Islam has two characteristics: Universality and dynamism. By the first all differences of race and colour are extinguished. by the second he made fabulous progress in all ages through the three known continents of the world. Islam has its adherents in distant Japan, in China, Malaya, India, South Africa as well as in countries like those of Northern Africa which are predominantly Moslem. Yet it is in Egypt that the intellectual and moral centre of Islam is to be found; it is to the theologians of Egypt that Moslems turn for guidance in matters of faith and conduct; it is from the jurists and theologians in Egypt that they seek interpretations of the sacred Koranic law.

The university of Al-Azhar is the nursery in which these theologians and jurists are raised and Moslem students from all over the world attend its classes. But before outlining the activities and scope of this famous centre it may be well to recall the main tenets and injunctions of the religion on which it is based.

The two grand principles of the  Mohammedan faith are: -"There is no deity but God" and "Mohammed is the apostle of God". This simple creed is completed by a code of conduct which is drawn from the Koran, the sayings of the Prophet, the early traditions of his disciples, and from analogy.

The orthodox followers of Islam are divided into four sects which differ from each other on minor points only. Deriving their names from the learned doctors whose tenets in these minor matters they have adopted, they are respectively, the Hanafi, Shafei, Maliki and the Hanbali. The majority of the Moslems of Egypt belong to the Shafei sect, thus called after the learned Imam el Shafei whose tomb is in a much frequented mosque on the outskirts of Cario.
The main obligations laid down by the ritual and moral laws of Islam are prayer, aims-giving, fasting and pilgrimage. The liturgical hours for prayer are five in number: sunset, night-fall, day-break, noon and mid-afternoon. The times are announced by the call to prayer chanted from the minarets of mosques but the prayers themselves may be said either within or without the mosque. Indeed, as no one who visits Egypt can fail to observe, prayers are often said at home or in the fields.
Friday, the holy day of the Moslem week, is the day when prayer in common and in the mosque is the rule. Other special prayers are said on particular occasions such as on the two grand annual festivals, and on the nights of Ramadan (the month of fasting).  The second injunction of the Moslem religion is observed throughout Egypt. It is generally known that the Moslem fast is a severe one lasting as it does from sunrise to sunset over a period of thirty days, the month of Ramadan . During those long hours and even when Ramadan falls in the height of summer  no food and not a drop of water may pass the believer's lips.

Alms-giving is very generally practised by the Moslems of Egypt. At each of the great festivals and on many other occasions food, clothes and money are distributed to the poor and wealthy people invariably commemorate a wedding or birth in their families by providing meals or gifts for those less fortunate. The Ministry of Wakfs (Pious Foundations) disposes of large sums left by endowments the income of which is devoted to philanthropic and religious work. Of late years "organized" charity has greatly developed in Egypt. Two of the largest Hospitals in the world are run by charitable societies, while popular kitchens, where free or under-cost meals are supplied, and seaside camps for town children are supported by public contributions.

The pilgrimage to Mecca is performed each year by many thousands of Egyptian Moslems. A generation or so ago it was a long and often perilous undertaking. Now however with an air service from Egypt to the Holy City the pilgrim need only be absent from home for some two or three weeks. The Holy Carpet. the departure of which is a picturesque accompaniment to the yearly pilgrimage, is woven and embroidered in Cairo by specially trained workers. Preceded by heralds and musicians the Holy Carpet, carried on the back of a camel specially bred and reserved for the purpose, leaves Cairo amid great ceremony and rejoicings. Its return, when the pilgrimage is completed, is the occasion of further rejoicings and a public holiday.

Moslem saints are  greatly venerated in Egypt. Several of the largest and most frequented mosques bear  the names of the holy person buried therein as for instance the mosque of the Hassanein in which the head of a martyred grandson of the Prophet is interred; the mosque of Saida Zenab, a granddaughter of the Prophet; and the mosque of EI-Shafei where lies the founder of the Shafei sect to which most Egyptian Moslems belong. These and other Moslem mosques are in Cairo, but there are many also in various parts of Egypt. Tantah, in the Delta, the tomb of the Sayed Ahmed El-Bedawi attracts quite as many visitors as any Cairo mosque. The tomb of El Dessuki  in the western Delta is almost as famous.

"Mouleds" or anniversary birthday festivals are held in honour of most celebrated saints. The most famous mouled celebrated in Cairo is that of the Prophet. The festival which lasts nine days is held on a large plot of ground to the north of Cairo. In addition to the purely religious part of the ceremonies, such as chanting of the Koran. there is a fair  with fireworks, singers, numerous booths ans stalls for the sale of sugar dolls that are a feature of most mouleds.

The mouled of Tantah's patron saint is  very largly attended  and the town, at mouled time, presents a curious aspect  with its outskirts covered by row upon row of tents and awnings.

The ritual ceremonies and festivals referred to above are of course common to every nation professing the religion of Islam. They would not therefore suffice in themselves to make of Egypt the centre of Islam' Nor perhaps would Egypt be such a centre were it not for the existence and influence of Al-Azhar.

For nearly a thousand years the university or, more accurately, the collegiate mosque of Al-Azhar has been known as the best school of Arabic literature, Moslem theology and jurisprudence. At first sight it may seem curious that these three subjects should be bracketed together ; but it must be remembered that Arabic is not-only the language spoken in Egypt and other countries, it is also the medium by which the Koran was revealed. As such it has acquired a sacred character, a thorough knowledge of Arabic being an essential preliminary to a thorough knowledge of the Koran. It therefore follows that Arabic literature and Moslem theology are correlated subjects. The same may be said of jurisprudence. The religion of Islam is more than a faith to which its followers subscribe; it is a social system and it legislates not only in matters of belief but in social matters such as marriage, divorce, right of property, inheritance and successions. Jurisprudence is thus
an important part of a theologian's education.

Al-Azhar was founded in A.D. 970. It was intended to be the chief mosque or official place of worship for the then new city of Cairo. Not until some years later did it become an educational centre. Since then however it has attracted students from every part of the Moslem world. Indian, Turkish, Malay, Chinese and Japanese students are among the
many nationalities represented at Al-Azhar. They all study Arabic in order to read the Koran in the original.

The Arabic language and all subjects connected with the faith of Islam were for many centuries the sole curriculum of AI-Azhar. At the present day it may be said that a complete Al-Azhar training is a complete education. Secular sciences are in honour, the study of foreign languages is encouraged. Future teachers are trained not only in the subjects they will be called upon to teach but also in the best methods of teaching. These and other reforms have involved an extension of premises and several departments of the University's activities are now housed in various parts of Cairo while, continuing a tradition of the past, affiliated colleges have been opened in several of the provincial towns of Egypt.

Yet, in adapting its methods to modern trends of thoughts and modern needs, Al-Azhar remains in a sense unchanged. Just as it did nearly a thousand years ago, it still draws its inspiration from the simple tenets of a noble faith; it still has as its aim and object, the maintenance of that faith in its primitive purity and the preservation of the religious heritage of which it is the vigilant guardian. In another thousand years the picturesque court-yards of Al-Azhar may - who knows - have disap peared. Such a disappearance would be an architectural tragedy. But it would not, could not, affect the inner life, the spiritual foundations of the University itself, life and foundations which, rooted in faith, are stronger and more lasting than marble or stone.

Egypt is a land of Islam. Perhaps that it why it is also a land of tolerance, a land in which no man is prevented from worshipping God in such manner as his faith dictates, where freedom of conscience reigns, where religious persecution is unknown.

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