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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 14    Issue 05   01 - 31 October 2019

University of Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco: The World’s Oldest Surviving Centre of Islamic Learning

Minaret Research Network

Fez Medina, located in Morocco, is one of the best-preserved historical towns in the Arab world. Since the 9th century, Fez Medina has drawn scholars, students and intellectuals who came from distant lands to acquire Islamic knowledge.

According to UNESCO, the University of Qarawiyyin, located in the heart of Fez Medina and founded in 859, is the oldest continually operating university in the world. The university was founded by Fatima al-Fihri, whose father had migrated from the city of Qairouan (in present-day Tunisia) in the mid-9th century. After her father passed away, Fatima and her sister Maryam decided to use the fortune they inherited to establish a mosque and a university. In the course of time, the mosque and the university complex were considerably expanded. Today the central mosque can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers. The mosque has a grand courtyard, with intricate carvings, arches and water fountains.

In 1947, the university was integrated into the state education system and was officially renamed the University of Qarawiyyin.

A number of prominent and famous personalities have been associated with the university. These include al-Idrisi, the celebrated geographer, Ibn Khaldun, Pope Sylvester II (who is said to have introduced Arabic numerals after studying at the university, and 16th century Andalusian diplomat Leo Africanus.

Teaching at the university is focussed on the traditional Islamic disciplines and on the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence. The method of teaching at the university continues to be of the traditional type, in which form a circle around a respected and learned teacher, who prompts them to read passages from a text, asks them questions related to language and grammar and explains difficult words and phrases. The medium of instruction is Arabic and lessons are open to both male and female students. In addition to the traditional disciplines, lessons in French and English are also imparted.

Students who study at Qarawiyyin University come from all over Morocco as well as from other West African nations.

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