The world’s oldest institution that continues to impart knowledge and wisdom today was founded by a Muslim woman named Fatima Al-Fihri. The University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco, opened its doors in 859 CE. It is recognised by UNESCO and The Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest university.
Fatima al-Fihri, who was born in Tunisia, hailed from a well-educated family. In the early 9th century, Fatima migrated from Karaouine in Tunisia to Fez in Morocco with her father and sister. Upon the death of their father, Fatima and her sister Mariam inherited a large fortune. They both used this money for the betterment of their local community. Mariam invested her inheritance into founding a mosque, and Fatima invested it into an educational institution. Gradually, the establishment grew into the University of al-Qarawiyyin, named after Fatima’s birthplace – Qayrawan – in Tunisia.
Al-Fihri was described to have been a young woman who was fascinated by knowledge and curious about the world. She oversaw the construction of the mosque, and until her later years, attended lectures by the reputed scholars who traveled to teach at the school.
The University of Al-Karaouine reminds us that it is not Oxford or Cambridge that first set the stage for university learning. Instead, the world’s oldest existing university was opened by a Muslim woman over 1,000 years ago.