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Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya (Arabic: فاطمة بنت محمد الفهرية القرشية‎) was an Arab Muslim woman who is credited with founding the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree-awarding educational institution in the world, The University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fes, Morocco in 859 CE.[1]

Fatima al-Fihri (Al-Fihriya)
Native name
فاطمة الفهرية
Bornc. 800
Known forFounding first and oldest-surviving madrasa and university, University of Al Quaraouiyine


Early lifeEdit

Karaouine Mosque and University

Al-Fihri was born in 800 AD to a father of Arab Qurayshi origins from Mecca, hence, the name "Fatima al-Fihri al-Qurashiyya [the Qurayshi one]. She and her sister, Maryam, had attended school and each received an education.[2] Maryam was the sponsor of the Al-Andalus mosque, also in Fes. Both were part of a larger tradition of women founding mosques.[3] The family was part of a large migration to Fes from the town of Kairouan (Qayrawan), in modern Tunisia, which lent its name to the mosque and madrassa she would found.[4] Although her family did not start out wealthy, her father, Mohammed al-Fihri, became successful as a merchant and gained wealth from his work in Fes.[5] During her childhood, she learned the Islamic jurisprudence Fiqh and studied the Hadith, records and writings of the prophet Muhammed.[6]

Founding Al QuaraouiyineEdit

When Al-Fihri's father passed away, he left his money to her and her sister. Al-Fihri used her inheritance to establish The University of Al Qarawiynn. It started as a mosque with 22,000 worshippers, but later this place of worship grew into a place of education.[7][8] The madrasa Al-Fihri founded is still in operation today as the University of Al Quaraouiyine. It is the oldest continually operating educational institution in the world and is sometimes referred to as the world's oldest university, by being the first institution to award degrees indicative of different levels of study. The courses offered include Islamic Studies, mathematics, grammar, and medicine.[9] The mosque is also still in operation, and is one of the largest in North Africa.[10][11][12]

The library Al-Fhri founded at the university is the world's oldest library.[13] Canadian-Morroccan architect, Aziza Chaouni, restored the library and reopened it to the public in May 2016.[14][15] The library's collection of over 4000 manuscripts includes a 9th-century Qur'an and the earliest collection of hadiths.[16][17]


Al-Fahri died in 880 AD at eighty years old. Her library and university had been running for twenty-four years.[18]


  1. ^ Kenney, Jeffrey T.; Moosa, Ebrahim (2013-08-15). Islam in the Modern World. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 9781135007959.
  2. ^ Kenney, Jeffrey T.; Moosa, Ebrahim (2013-08-15). Islam in the Modern World. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 9781135007959.
  3. ^ Kahera, Akel; Abdulmalik, Latif; Anz, Craig (2009-10-26). Design Criteria for Mosques and Islamic Centres. Routledge. p. 81. ISBN 9781136441271.
  4. ^ Gates Jr., Henry Louis (ed.). Dictionary of African Biography. 6. pp. 357–359. ISBN 9780195382075.
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  10. ^ Lulat, Y. G.-M.: A History Of African Higher Education From Antiquity To The Present: A Critical Synthesis Studies in Higher Education, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005, ISBN 978-0-313-32061-3, p. 70:

    As for the nature of its curriculum, it was typical of other major madrasahs such as al-Azhar and al-Qarawiyyin, though many of the texts used at the institution came from Muslim Spain...Al-Qarawiyyin began its life as a small mosque constructed in 859 C.E. by means of an endowment bequeathed by a wealthy woman of much piety, Fatima bint Muhammed al-Fahri.

  11. ^ Joseph, Suad; Najmabadi, Afsaneh (2003-01-01). Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures: Economics, education, mobility and space. Brill. p. 314. ISBN 9789004128200.
  12. ^ Swartley, Keith E. (2005-01-01). Encountering the World of Islam. Biblica. p. 74. ISBN 9781932805246.
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  14. ^ Shaheen, Kareem (2016-09-19). "World's oldest library reopens in Fez: 'You can hurt us, but you can't hurt the books'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
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  16. ^ CNN, Daisy Carrington. "This 1,157-year-old library gets a facelift". CNN. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
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Further readingEdit