Explore a Mystery: Al - Qarawiyyin Mosqueand University



Sadaqah Jariyah is a long-term charity that supports people for years to come. This article explores a Sadaqah that has helped Muslims for the past 1162 years.


The story was initiated by the arrival of a Tunisian immigrant of Arab Quraishi descent, called Fatima Al Fihri, to Fez in Morocco. Fatima and her sister, Maryam, had lived with their father in the Tunisian city of Kairouan. Still, they fled their hometown when many Arabs were fleeing Cordoba, fearing reprisals after the riots in Cordoba. The father became a very wealthy businessman in Fez. He had raised both his daughters to be religiously devout. They were both well educated in Fiqh and Hadith.


Fatima and Maryam had inherited a lot of money from their father. The massive Arab migration to Fez had put a lot of pressure on the existing mosques. Hence, both the sisters decided to build Mosques to give back to the community that had welcomed them and their families. Maryam built a Mosque in Fez called Al - Andalus named after the immigrants who fled Andalusia in the south of Spain. Fatima built a Mosque in 859 AD called Al - Qarawiyyin, named after the immigrants from her home city of Kairouan.


Al - Qarawiyyin initially focused on religious studies but quickly expanded to include other fields like medicine, logic, math, astronomy, and others.



Fatima had vowed to spend her entire inheritance building a Mosque appropriate for the community she had settled in. Initially, the focus was on the Mosque, which was around 30 meters long, and it had a school or madrasa where Hadith, Fiqh, and Tafsir were taught. The minaret of the Mosque was towards the rear of the Mosque, similar to the Mosques in Cordoba and Kairouan.



It was soon apparent that the school space was insufficient as it emerged as a place for higher education. Fatima went ahead and bought much of the land surrounding Al - Qarawiyyin. She supervised the construction of the higher educational institution. She didn’t want to appear extravagant, so she requested that the ground be dug deep to see what resources she could find for construction use.


Al - Qarawiyyin initially focused on religious studies but quickly expanded to include other fields like medicine, logic, math, astronomy, and others. The diversity of the topics offered and the high quality of education made it very popular with scholars and knowledge seekers from all over the Muslim world.


It was so popular that they had to implement strict selection criteria for enrollment. You had to know Arabic, the Sciences, and the Quran by heart to be eligible for acceptance. It also started awarding degrees according to different study levels in various fields. Fatima Al Fihri herself studied here, and her diploma is still on display.


Fatima hoped Al - Qarawiyyin to be a place where intellectual debates and discussions could take place to progress the teaching and learning process, particularly in the sciences. Al - Qarawiyyin became the center of academic life, attracting Muslims and non- Muslims who sought knowledge. Notable among them is Ibn Khaldun, the father of modern-day Sociology. Mohammed Al Idrisi, the cartographer whose maps were used by the Europeans during the Renaissance period, and Pope Sylvester ll ( 946 - 1003 ), who was highly interested in math and astronomy.


Although the different eras were full of many rivalries since its existence, Sultans of various dynasties and periods supported the expansion and continuous growth of the institution well after Fatima. Gifts, subsidies, books, and manuscripts were generously donated to it. As a result, approximately 4000 valuable manuscripts in different fields, including historical copies of the Quran, have been preserved in the libraries located in the primary and side buildings. The Historical Library is open to the public.


Contrary to common belief, the oldest university is not in Europe. It is actually in Africa, specifically in Morocco. Nevertheless, Europeans were impressed and influenced by the professionalism and structure instituted by Al - Qarawiyyin. The Universities of Bologna in Italy and Oxford in the UK began operating in 1088 and 1096, respectively, following similar operating guidelines like Al - Qarawiyyin, which existed practically over two centuries ago


UNESCO and the Guinness World Records proclaimed Al Qarawiyyin to be “the oldest existing and continually operating educational institution in the world.” It is such an honor for all Muslims to know that the sincerity and dedication of a Muslim woman led to this worldwide recognition.


Al - Qarawiyyin was made part of Morocco’s state education system in 1947. In 1957, it increased its course offerings to incorporate physics, chemistry, and foreign languages. In 1963, it became part of Morocco’s state university system. In 1965, it was officially called the University of Al - Qarawiyyin.


Students still sit in a semi-circle around their instructor to receive their educational instructions. Then, they work to achieve diplomas and degrees. The 1990’s saw attendance shrink since many students chose to learn abroad in western countries. However, to this day, it is still operational with students attending from Morocco, West Africa, and Muslim Central Asia.



In Surah 39:9, the Quran rhetorically asks: “Can they who know and they who do not know be deemed equal?” Knowledge constitutes the heart of Islam and our civilization. The first word revealed to our Prophet PBUH is “Iqraa” or “Read.” To bring about an unprecedented change in our society, we have to seek knowledge, which is prescribed upon every Muslim, male and female. Islamic History is so rich and diverse, and with current levels of technology, information is at our fingertips.


Fatima Al Fihri is said to have fasted during the construction period of Al - Qarawiyyin. When it was completed, she prayed and thanked Allah SWT for his blessing. Fatima was married but lost her husband and child and didn’t have any descendants to carry her name. Yet, Allah SWT maintained her legacy throughout the years.


Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RA) relates that he heard the Prophet Muhammed PBUH say, “Verily actions are judged by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. ( Hadith Nawawi )



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