Left: Painting of Fatiman al-Fihri. Right: Al Qarawiyyin. Photos credit: Wikimedia Commons
Fatima al-Fihri was born around 800AD in the town of Kairouan, present day Tunisia. When she was young, her family fled to Fez in Morocco due to the persecution of Arabs in her hometown. Fortunately, her family settled well in Fez and her father became a successful merchant.
When her father passed away, he left Fatima a vast amount of his fortune. Fatima decided to invest the money back into the community and built a mosque – Al Qarawiyyin. Through her effort, the mosque developed to become a religious institute and subsequently a university.
According to UNESCO, University of Al-Qarawiyyin was the first degree-granting educational institute in the world. People from various regions came to study the wide array of subjects available at the University. Ranging from natural sciences to languages to astronomy and many more. During the medieval times, the University was considered a major intellectual center.
Many well-known people came through Al-Qarawiyyin University, historian Abdurahman Ibn Khaldun, philosopher Abu Walid Ibn Rushd and Gerbert of Aurillac, who became Pope Sylvester II. Fatima spent her later years attending lectures at the University.
Al-Qarawiyyin University is still in operation today. It houses one of the world’s oldest libraries. The library contains more than 4000 manuscripts, including the famous historian Ibn Khaldun’s 14th century text Muqaddimah.
Fatima al-Fihri’s contribution help paved the way for advanced learning throughout the Middle Ages, resulting in the founding of Europe’s oldest institutions in the following centuries, including the University of Bologna (around 1088) and the University of Oxford (around 1096). Her remarkable legacy of dedication and empowering endeavor is a great inspiration to all.