Al Azhar will be right at home in Al Ain
The announcement that Egypt’s Al Azhar University will open its first branch campus in Al Ain next September should be widely welcomed in the UAE and beyond. It will boost the portfolio of higher learning institutions already in place here, including home-grown universities with growing reputations and branch campuses of New York University and Paris- Sorbonne.
Founded in the 10th century AD, Al Azhar is the Oxford of the Islamic world. But it is not just a place of academic excellence – its curriculum has long included logic, grammar and science subjects – it is at the very heart of Sunni religious teaching. Its authority in spiritual matters is based on centuries of scholarship and study by some of the world’s leading thinkers of the Quran and related texts and traditions. The scholars at Al Azhar, 15 of whom gave lectures in the UAE during Ramadan this year, are renowned for championing the true nature of Islam as a religion of peace. The university in Cairo has been described as “a lighthouse of moderation”, and it has played a pivotal role in clarifying misinterpreted aspects of religion.
The role of Al Azhar, which oversees a large network of schools in Egypt, has never been more important. We live in an age where groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIL, and their many offshoots and imitators, have twisted the true meaning of Islam for their own evil ends.
Impressionable youngsters are paying attention to firebrand outliers – radical clerics and websites and online videos that promote perversions – rather than seeking the truth from those who have undertaken a lifetime of study and can draw from the collected wisdom of thousands of scholars who came before them. Thankfully, the UAE, along with other countries in this region, is pushing back.
We hope that Al Azhar’s Al Ain campus will become not just a magnet for scholars, but an important element of the broader UAE fabric. Ideally, it will attract students and faculty from across the Islamic world, including those in eastern nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia, and provide outreach programmes such as lecture series for the general public. The UAE has always been a shining example of what can be achieved by people of great faith. This new partnership is a perfect fit.