From the Arab conquest to the time of Mohammed Ali (1805-48), education for the majority of the students in Egypt was conducted through religious schools, where the emphasis was on the memorization of the Quran and study of the sayings and teaching of the prophet Mohammed.Education for girls, limited to those classes of society able to hire private tutors, was uncommon. Higher education in religious studies was available at El Azhar, founded during the Fatimid dynasty.
El Azhar was founded in 970 AD by the Fatimid general Jawahar El Siquilli, as a Friday mosque. Shortly afterwards it became a university and teaching centre for the propagation of the Ismaili Shia doctrine of the Fatimid Caliphate. Because of its association with the Shia, the Ayyubids initially proscribed El Azhar when they reestablished Sunni orthodoxy in Egypt in 1171 AD. Under the Bahri Mamluk dynasty El Azhar was transformed into a center for religious studies within the Sunni Islamic tradition, becoming in time one of the leading universities in the Islamic world. The students at the university were supported by a religious endowment and pursued studies in the classic disciplines of grammar, law, Quranic and Hadith studies as well as related subjects.