Fatima Al-Fihri – Founder of the Oldest University in the World
Great Women of Islam
Fatima Al-Fihri- Founder of the Oldest University in the World
By Hezreen Abdul Rashid
It was a clear sunny day when a noble family journeyed from Kairouan, Tunisia to Fes in Morocco. It was in the early ninth century and many families chose to migrate to the bustling city in the west. For Mohammed Al-Fihri, a wealthy merchant from Tunisia, Fes was excellent avenue for him to continue the family business.
Both his daughters, Fatima and Mariam were well educated. After inheriting a large amount of money from their father, the girls vowed to spend their entire inheritance for the benefit of their community. Whilst Mariam headed the contstruction of the grand mosque Al-Andalus, Fatima planned on the building of another mosque called Al Karaouine which was said to be the largest in North Africa. It was in the midst of the construction of the mosque that the University of Al-Karaouine ( which is still part of the mosque today) was set up.
The University of Al-Karaouine was highly regarded back then as one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world. Today, the Guinness Book of World Records has recognised it to be the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning in the world.
Fatima Al-Fihri was certainly a lady of foresightedness for the location of the university within the compounds of the mosque attracted scholars from far and wide. Fes, being the most influential cities in the Muslim world has been renowned for centuries as the centre for religion and culture. The university produced great thinkers such as Abu Al-Abbas al-Zwawi, Abu Madhab Al-Fasi, a leading theorist of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence and Leo Africanus, a renowed traveler and writer.