Located in Cairo, Al-Azhar is one of the earliest Jami‘(mosque/ university) complexes in the Muslim world. It was founded by the Fatimid Ismaili dynasty; the dynasty’s Caliph, Imam Mu‘izz li-Din Allah, established Cairo as his capital in 969-973 CE.
The complex is so named in memory of the title al-Zahra (‘the luminous’), which is associated with Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet and the wife of the first Shia Imam, ‘Ali, from whom the Fatimids claimed direct descent. Although it served initially as a congregational mosque for Friday prayers, it soon developed into a seat of learning. It has continued to exercise this role throughout Muslim history, attaining recognition first as the foremost center for Shi‘i Isma‘ili learning and then, after the twelfth century CE, as a major Sunni educational institution.
Professor Azim Nanji serves currently as Special Advisor to the Provost at the Aga Khan University. Most recently he served as Senior Associate Director of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University 2008-2010 and also lectured on Islam in the Department of Religious Studies. He was previously the of Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies from 1998 - 2008.