Did you know the first degree-giving university of the world was built by a Muslim woman? Fatima al Fihri, a woman of Tunisian origin from Morocco is the name behind the prestigious University of Qarawiyyin founded in 859 AD and located in Fes, Morocco.
Fatima al-Fihri belonged to a wealthy family that travelled to Fes, in Morocco from Kairouan, Tunisia for trading opportunities. Both Fatima and her sister Maryam were well-educated. Unfortunately, Fatima's husband, father and brother died in quick succession leaving an abundance of wealth behind for Fatima and Maryam. It was with this money that Fatima vowed to serve her community and Allah.
Fatima Al-Fihri was a great visionary. She built the University within the compounds of a beautiful mosque that attracted scholars from beyond Morocco. Fes, has historically been a cultural centre for the Muslim world and therefore the location was a perfect choice for this University. Great thinkers like Abu Madhab Al-Fasi, a leading scholar and theorist from the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence and Abu Al-Abbas al Zwawi were amongst its alumni.
The University also became a haven for diversity and played a vital role in building the Islamic world's relations with Europe. Its list of alumni in that it boasts of many imminent non-Muslim names amongst its alumni as well. Leo Africanus, a renowned traveler and writer studied here as did a renowned Jewish philosopher and theologian Maimonides or Ibn Maimun. The cartographer Mohammed al-Idrisi (d. 1166), whose maps aided European exploration in the Renaissance is said to have lived in Fes for some time, suggesting that he may have worked or studied at Al Qarawiyyin. Furthermore, Ibn al-Arabi Ibn Khaldun and Al-Bitruji were all attached to the University.
Along with Qur'an and Fiqh, the University offered courses in sciences, astronomy, grammar, mathematics and even music, history and geography. Today, Qarawiyyin University is recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records and the UNESCO as the world's oldest continuously operating educational institution in the higher learning spectrum.
It was this love for Allah that led Fatima to serve her community and the global community for centuries to come. It is the same Divine love and devotion that we learnt of in the stories of Hazrat Maryam AS and Rabia Al-Basri. There are still many communities and families today that do not regard a daughter's education to be as important as their son's. The focus has turned to money-making and since all men have the responsibility of being bread-winners it is assumed that women's higher education can be over-looked.
Fatima Al Fihri's story really shows that the first verse in Qur'an that was revealed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) for all of us was "Iqra" (read) and truly if we focus our energies on knowledge, on educating our children, then whether male or female, we can all achieve goals that are bigger than our beings. Our vision can really transform the societies for generations to come.
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