In the Islamic heart of Cairo is the Al-Azhar complex, which includes a mosque and a university. The latter not only boasts the title of the oldest academic venue but is also the place where the tradition of graduation robes was born. In fact, it seems that the dress worn all over the world by the students on graduation day is inspired by the wide tunics of Islamic scholars who were graduated from Al-Azhar.
Al Azhar Mosque is one of the amazing mosques and things to do in Cairo, it considered is the first University in history built more than one thousand years ago in Cairo, people visiting Khan El Khalili can see the mosque during their Cairo Day Tours. It was towards the end of the tenth century to be the official mosque for the congregational prayers held every Friday and is known in A rabic as Jummah.
The developer of the fascinating mosque of Al Azhar which is as old as the city of Cairo itself is also the great Fatimid army leader and the builder of Cairo, Gawhar El Seqelly, with the orders of the Fatimid Caliph, Al Mui'z le Din Allah. The building of Al Azhar which has to be seen during the regular Egypt Travel Packages or Cairo day tours from the Airport began in 970 A.D. and it took around three years to be accomplished.
Initially, Al Azhar was built on half of the area it occupies currently. Enlargements, new buildings, and restorations have been carried out by several Caliphs, kings, sultans, and presidents of Egypt during the various eras until the mosque reached the size and the shape it is today. The early mosque of Al Azhar consisted of three Iwans or prayer halls, and in the center, there is an open court called Sahn. The entrance to the mosque was located in towards the West and this section contained a simple tower or as called in Islamic architecture Minaret designed in the Fatimid-style. This section was decorated with Kofi Islamic inscriptions and floral motives, which are the only remaining feature of the ancient mosque that is still available now.
However, the largest architecture of the Al-Azhar Mosque was performed by “Abd al-Rahman bin Katkhuda” in the year (1167 AH = 1753 AD) and he was fond of building and construction. Then he added to the hallway of the qiblah a new prayer compartment separated from the original compartment by stone pillars, and three steps rise from it, And it has three mihrabs, and established a large door from the northwestern side that currently overlooks Al-Azhar Square, consisting of two adjacent doors, known as the Gate of Muzain, and also introduced a new door called the Gate of Al-Sa'idah and created a minaret beside it that still exists until now, and this door leads to the Al-Sa’idah months. The corridors of Al-Azhar.
Perhaps the first architecture introduced to Al-Azhar was carried out by the Fatimid caliph, who preserved the religion of God, in Islamic Cairo, where he increased the area of the porticos; In the Mamluk era, the sultans took care of Al-Azhar after the neglect it suffered in the Ayyubid era, and Prince “Izz al-Din Aydar was the first to care about Al-Azhar, so he renewed the parts that were cracked from him. And in its splendor, life came to an end after a break, and the people celebrated the Friday prayers in it on the day (18 Rabi` al-Awwal year 665 AH = 19 November 1266AD). that can be seen today in the museum of Islamic Arts during Egypt day tours in Cairo. In 1125 A.D., the Fatimid ruler Al Amer be'ahkam Allah established a Mihrab for the mosque (a niche that indicates which way to pray towards Ka'aba) made out of Aro Turkish wood which was decorated with a lot of floral and geometric shapes.
The architecture of Al-Azhar Mosque did not stop during the reign of the Circassian Mamluks, where Sultan Qaitbay Al-Mahmoudi (873 AH = 1468 CE) demolished the door on the northwestern side of the mosque, built it again as it is now, and built on its right a graceful minaret of the most beautiful minarets of Cairo, Then Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri built the two-headed minaret, the highest of the minarets of Al-Azhar, a unique style of the minaret that is rare in the Islamic world.
A new madrasa (religious school), the Tabrisy Madrasa Islamic teaching institution, was built by Baybars Khazendar, the army commander in the reign of Al Nasser Mohamed Ibn Qalaun. It is located to the right hand when you enter the Al Azhar mosque. This added a bigger space to the Mosque which hosted Islamic teachings classes and also had a large Islamic library.
The Afghaweya Madrasa was built in 1340 A.D. and it is located on the left-hand side of the entrance. It contains the library of Al Azhar in the present time.
Al Azhar underwent a lot of expansion in the Ottoman era. The biggest and most important building work was done by the Amir Abdel Rahman Katkhuda in 1753 A.D. as he expanded the area of the mosque by adding a riwaq (portico) behind the mihrab that was built on a higher level than the whole mosque. He also added a new minbar and mihrab. Katkhuda added two great gates as well: the first in the southern wall called the Sa'ayda gate and the Shroba gate in the eastern section of the mosque with an added minaret beside it. Katkhuda was also responsible for building the beautiful western gate with its amazing Islamic decorations and which is now the main entrance of the mosque.
Al Azhar has been also restored by the supreme council of antiquities to finally look like this in the modern time during your visits to the mosque through the various Cairo overnight tours. Al Azhar as a mosque and as an educational institution has played a major role in so many centuries of Egyptian history, especially in fighting the French and British occupation.
Al Azhar University is the largest and most important Islamic teaching institution in the whole world and it is the second modern Islamic university to be built. Islamic teaching in Al Azhar University was transformed from Shi'ite teaching to Sunni teaching starting in the Fatimid era and it is still one of the most important and prestigious educational institutions in Egypt and in the whole world.
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