Wednesday, January 30, 2008

321)Al-Azhar: An Ancient Centre of Learning(IIS article); Ibn al-Haytham and the Scientific Method; Quotes of Aga Khan IV

"Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded al-Azhar University in Cairo some 1000 years ago, at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith, and faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator's physical world. The form of universities has changed over those 1000 years, but that reciprocity between faith and knowledge remains a source of strength"(Aga Khan IV, Speech,1994, Cambridge, Massachusets, U.S.A.)

"A thousand years ago, my forefathers, the Fatimid imam-caliphs of Egypt, founded al-Azhar University and the Academy of Knowledge in Cairo. In the Islamic tradition, they viewed the discovery of knowledge as a way to understand, so as to serve better God's creation, to apply knowledge and reason to build society and shape human aspirations"(Aga Khan IV, Speech, 2004, Matola, Mozambique.)

From the Institute of Ismaili Studies, December 2007:

Al-Azhar (The Luminous) was constructed as the central grand-mosque for Cairo by al-Qaid Jawhar al-Siqillí when he took Egypt for the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mu‘izz li Dín Allah in 969 CE and founded Cairo as its capital city. It was inaugurated on 7 Ramadan 361 AH / 22 June 972 CE. Possibly so-named after Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima al-Zahra, through whom the Fatimids traced their genealogy back to the Prophet.

Throughout the Fatimid period, al-Azhar played a vital role as one of the main mosques for the Imam-Caliph’s Friday prayers, where the Imam-Caliph himself often delivered the sermon; and also as an epicentre of religious learning. Various scholars, including the son of Imam-Caliph al-Mu‘izz’s famous jurist al-Qadí al-Nu‘man, ‘Alí b. al-Nu‘man and Imam-Caliph al-‘Azíz’s vizier, Ya‘qub b. Killis, delivered lectures there on Fatimid law, theology and other subjects. These majalis formed an important part in the dissemination of Fatimid knowledge. There were also majalis convened especially for women.

Imam-Caliph al-‘Azíz assigned several scholars to a house near al-Azhar and made provisions for their support. They held lectures and sessions in the mosque. Al-Azhar was also one of the main mosques in which the official appointment letter of the chief judge was read out in public; and where the qadís (judges) presided over cases. On important occasions, gatherings were held here and the structure was brightly lit up. Meals were also offered at these occasions.

Following the Fatimid period, al-Azhar was sidelined by the Ayyubids but restored and expanded by the Mamluks as a grand-mosque and a centre for religious instruction. Even though now it was one of many religious academies, it retained its primary position because of its history and its location at what was, until the eighteenth century, the political, economic and social centre of Cairo.

Some of the more well-known scholars to have lived and taught at al-Azhar were Ibn al-Haytham (d.430 AH/1039 CE) and later Ibn Khaldun (d.808 AH/1406 CE). Even during the Fatimid era, there were renovations and additions made to the structure. During the Ayyubids rule, post-Fatimid from the late 12th to the late 13th century CE, it lay in neglect. The Mamluks then added a great deal to the mosque and surroundings up to and including the 18th century CE.

Today, al-Azhar is still one of the most important grand-mosques of Cairo. As a centre for learning, it was transformed, beginning in the late nineteenth century under the Ottoman Pashas, into a modern, multi-disciplinary, multi-faculty university with campuses around Cairo and other cities in Egypt, with affiliations to institutes and learning centres internationally.

Al-Azhar has always attracted students from all over the Muslim world, as it does to this day. Its collections are renowned for the large number of manuscripts of the Muslim theological sciences that they hold(End of IIS article)

Click on the original IIS link to see pictures of Al-Azhar:

It is interesting that one of the scholars who taught at Al-Azhar University during Fatimid times was the renowned scientist Ibn al-Haytham, known in the West as Alhazen. Bradley Steffens, award-winning prolific author, poet and lyricist, wrote this about Ibn al-Haytham:

"Born in Basra in 965, Ibn al-Haytham was the first person to test hypotheses with verifiable experiments, developing the modern scientific method more than two hundred years before European scholars learned of it—by reading his books":

Mawlana Hazar Imam has opined on the very great importance of applying the open-ended Scientific or Experimental method in academic scientific studies but always within the context of the total and all-encompassing knowledge expounded by religion:

"An institution dedicated to proceeding beyond known limits must be committed to independent thinking. In a university scholars engage both orthodox and unorthodox ideas, seeking truth and understanding wherever they may be found. For a Muslim university it is appropriate to see learning and knowledge as a continuing acknowledgement of Allah's magnificence"(Aga Khan IV, 1993, Aga Khan University Convocation, Karachi, Pakistan)

"In Islamic belief, knowledge is two-fold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers. Indeed, one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation." (Aga Khan IV, 16 March 1983, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan)

Easy Nash aka easynash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)