Skip to main content

Full text of "The Egyptian Problem"

See other formats

234                   TEE EGYPTIAN PROBLEM               CHAP.
point of Mahomedan sentiment, and it has played .so important a part in the various phases through which the Egyptian Nationalist movement has passed, that the nature of the intellectual and moral training which its students undergo deserves more notice than it generally receives.
Most visitors to Cairo in more tranquil days will remember the venerable, if rather dilapidated, pile of buildings, partially restored some twenty years ago, which opens on to narrow and crowded stiteets behind the Muski in the heart of the old native city. It has grown up in the course of nearly ten centuries round the Mosque called El Azhar—" the blossoming "—which was built by one of the Fatimite Khalifs in 970, and set aside for the use of students. Through the Barbers' Gate a long vaulted passage leads into a large sun-bathed quadrangular court with a basin for ceremonial ablutions in the centre, and surrounded by deep pillared arcades. This courtyard is the threshold of the great seat of Mahomedan learning which, with its affiliated offshoots, attracts more than 13,000 students duly enrolled mostly from Egypt, but also in smaller numbers from the most remote parts of the world of Islam, besides another 10,000 whose attendance is more casual—young boys and youths, and grown-up men and, not long ago, even greybeards. Under the latest regulations issued in 1911, the limit of age for admission is between ten and seventeen, but as the complete course of studies lasts fifteen years and in exceptional, cases more, most of them are approaching middle life before they leave El Azhar, and many of them have married either before or soon after entering it, the usual age for marrying being fifteen or sixteen. In the great courtyard the students lie about on mats, some sleeping, some eating, some reciting aloud from their text-books in a rhythmical sort of chant to which their swaying bodies keep time. Water carriers and itinerant food sellers and hawkers of all kinds move freely amongst them, swelling the din of voices with theirm into subordinate affiliation with itself, like those of Tanta and Alexandria and a few others of less importance. Its position has seldom been more 4ominan^ than it is to-day as the rallyingement.    The Special