Published On:13 April 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

The Mosque of Al-Azhar

By Idris Tawfiq

Al-Azhar, ‘The Resplendent’. is one of the most famous and venerable Islamic institutions in the world. Its very name shows the esteem and the honour in which Al-Azhar is held by Muslims. Greater than any one man or group of men, for one thousand years when Al-Azhar spoke Muslims listened. Through the centuries, generations of scholars have looked to Al-Azhar for authentic teaching and for the standard of learning for which Islam became famous. Even those who were not Muslim looked with admiration at Al-Azhar.

Built around the year 970, when Gawhar al-Siqili enclosed the Fatimid city of al-Qahira, the teaching Mosque of Al-Azhar was given the status of a university in 988, by the Caliph al-Aziz. It is remarkable, isn't it, that at the same time that London was little more than a settlement of mud and brick dwellings, the Islamic civilisation was a gem of mediaeval culture and learning, with libraries and universities, as well as paved streets and public gardens.

The original Al-Azhar Mosque was less than 6000 square metres, with a central courtyard of just over 1630 square metres. It was built as a congregational mosque, in other words, so that the whole community of Muslims could gather together to pray on a Friday.

The Mosque today is a mixture of architectural styles, reflecting the frequent enlargements of the Mosque over the last thousand years, and especially in the latter half of the eighteenth century, when Al-Azhar was enlarged by the influential Ottoman janissary officer, Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda.

Then, as now, you entered Al-Azhar through the Barbers' Gate, where students had their heads shaved prior to taking up their studies in Islamic Law and Qur'anic Studies. This was not only a sign of humility, but an eminently hygienic practice. The Prayer Hall, which now measures over 4000 square metres, has nine rows of columns, 140 in total, and 90 of them are said to be very ancient, having been brought from other monuments. To the right of the central courtyard is a fourteenth century madrassa, with a beautiful mihrab (or pulpit) and a riwaq, where free lodgings were provided for students.

To the east, blind students, famous throughout the Muslim world for their religious fervour and devotion, memorised the holy Qur'an.

It is remarkable that the followers of Prophet Muhammed, (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) who could neither read nor write, should have created such a splendid centre of worship and learning as Al-Azhar. It is worth noting, too, that so many of those followers, renowned scholars though they may have been, remained simple men, whose sole aim was the worship of Allah alone.

Their studies and their scholarship throughout the centuries have left a legacy today which includes a library of almost 100,000 books and in 2005 the Al-Azhar online document archive was launched, which will eventually give access to all 42,000 manuscripts in the library.
Such is a brief survey of Al-Azhar Mosque.

In recent years the university of Al-Azhar has grown to enormous proportions and now has hundreds of thousands of students and many teaching faculties all over Egypt, studying in all disciplines and a variety of languages. Many of the students hope that their studies will help them to make Egypt a better place and help them to make the real message of Islam known in the world.

In a world that is very complex, the twenty-first century needs men and women who can speak to the world about Islam in a language it understands.

At the present time Islam and the West look upon each other with suspicious eyes. It will need devoted and devout followers of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) to dispel those misconceptions. The Qur’an tells them how they will do this:

O ye who believe! Put not yourselves forward before Allah and His Messenger; But fear Allah, for Allah is He Who hears and knows all things. 49:1

Resolving the world's conflicts, or engaging in constructive dialogue with others, needs more than just talk. We need to start here and now, today.

For those visitors to Egypt who haven’t yet paid a visit to Al-Azhar Mosque it is easy to do so, perhaps combined with their visit to Khan Al Khalili. Doing so will be their small contribution to building bridges between cultures and peoples. Inshallah, the reception they receive will be worthy of what Muslims can do.

The beautiful Mosque of Al-Azhar can teach the whole world about Islam, but only if we allow it to.

Egypt and the rest of the world will only learn how beautiful and sweet Islam really is when we show them how good Muslims behave.

[British Muslim writer, Idris Tawfiq, teaches at Al-Azhar University and is the author of nine books about Islam. You can visit his website at www.idristawfiq.com, join him on Facebook at Idris Tawfiq Page and listen to his Radio Show, “A Life in Question,” on Sundays at 11pm on Radio Cairo 95.4 FM.]

(Courtesy: The Egyptian Gazette)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on April 13, 2013. Filed under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on April 13, 2013. Filed under , , , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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