By Anna-Marie Crowhurst
01 September 2018
It’s all thanks to Fatima al-Fihri that
universities around the world exist. After founding the world’s first known
university, the University of al-Qarawiyyin, a centre of higher education, it
ultimately paved the way for modern universities around the globe.
What Did She Do?
Fatima al-Fihri was a Muslim woman from
Tunisia who founded the first known university more than 1,000 years ago: the
University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco. Guinness World Records
acknowledges it as the oldest existing and continually operating educational
institution in the world.
Much of the information about al-Fihri’s
early life is lost to time, but we do know that she was born into a wealthy
merchant family who prized education – even for women. Fatima and her sister, Mariam,
were well schooled and devoutly religious. In the early 9th century, the
al-Fihri family, along with many other Arabic people, left Tunisia and
emigrated to Fez – considered a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis by the
standards of the time. When her father died, Fatima inherited his fortune. The
sisters then decided to invest the money in something that would benefit their
In AD859, al-Fihri decided that a place of
higher learning was much needed in the city and founded the al-Qarawiyyin
Mosque and University, naming it after her hometown. She oversaw construction
of the building – 30 metres long with a courtyard, prayer hall, library and
In the beginning, the educational part of
al-Qarawiyyin offered courses in religious instruction and the Qur’an, but its
curriculum gradually expanded into Arabic grammar, mathematics, music, medicine
and astronomy, and then began conferring degrees on its graduates. The
university swiftly became a famous spiritual and educational centre, visited by
scholars and intellectuals from all over the world. Al-Fihri attended lectures
there until her later years.
Why Was She A Trailblazer?
Al-Fihri established the concept of a
university as we know it today. Her idea for an educational hub that provided
opportunities for advanced learning spread throughout the world in the Middle
Ages, resulting in the founding of Europe’s oldest institutions in the
following centuries, including the University of Bologna (founded 1088) and the
University of Oxford (founded around 1096).
What Influence Has She Left Behind
After al-Fihri’s death, the institution
continued to be extended. The mosque became the largest in Africa, with a
capacity of 22,000. Al-Qarawiyyin University is still going strong – alumni
include Fatima al- Kabbaj, one of its first female students, who later became
the sole female member of the Moroccan Supreme Council of Religious Knowledge.
has zoroastrianism got to do with the article? The sighs and regrets will be
many for you Hats Off and therefore there will be many such ifs.
The author of the article is neither a Muslim nor a leftist. She is a
novelist, an aspiring playwright, and a free-lance journalist. She may have got
her facts wrong but not when she says: "Guinness
World Records acknowledges it as the oldest existing and continually operating
educational institution in the world."
Hats Off's overreaction is typical of his overwhelming hatred for all