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Fatima al-Fihri: Founder of the World's Oldest University in Fes

Fatima Al-Fihri was the principal individual in history to lay out the idea of a college as far as we might be concerned today.

Few people know this, but many of the advancements that have taken place around the world may not be possible if it were not for Fatima al-Fihri. Fatima was a Muslim woman from Tunisia who founded the first known university more than 1,000 years ago that ultimately paved the way for modern universities around the globe.

Fatima al-Fihri was born into a wealthy merchant family in Tunisia, and like many others of her time, education was highly valued in her family. She and her sister Mariam were given the best education possible, including religious studies, and the family was deeply committed to Islam. In the early 9th century, the al-Fihri family, along with many other Arabic people, left Tunisia and emigrated to Fez, which was then a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis. They settled in the district of al-Qarawiyyin, named after their place of origin, Qayrawan in Tunisia.

Nestled in the vibrant city of Fez in Morocco, lies the University of al-Qarawiyyin – a grand institution steeped in history and culture that has stood the test of time. Founded over a thousand years ago in 859 AD by a Muslim woman named Fatima al-Fihri, it is recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest existing and continually operating educational institution in the world. Its impact on higher education and its evolution from a mosque to a center for learning have paved the way for modern universities around the globe.

“In the world of Islam, higher education together with religious and literary sciences was practiced in masjids (mosques) and sometimes in the houses of the ‘mudarris’ (professors), in accordance with medieval tradition. Starting from the ninth century A.D., separate madrasahs began to be established next to masjids. These madrasas were called ‘mosques,’ which means ‘gatherer’ in Arabic. In Europe, the Latin word ‘Universitatis’ was used as the equivalent of the word ‘mosque’.

Why is the al-Qarawiyyin university so famous ?

The university of al-Qarawyyin is considered the most ancient university in the world still operating, preceding the first European universities. This is according to UNESCO and Guinness World Records. The date of reference is the year al-Qarawiyyin was founded as a mosque, which implies that its educational character goes back to its beginnings. In this sense, it precedes the Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu (founded in 989 A.D.) by more than a century and the University of Bologna (1088 A.D.) by more than two centuries.

Its graduates include several poets, Faqîhs (muslim jurist), astronomers and mathematicians from all over the region. Famous names are those of historian Abdurahman Ibn Khaldun, the doctor and philosopher Abu Walid Ibn Rushd, the Andalusian doctor Musa Ibn Maimonou and Gerbert of Aurillac, who became Pope Sylvester II.



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