THE STORY OF AL-AZHAR
Al-Azhar mosque, university and cultural center which attracts scholars and frequenters from all over the globe - was built the leader Gawhar the Sicillian, in the Fatimid Era in the eastern south of Cairo near the big palace which was established there between the Delum quarter in the north and Turks quarter in the south. Al Azhar was the first mosque in the Fatimid Cairo. Gawhar started construction on 2nd April 970, and finished his work in 972.
The establishment of Al-Azhar was scientific, political and religious. It was very effective and its role was wide-ranged all over the world for more than thousand years through different long periods. Fatimids built it after taking Egypt as a base for their regime and gave it the name of Al-Azhar in respect to "Fatima El-Zahraa", for whom they belong.
They employed about forty of the Shiites scientists who spread their religious denomination, propagated for their policy and declared their rule. So it was natural that the Ayobians tried to change the Fatimid colour in Al-Azhar and denied it for hundred of years in order to succeed in their try. The reason was to let Al-Azhar play its political role from their point of view. Ottomans' deed with Al-Azhar was, approximately, the same, disregarding their leaders' flattery for Al-Azhar scholars and students.
It is worth mentioning, that political and religious role played by Al-Azhar was not available for any other Islamic University all over the world. The famous orientalist historian, K.Vollers, indicated reasons for this high position of the mosque and said that being the center of Islamic world, near Al Hegaz, Egypt's economic importance, its Arabic touch, the extension of Africa and old culture of the Nile which let good seeds for arts and science grow on, are all the reasons of the high position of Al-Azhar.
Whatever the matter was, Al-Azhar role was famous in all incidents and political revolutions which followed each other through ages. Its role in the Islamic world embodied the famous role of Egypt in all Islamic periods from the first Islamic revolution in the time of Osman-Ibn-Affan.
Sheiks of Al-Azhar took the same position of kings and leaders, if it was not a higher in their characteristics, times, and dimensions. Leadership and administration was the prerequisite of the sound sheik.
But Al-Azhar role was not of Al-Sheik's deeds alone. It was of all its scholars, students, and patriotic public opinion which was determined by Al-Azhar. If Al Sheik or a scholar got weakened and slackened in continuing the patriotic movement, he would have to face the gathering people of scholars and students who would remove him from his position and powerfully, continue their patriotic movement and do their best efforts to pave the way for freedom.
There were many examples of these political revolutions of Al-Azhar, like the revolution of March 1800 against the French. It lasted a long period and the French troops lost more than what people lost. As we can talk a lot about this subject, one will recognize the most famous ones.
On 31st October, 1798 and after three months of the French expedition on Egypt under the leadership of Napoleon, Cairo's first revolution started, and so many reasons were indicated, like economic depression, or stalemate of the markets and bad conditions, while El-Gabarty and Napoleon agreed on the following reasons; commands by the French administration which exhausted people, forced loans and forced sale which were imposed, robbing, fees and entry duties with its attrition and distress.
Cairo's first revolution with its proof of instability of French troops or success in achieving their goals in controlling Egypt, followed by the defeat of Napoleon in AKA were all of the reasons which made him secretly fly to France on 17th August 1799, leaving his army under the leadership of Kleiber. This encouraged Ottomans to invade the French in Egypt depending on the Egyptian people's assistance.
But the Ottomans invasion, stimulated by British forces, urged Kleiber to fight the Egyptian-Turkish army and gain victory, coming cheerful to Cairo. However, Cairo's second revolution met him. People were greatly distressed after the defeat of their soldiers and also Turkish Muslim soldiers, and so the opportunity of getting rid of the oppressor French occupation was lost. This revolution was followed by killing Kleiber by Soleiman El-Halaby, stimulated by international developments which led to the liquidation of the French occupation, after three bloody years ended by sweet words in the patriotic book. One of the historical revolutions was the May revolution in 1805.
Egyptians practiced by the patriotic strife work, its hardships and responsibilities all over three years during the time of the occupation, gained victory after the evacuation of the French troops from their homeland. Egyptians felt the power and weakness of the Ottomans, being protected by the imperialist Britain to achieve their common goals.
On 12th May 1805, people gathered near Al-Azhar; scholars, students, merchants, peasants and workers, headed by Sheik El-Sharkawy of Al-Azhar Mosque and University, and Omar Makram, held a public conference and decided the following list of demands from the Turkish leader; the removal of soldiers from Cairo to Giza, any soldier could not enter Cairo with his gun, taxes should be, previously, accepted by Al-Azhar scholars and prominent personalities, and re-established transport between Cairo and Upper-Egypt.
But the leader was tardy. Then the revolvers held another conference on the second day and went to Mohamed Ali Pasha's house in large numbers presenting their conditions to the leadership, embodying people's desire. Their conditions could be summarized in; judging justly according to the tolerant Islamic Sharia, settlement of things should be agreed upon by people, and if the leader went against the public opinion, he should be retired from the service. The leader, Mohamed Ali Pasha, consented to these conditions and freedom gained the victory, while battles continued to protect its being.
The year 1919 was the top of the Egyptian patriotic revolutions, and the birth of effective independence movement. It was done unanimously; all villages and cities contributed. Every one, courageously, did his role. Orders from the military authority of the British troops aimed at all villages and cities at the same time. But we can see, clearly, the role of Al-Azhar. The leader of this revolution, Saad Zaghloul, was one of Al-Azhar's students who were educated and graduated there.
His enlightenment grew by foreign culture and literature which were translated into his native language. Al-Azhar was the permanent audience of Muslim and Christian revolutions, supporting cooperative patriotic union, doing their best efforts to carry out revolution's plans in all Egyptian regions. Reader of Egypt revolutions' diary, whatever he is Egyptian or otherwise, can easily find out the effective role of the mosque in 1919.
The leading role revealed from the first day when the expulsion of Saad Zaghloul, Mohamed Mahmoud, Ismael Sedky, and Hamd El-Basel to Malta was effected after the appeal of the Egyptian delegation to end the British sponsorship and accepting Egypt as an independent country, still has its sway. The idea of revolution was vehement in Egyptians' hearts and minds as a result of the bad deal received from the British, especially in the years of the First World War.
After the war, the Egyptian patriotic front rows started the appeal for their rights. As the British authority arrested some of the leaders of the patriotic movement headed by Saad Zaghloul, then the people unanimously stood, without any organization, against the British existence declaring the revolution on them.
This historical revolution was born on the 9th of March 1918, and from that date Al-Azhar was the only bastion, the starting point from where they could depart, and to where they could turn their eyes. They met and listened to speeches in these forums and invited people to stand against the occupation troops.
On the second day students declared the following; "Tomorrow is Thursday, the peaceful public demonstration will start at 10 o'clock in the morning, the starting point is Al-Azhar, passing by the patriotic quarters, following Hasab-Allah Mosque and flags, till twelve o'clock, then go to the public hospital where a group of doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers and students who aim and pleased to be ideals for people, unite with them.
At dawn of the following day, people marched to Al-Azhar where scholars and students, wonderfully, received and arranged them to listen to speeches saying their mind.
So Al-Azhar was a public place for oratory and the only place where the military authority failed to break into. This is due to its high religious position. Al-Azhar that time was a place where competitors of oratory did their best and managed to highlight their talent. Also, there was an enlightened role played by the patriotic scholars in the beginning of the 20th Century in facing the British occupation...
The long story of holy struggle does not end.