Al-Azhar University (مسجد أحمد بن طولون) is an educational institute in Cairo, Egypt. Founded in 970 or 972 as a madrasa, it is the chief centre of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world. It is the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt.
In 1961 non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum. Studies began at Al-Azhar in the month of Ramadan, 975. According to Syed Farid Alatas, the Jami'ah had faculties in Islamic law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, Islamic astronomy, Islamic philosophy, and logic. The Fatimids gave attention to the philosophical studies at the time when rulers in other countries declared those who were engaged in philosophical pursuits as apostates and heretics. The Greek thought found a warm reception with the Fatimids who expanded the boundaries of such studies. They paid much attention to philosophy and gave support to everyone who was known for being engaged in the study of any branch of philosophy.
The Fatimid Caliph invited many scholars from nearby countries and paid much attention to college books on various branches of knowledge and in gathering the finest writing on various subjects and this in order to encourage scholars and to uphold the cause of knowledge. These books were destroyed by Salah-ud-Din Ayyubi in the same manner in which he exterminated the Fatimids and thus these Fatimid treasure were lost forever.
In the 12th century, following the overthrow of the Ismaili Shia Fatimid dynasty, Sultan Saladin (the founder of the staunchly Sunni Ayyubid Dynasty ) converted Al-Azhar to a Shafi'ite Sunni center of learning. Abd-el-latif delivered lectures on Islamic medicine at Al-Azhar, while the Jewish philosopher Maimonides delivered lectures on medicine and astronomy there during the time of Saladin. Sheikh Tantawy noted that among the priorities of Muslims are "to master all knowledge of the world and the hereafter, not least the technology of modern weapons to strengthen and defend the community and faith".
Al-Azhar University has had a huge impact on the religious, cultural and political arena in Egypt, the Arab World, and the wider Muslim world