Who is the Founder of the Oldest University of the world?

Fatima Al-Fihri is a name that is not often recognized when discussing important figures in Islamic history, especially in the realm of woman in education. However, her story is one that deserves to be told and celebrated, as she was a Muslim woman who played a significant role in the establishment of the first university in the world.

Fatima was born in Tunisia around 800 AD. The family migrated to Fez, Morocco during the same period when Muslims were fleeing Spain as they were being expelled from the regions.

Fatima al-Fihri was a devout Muslim who came from a wealthy and highly educated family. She was raised in a household that placed a strong emphasis on learning and scholarship, which instilled in her a deep love for education. After the death of her father and brother, who were both prominent scholars, Fatima and her sister Mariam inherited a large fortune, and instead of using it for personal gain she decided to use it to invest in the establishment of a mosque and a school. This created something that would benefit her community and future generations.  This school eventually evolved into the University of al-Qarawiyyin, which was founded in 859 AD.

She was the founder of the world’s oldest existing and continually operating educational institution, the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco.

Fez, one of Morocco’s oldest and most important cities, is a cultural and spiritual hub that holds a significant place in Islamic history. Known for its stunning architecture, vibrant markets, and historic medina, Fez has long been a centre of learning and religious study in the Islamic world. The city’s many madrasas, mosques, and theological institutions are a testament to its rich intellectual heritage. Traveling to Fez is sure to be an inspiring and enriching experience for anyone with an interest in Islamic history and culture.

The University

Established in 859, the University of al-Qarawiyyin was the first degree-granting institute in the world. During the medieval times, the University was considered a major intellectual centre.

The university quickly became a centre of learning and scholarship in the Islamic world. It attracted students and scholars from across North Africa and all over the world, and its curriculum covered a wide range of subjects including Islamic studies, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy. The university also had a library that housed a vast collection of books and manuscripts, making it an important hub of intellectual activity.


Notable Attendees

Numerous prominent scholars have studied at this stellar university. Gerbert of Aurillac – better known as Pope Sylvester II – studied at al-Qarawiyyin, and it is he who is given the credit of introducing Arabic numerals (that we use to this day) to the rest of Europe.


Fatima’s Legacy

The University of al-Qarawiyyin continues to run today, and houses one of the world’s oldest libraries. The library contains over 4000 manuscripts, including the famous historian Ibn Khaldun’s 14th-century text Muqaddimah.

The library recently underwent refurbishment, pioneered by female architect Aziza Chaouni, who worked to renovate the library.

Fatima al-Fihri’s vision for the university was revolutionary for its time. She believed in the power of education to uplift individuals and society as a whole. Her commitment to providing access to education for all, regardless of background or gender, was ahead of its time and laid the foundation for future advancements in the field of education.

By embracing our Islamic heritage in a world where women’s contributions are often overlooked or undervalued, it is important to remember and celebrate figures like Fatima Al-Fihri, who paved the way for future generations of women in education and beyond. Her story serves as a reminder of the power of faith, determination, vision, and courage in shaping the course of history.

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