “the Noble Azhar”) in Egypt, founded in 970~972 as a madrasa, is the chief centre of Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic learning in the world. The second oldest degree-granting university in Egypt after the Cairo University, its establishment date may be considered 1961 when non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum.
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 (ulamas) 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).
The Al-Azhar is considered by one author the world’s second oldest surviving degree granting university. However, this claim on precedence appears to confound the distinct nature of madrasas and medieval universities which followed very different historical trajectories until the former were expanded to the later in modern times, and fails to take into account that the Islamic Ijazah certificate deviated in concept and procedure from the medieval doctorate out of which modern university degrees evolved
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