Al-Qarawiyyin, The Story Of The First University In Africa. It Was Founded By A Woman.

Located in a North African country sharing borders with the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea(Morrocco) is Fez. Located in Fez is the first university in Africa called University of al-Qarawiyyin. Aside from this being the first in Africa, it’s the first university in the world.

In 859 AD, a young princess from Tunisia named Fatima al-Fihri founded Al-Qarawiyyin (also written as Al-Karaouine) the world’s first university to continuously issue out degrees.


Al-Qarawiyyin, first university in Africa
Picture of the first university in Africa


The Story Of Al-Qarawiyyin, First University In Africa

History tells a story of how in the 9th centry, Fatima and her family moved from Kairouan an inland desert in Tunisia to Fes, Morocco. After the death of Mohammed Al-Fihri, her father who was a wealthy merchant Fatima and her sister Mariam, both of whom were educated, inherited a large portion of wealth from their father. Being with a community of other migrants who also moved from Kairouan to settle in Fes which was the capital of the Idrisid Dynasty, Fatima decided to use her inheritance wealth on the construction of a mosque for the community. It was founded with a madrasa which grew to become one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the historic Muslim world.


The madrasa built with the mosque was meant to focus on religious teachings and the Quran learning, but with time, it grew to teach music, calligraphy, astronomy, Arabic grammar and medicine. The mosque is still one of the biggest mosques in Africa as it as a large room for about 22,000 worshippers.

Recognized by UNESCO and Guinness World Records as the oldest existing, continually operating higher educational institution in the world, The school was registered into the state education system In 1947 and ten years after, chemistry, physics and foreign languages were introduced. This was because Morocco had become a french protectorate by 1912 and the administration of the French made a good number of structural reforms between 1914 and 1947. These reforms didn’t really change the modus operandi of the University as it still retained its traditional way of teaching, a teaching style in which students are seated in a semi-circle called halqa around a sheikh, who tells them to read sections of a particular text, and also questions or answer questions on particular points of interests, law, or interpretation.

In 1963, Al Quaraouiyine joined the Morocco’s modern state university system and was officially renamed “University of Al Quaraouiyine” in 1965.

Due to its numerous admission applications from all over the world, the school increased the requirements for admission, making admission into the school tough. One of the admission requirements is that students applying to study at the Al Quaraouiyine must have knowledge and memorized the whole Quran if they are even to be considered for selection.


First university in Africa
Picture of books at the Qarawiyyin library — TRT World

Having over 4000 manuscripts, many of which date back to the 9th century. The University of Al-Qarawiyyin’s library is considered the oldest library in the world.

The University has produced numerous notable alumnis such as Leo Africanus , Fatima al Kabbaj , etc. 1932 was the first time female students joined the University of Al Quaraouiyine, they were nine in number and Fatima al Kabbaj was one of them, she later became the first and only female member of the Morrocan supreme council of religious knowledge.

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