Egypt’s renowned Islamic institution, al-Azhar al-Sharif, has been serving the Islamic World for more than 1,000 years. Built in Cairo in 971 AD by Johar al-Siqilli on the order of the Fatimid Caliph al-Mu’iz, and named in the honor of Fatima Al-Zahraa, daughter of the Prophet Mohammad, al-Azhar soon became the focus of Muslim scholars and students from around the world. Over the centuries it played a key role in teaching Islam and preserving Islamic culture.
Originally a single minaret mosque composed of a courtyard and an oratory, al-Azhar was extended through the years into a 5-minaret mosque and a vast teaching and research complex, incorporating schools of Islamic jurisprudence, theology and Arabic language, as well as a modern university that teaches medicine, engineering and agriculture, and an Islamic Women Faculty. The Academy for Islamic Research, al-Azhar Library (consisting of about 600,000 volumes of Islamic manuscripts and rare books) and the Holy Qur’an Printing Service also form part of the complex.
Al-Azhar is not only the most important mosque in Egypt but also one of the oldest universities in the world. It started receiving students from all parts of the Islamic World in 976 AD. Both education and lodging were free of charge at that time. Countless numbers of renowned Muslim scholars and leaders graduated from it. Today, students from 85 countries are enrolled in the main campus in Cairo and many others are receiving education in its branches and institutes in other parts of the Islamic World. Among the objectives of al-Azhar University, apart from formal education, is the propagation of the Islamic religion and culture, and Arabic language, preservation of Islamic heritage, training of preachers and judging on individual Islamic questions through its Committee of Scholars.
In 2005, al-Azhar University, in collaboration with the IT Education Project in Dubai launched its online document archive which provides access to 42,000 manuscripts (~ 7 million pages) in al-Azhar library.
The award comes in recognition of Al-Azhar’s outstanding contributions and services to Islam and Muslims, including its role which span more than a thousand year in attracting thousands of religious scholars and students from all parts of the Islamic World. Al-Azhar, has played a major role in preserving Islamic and Arabic heritage. It resisted the Crusaders, Tartars and imperialists through the centuries, and is particularly known for its challenge to Napoleonic campaigns. It has also resisted British attempts of Westernization in Egypt. AIAzhar has also contributed enormously to the spreading of Islam, Islamic knowledge and Arabic Language, through its University and its branches, as well as other Azharic institutions, in Egypt and abroad.