Al Azhar has recently witnessed a number of important events on top of which is its being honored as an institution by the Award of King Faisal for serving Islam. This award is honored by being granted to Al Azhar, and its grantor is honored as well. At its inception, Al Azhar was founded as a mosque of the city of Fatimite Cairo built by- Jawhar al Siqilli (Sicilian) in 358 H. (969 A.D.)
The original design of Al-Azhar Mosque consisted of a courtyard surrounded by three aisles. On the east, there were five corridors and on the south and north there were three corridors. At the Western Wall, there were no aisles. The main entrance of the mosque was in the middle of the northwest wall.
In about 400 H. (1009 A.D.), Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah, renewed Al Azhar, and allocated endowments to it. Many philanthropists followed suit, and Al Azhar depended on substantial Endowments. In the year 427H. (1035 A.D.) Al-Azhar was again renewed during the caliphate of Al Mustansir Billah, Ma’ad bin Az-Zahir Lazazdinallah (For dignifying Allah’s Religion). His grandson, Al Amir Biahkamallah, who acceded to the Caliphate in 495 H. (1101 A.D), followed in his track and implemented a complete renewal of Al Azhar. When al Hafiz Ledeinallah became a Caliph in 524 H. (1129 A.D.), he renewed Al-Azhar and added to it many structures. When the Fatimite State collapsed, the total area of Al-Azhar was 13000 arm lengths, that is less than half of its current area which has become today 26333 arm lengths; that is about 12000 square meters.
That was Al-Azhar’s architecture during the Fatimite era till their rule of Egypt was ended at the hands of al-Sultan Al-Nasser Saladin in A.H. 567H.(1171 A.D.) Saladin, then, suspended performing the Friday prayers in Al Azhar and closed it.
When al Zahir Baybars took over Egypt’s reign, the Friday prayers were resumed in Al Azhar Mosque. Emir Ezzedin Edimar, a prince of the Baybars’ state collected jewels from women and restored all that remained from Al Azhar’s endowments form their usurpers. He, then, renewed the Mosque’s ceilings and tiled all its floors. Emir Badr Eddin Bilbak Al Khazindar al Zahiri, had been of great help with the renewal of the Mosque. He established a spacious court to which he allocated plantations and real-estates. He stipulated that the revenue from these endowments should be spent on those who would be sequestered in the mosque’s aisle to read the Holy Qur’an, rehearse the Mohammedan Sunnah, or teach Imam Shafi’i’s jurisprudence. That aisle was the first teaching corridor inside Al Azhar, and the prelude to its transformation into a world-famous university.
• The Taybarsiyya: In the year 709 H. ( 1709 A.D.) Emir Ala’ al Din Taybars completed the construction of his Al Azhar attached school where he prescribed lessons to be taught by the Shafi’i scholars. He selected the most refined marble, and decorated its ceiling with gold. He also covered its floor with Mihrab dappled carpets. He equipped the school with a book-case.
• The-Aqbaghawiyya: In 740 H. ( 1339 A.D.), Emir Aqbugha Ala’a Eddin Al Wahidi, completed the construction of his Al Azhar attached school which was linked to the Taybarism School. He constructed a minaret for the school which is one of the five current minarets of Al Azhar.
Tawashi Emir Saad Eddin Basheer al Gumdar in761 H. (1360 A.D.) renewed Al Azhar Mosque and implemented important restorations to its architecture. He installed at its southern gate a free fresh water depot on top of which he built a Kuttab (school) for the teaching of the poor Muslim people. He also arranged for the delivery of lessons by Hanafi’i scholars. Moreover, he established a kitchen to provide the poor people neighboring Al Azhar with daily meals. He allocated substantial endowments for all that.