Al-Qarawiyin, the Oldest University Established by Woman

Al-Qarawiyin, the Oldest University Established by Woman

According to Guiness World of Record, al-Qarawiyin University was the first university in the world which award an academic title or bachelor for its students.

Middle age was a century of Islamic civilization progress, when Islam became a pioneer of scientific development. Many Muslim scholars in this century had successfully established a various kinds of works and inventions. They built an educational institution as the center of sciences. One of the educational institution that took a role in producing ulama and Islamic great scientists was al-Qarawiyin University.

Al-Qarawiyin University – also written Al-Karaouine – is one of the oldest universities ever build on earth. It is located in Fez, Morocco and was built on 859 M, when Murabitun Imperium ruled over the al-Maghrib al-Islami region. It was established by an Islamic woman from Kairouan, Tunis, called Fatimah al-Fihri.

According to Guinness World of Record, al-Qarawiyin University was the first university in the world which award an academic title or bachelor for its students. When the European just knew the university system with its academic title along with the founding of University of Bologna in Italy on 11st century, University of Paris in France, and Oxford University in England, Islam had already known earlier with the al-Qarawiyin.

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The prototype of the university was firstly started with a mosque built by Fatimah al-Fihri who moved to Marocco because her origin place of birth was under political conflict. Fatimah and her family decided to move to Marocco and joined other migrant communities from Kairouan who had already settled in West district of Fez.     

Fatimah’s family was a rich merchant and science enthusiast. When her father had passed away, Fatimah and her sister, Maryam inheritted a great amount of heritages from their father. Fatimah then promised to utilize it to build a mosque which can be used for sciences discussion and religion teaching. Eventually, she built a mosque namely by al-Qarawiyin. The name was inspired from her origin place, Kairouan, Tunis.

When establishing the mosque was in progress, Fatimah always continuously fast until the building was finished. She was the first person to pray and do shalat inside the mosque when  it was just finished as a thankfulness and gratitude to Allah because of the opportunity to build a mosque.  The mosque then later developed as a place for discussion, religion learning and even political forum.

The Qarawaniyyin, a migrant from Kairouan, Tunis who lived in Fez, also created a small discussion which then widely expanded and got bigger. So that, the activities inside the mosque transformed into scientist activities which equivalent to university. Then, it evolved becoming a university.

This academic institution was the institution that full of history. Based on the fact that in the middle ages, al-Qarawiyin University took an important role in combining cultures and knowledge, Islamic and European community. It was taught in it a various kinds of knowledges. For instance, Fiqih, al-Quran, language, medical science, chemical, history, music, astronomy, and so on.

When Marocco was colonized by France, al-Qarawiyin was becoming a base of resistance against colonialism and becoming also a center of emergency goverment at once. Hence, al-Qarawiyin was nicknamed as a dark house by France.

What made al-Qarawiyin special beyond the oldest title was the library. A collection of thousands of ancient books and manuscripts in there can not be found in any libraries in any places. Even the 9th century al-Quran was well-stored inside. Besides al-Quran, the library collected also old books and manuscripts that were sources of knowledge of the world’s historians.

As the oldest academic institution in the world, al-Qarawiyin’s reputation in the past and present is no need to be in doubt. In the past, al-Qarawiyin had succesfully created great figures like Pope Sylvester II, the 999-1003 D.A. highest leader of Vatican Catholic Church, who introduced an arabic number in Europe. Ibn Maimun (1135-1204), cartographer al-Idrissi (d. 1166), Ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1395), Ibn al-Katib al-Bitruji, Ibn Hirzihim, al-Wazzan, Ibn Rushayd al-Sabti (d.1321), Muhammad ibn al-Haj al-Adbari al-Fasi (d.1336), Abu Imran al-Fasi (d.1015), and there are many more great scholars who later have a big hand in the Islamic world.

Although it has been centuries-old, al-Qarawiyin’s reputation has never faded as one of the mouthpieces of Islamic scholarship by being one of the five best campuses in Islamic studies in the world.

Western civilization which is currently advancing so rapidly, is basically indebted to Islam, one of which is indebted to al-Qarawiyin. Because the university has an important role in the process of developing and reviving science in the West in the 15th century A.D.

Translated from the original article :, by Nur Hasan on 17 December 2019.