Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, both the mosque and the university, are often considered a distinguished part of contemporary Islamic history.
The institute is also seen as a reference to the ideal of moderate and constructive religious discourse, which rejects fanaticism, conflict and extravagance.
Al-Azhar may not be a Qiblah (i.e. a direction Muslims turn to in their prayers), or a place that many people will visit for a particular reason or a destination for religious tourism, but it is for sure a great Islamic civilization and scientific edifice not only for Arabs but for Muslims all over the world.
The big question here is: Does Al-Azhar Al-Sharif play a role in religion and politics today, which suits his history, rank and high Muslim consensus?
Some sources indicate that the main reason for the construction of the Al-Azhar Mosque was an invitation to Shiism.
But, in a short time due to various historical incidents and political changes in Egypt, he has since become a mainstay of Sunnism. However, education at his university not only includes this doctrine, but also includes other Islamic schools of thought.
Al-Azhar University, attached to the Al-Azhar Mosque which was built in the Fatimid era. is the largest Islamic religious and scientific institution.
The Al-Azhar Mosque was specialized as an official state mosque that the country had approved as a chair of its religious appeal and a symbol of its spiritual supremacy.
Al-Azhar University is one of the oldest in the world, outdated only by Az-Zaitoniah and Al-Qarawieen universities. To this day it remains a destination for learners interested in religion and general science.
It stands out for its flexibility, openness and inclusiveness, issues not found in other legal and educational institutions.
This openness rekindles the hope that our Islamic institutions of the Ummah will be able to reach Muslims with different tendencies, to motivate brotherhood between different Islamic groups and doctrines and to respect the privacy of each of them.
But, unfortunately, there are conflicts between us Arabs and Muslims which have resulted in suffering, crises and even wars. Tihs has become an exploited weak point in different fields, not only in religion but also in politics and society.
And I think that no truly believing Muslim finds wisdom or logic in separating Muslims because of the difference in interpretation in a faith that is united and collective by its very nature. The difference does not corrupt the intimacy between people, but it enriches the intellectual experiences and shows the greatness of the Quranic text, for what it contains flexibility and linguistic vision which requires deep and renewable reflection.
Moreover, the Word of Allah was not revealed to us to challenge, separate and stick to one vision.
We have been revealed to use our minds to accept our differences and strengthen our unity under one slogan, despite individual distinctions.
Al-Azhar has proved that it is the center most eligible for this duty. Its moderate tendencies are clear in its religious, political and social aspects.
In addition to the above, rationalism, moderation and openness have been Al-Azhar’s messages since its construction. He did not find a difference between religion and science. For several centuries, he has emphasized the importance of science, when Ibn Khaldon, the founder of sociology, recorded his scientific episodes in it. Also Al-Hasan bin Al-Haitham, the first founder of opticians, who devoted himself to research and authorization.
And from Al-Azhar University, presidents, ministers and ambassadors of different and several nationalities have graduated. Until now, Al-Azhar University always keeps abreast of development, civilization and advancement as much as possible.
Today, it includes six hospitals, four medical schools and three engineering, pharmacy and dentistry schools.
As a result, Al-Azhar’s role not only covered the religious side, but was also in the service of science and society.
During the Mamluk era, the institute made great strides as a distinguished educational center. Its library was stocked with the most important books and rare manuscripts, until it became one of the largest and greatest libraries around the world for its treasures and valuables.
Politically, Al-Azhar played a crucial role in confronting the French campaign against Egypt. His sheikhs even led two Cairo revolutions, the first in 1798 and the second in 1800 – his chair was for all of Egypt. The Egyptians continued to follow Al-Azhar until the French left in 1801. Then the scholars of Al-Azhar led a revolution in 1805 and chose Muhammad Ali as ruler of Egypt.
It is not possible to overlook the role of Al-Azhar in the popular revolution against the British occupation of Egypt in 1919. The leader of this revolution was Sa’d Zaghlol, who learned and graduated from Al -Azhar.
But it is regrettable that this progression has not been continuous. The pronunciation of speeches in Al-Azhar was suspended for a century during the time of the Ayubite state, which was considered to be the period of transition from Shiism to that of the Sunnah.
Moreover, the role of Al-Azhar deteriorated with the emergence of the “modern state” by Muhammad Ali, when he imposed a new authoritarian social system, excluding educated Muslim scholars from the leading role. that they were playing before.
In addition, economic and financial factors affected Al-Azhar’s role. Muslim support for Al-Azhar waned because the government resumed its endowments during certain periods and the Ministry of Endowment interfered in some of its affairs. This limited Al-Azhar’s leadership in guiding Muslims around the world and bringing them together under an Islamic slogan. Indeed, its history clearly shows that Al-Azhar was already moving in this direction.
However, this variation does not mean a loss of hope or motivation.
But on the contrary, restoring the role of Al-Azhar is the responsibility of all Muslims; countries, peoples and governments, for the benefits it will bring to the Arab and Muslim worlds on one side and to humanity on the other. There is no problem to benefit from the same experiences; like the Vatican experience.
The Vatican has, despite a history of contrasts and wars, built a collective and vital role.
He has used his Catholic religious reference to serve many global humanitarian issues; benefiting from its distinctive geographic and historical location, capacity for renewal, flexibility and ability to cope with the latest developments, and the support it received from believers, countries and governments around the world.
The Vatican established a distinctive diplomatic system, which represented an important role in supporting its religious, cultural and humanitarian presence. On the other hand, many popes, who held the chair of the highest priest, were concerned with playing roles in the political, economic and humanitarian fields.
They have also held effective positions in some European and global non-profit organizations.
The Vatican has also proven its willingness to associate religions, countries and societies. And he did not neglect to condemn local, international and regional wars and conflicts. He is happy that Al-Azhar participated with him in one of the most important world events; the Humanitarian Brotherhood document, which was signed by Pope Francis and Imam At-Tayeb in 2019, under the official patronage of the United Arab Emirates.
It is not surprising that Al-Azhar Al-Sharif possesses, especially nowadays during the time of Imam Ahmed At-Tayeb, all the elements to restore his presence, something which is important for the Arab , Islam and the whole world alike.
And whatever this finality requires the support of governments and religious, social, economic and political references to replenish its endowments or create new ones, it does not matter who made us walk on the path of the union of Muslims under the slogan moderation and openness.
And what makes this question so deserving of great importance is that we live in the age of separation, scattering, and hatred that our Islamic Ummah has faced in the last ages.
Al-Azhar Al-Sharif is no less than the Vatican.
As the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages controlled knowledge, fought scholars and started wars of religion, Al-Azhar created a leading institute advancing civilization, nationally and internationally, and displayed great effectiveness and ability to have an effect on different issues.
As a result, the restoration of Al-Azhar in this role is possible as long as the desire and work faithfully are found.
This responsibility does not fall only to the inhabitants of Al-Azhar or Egypt, but it is also collective and general. Anyone concerned and powerful should endure it.
As a result, Al-Azhar can fulfill its expected role in laying the foundations for moderation, brotherhood and love, and carrying the virtues of openness and moderation against fanaticism and accusing people of apostasy, and moving forward to restore peace to the Middle East and the world.