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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Close by the palace rose the mosque, extending to the foot of Jabal al-Muqattam, named Jam-i Azhar, on 24th Jamada I, 359/April 4, 970, where a big library and school were erected. Since the title of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet and the wife of Ali, was Az-Zohra (the bright) and in her honour, it was named Al-Azhar, being the masculine form of Az-Zohra. Philip K. Hitti writes in Capital Cities of Arab Islam (London, 1973, p. 114) that, "It took two years (970-972) to build. Its name al-Azhar (the most resplendent) recalls Ali's wife and Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah al-Zahra." It was built with 76 pillars of marble, facing each other. The roof was made of strong wood. The first service was performed in the mosque on Saturday, the 7th Ramzan, 361/June 22, 971. Makrizi writes in al-Khitat (2:273) that the dome above the arches was decorated with the following inscriptions: "In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate; according to the command for its building, from the servant of Allah, His governor Abu Tamim Ma'ad, the Imam al-Muizz li din Allah, Amir al-Mominin, for whom, and his illustrious forefathers and his sons may there be the blessings of Allah: By the hand of his servant Jawhar, the Secretary, the Siqilli in the year 360."

De Lacy O'Leary writes in A Short History of the Fatimid Khalifate (London, 1923, pp. 110-11) that, "In 378/988, the following caliph al-Aziz, devoted it especially to the learned, and from this it gradually become the leading university of Islam." "Reputed to be one of the world's oldest universities", writes John L. Esposito in Islam, the Straight Path (New York, 1991, p. 48), "al-Azhar has remained an internationally recognized centre of Islamic learning, training students from all over the Islamic world and issuing authoritative religious judgments on major issues and questions."

The students in al-Azhar were called mujawir (learners) and talib al-ilm (seekers after knowledge). The teachers and professors took pride in using the modest title khadim al-ilm (servants of knowledge). The relationship between the teacher and pupil was patriarchal. The students showed their tutors the great respect, kissed their hands and carried their shoes. An inspector (nazir) at the head of the al-Azhar was to be chosen from the high officials of the state, also known as shaikh al-umum, who may be compared to the Rector of the German universities, and the office of the Rector was called mashyakha.

When one enters the Jama-i Azhar in Cairo through the door bab al-muzayyinin, the inscription on this gate will bedevil and attract his attention. It says: "Inna' l-a'mala bi'l-niyyati wa-li-kulli mara'in ma nawa" (verily, actions are judged by their intention and every man has what he has intended). This saying of the Prophet is considered to be one of the most important principles of Islam. As such it is mentioned as one of the four basic doctrines around which Islam revolves (madar al-islam).

Syed Ameer Ali writes in The Spirit of Islam (London, 1955, pp. 336-7) that, "The Fatimides of Egypt were grand supporters of learning and science....They established colleges, public libraries, and scientific institutes, richly furnished with books, mathematical instruments, to which were attached numerous professors and attendants. Access to, and the use of, these literary treasures were free to all, and writing materials were afforded gratis. The Caliphs frequently held learned disputations at which the professors at these academies appeared, divided according to the different faculties,-logicians, mathematicians, jurists and physicians, dressed in their khala, or doctoral mantles. The gowns of the English universities still retain the original form of the Arabic khala or kaftan." It must be noted that khala (robes of honour) generally consisted of a set of clothes: an imama (turban), a qamis (shirt), taylasan (piece of material worn over the shoulders), a qaba (a kind of sleeved, close-fitting coat) or a durra'a (a loose outer garment). While, the kaftan was regarded as a characteristic dress of the Turks. It was a kind of sleeved, close-fitting coat, generally reaching the middle of the calf, divided down the front and made to overlap over the chest.

It must be known that the first university was founded in Europe on 1150 at Paris, whose grade of university was declared in 1208. The Oxford was founded in 1168 and the Cambridge in 1231, therefore, al-Azhar University, no doubt, is the first oldest University in the world. In July, 1969 more than 4,000,000 people crowded into its 83 square miles in Cairo to celebrate its thousandth anniversary with pomp and jubilation.

It was owing to Imam's generous patronage that the University of al-Azhar could maintain itself as a unique and distinguished seat of Islamic learning. Imam al-Azir created an almshouse in it for 35 men. Al-Azhar contained a huge library. The royal library of Imam al-Aziz itself contained 200,000 rare manuscripts and an equal number of manuscripts were kept at al-Azhar. It also contained 2400 illuminated copies of the Koran. Later, in 436/1045 a new catalogue had been prepared in al-Azhar, listing 6500 volumes of astronomy, architecture and philosophy. When Nasir Khusaro visited Cairo, he had found 317 professors and as many as 9758 students engaged in the study of various subjects in al-Azhar. Marshall W. Baldwin writes in A History of the Crusades (London, 1958, p. 102) that, "The intellectual influences of Ismailism on Islam was very great indeed. During the heyday of its expansion, the poets, philosophers, theologians and scholars flocked to the Ismailite centres and produced works of a high order."

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