You may or may not already know that the world’s first ever degree-awarding university was created by a Muslim woman. That woman was: Fatima al-Fihri.
Fatima was the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Tunisia and a descendent of the Quraysh tribe. Her father’s only children were his two daughters and he encouraged their intellectual pursuits. Shortly after Fatima’s marriage both her father and her husband (who was also a wealthy man) sadly passed away. As beneficiary of both her father’s and her husband’s wealth, Fatima pondered over what to do with the money.
Fatima, along with her sister Maryam, founded the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco in the year 859 AD. She oversaw the entire building process which started during the month of Ramadan and took over eighteen years to complete. During this time, she took an oath to fast until the building was complete. She also made an active effort to build the university using only money that was acquired in a halal way. The remarkable thing about Fatima was her sincerity. She undertook her work with true sincerity and after the university was built it was attributed to the (obviously male) ruler of the time. Despite this, Fatima is rightfully acknowledged as the founder of the first university in the world.
Fatima truly pioneered the structure of a university – before al-Qarawiyyin there were no known educational institutes that structured curriculums and lectures and awarded degrees in that way. The first university in Europe was the University of Bologna which was built in 1088 AD (and Oxford was established shortly after in 1096 AD). Although it has lost some of its former glory, the University of al-Qarawiyyin is still running and functioning today.
Whilst times may have changed, the work and legacy of the inspiring Fatima al-Fihri will remain.
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