The University of Al Quaraouiyine is the oldest University

Al Quaraouiyine can be considered the oldest university still in operation today.

What is the Oldest University in the World?

The University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fes, Morocco is the oldest, still operating, degree-granting university in the world. It was founded in 859 by Fathima Al-Fihri (a Muslim woman). With this said, some consider the roots of the modern university to begin in Europe, as early schools taught religion first and education second. Despite this, broadly speaking, The University of Al-Qarawiyyin predates European universities by about 250 years and represents the mentality of “the Golden Age of Islam.”[1][2]

Fatima al-Fihri and the Founding of Al Quaraouiyine

The University of Al Quaraouiyine was founded in 859 by Fathima Al-Fihri. Although it wasn’t the first school ever built by a long shot, it is the oldest one still standing today. The founding of Al Quaraouiyine marks an important milestone near the start of the Golden Age of Islam, and an important milestone for women, education, and enlightenment for the world.[3]

First University in history… built by a Muslim woman.

FACT: A Muslim woman founded the world’s oldest university during the Golden Age of Islam (a line left out of most history books in the west). Despite being founded by a woman, the university did not admit women until the mid-20th century.[4]

Are Islam and Feminism Mutually Exclusive | Get Real | Refinery29.

Can a Madrasa Be Considered the First University?

The age of the university is impressive considering the oldest European university, founded in the middle ages, was the University of Bologna (1088). The University of Oxford (1096-1167) was founded shortly after.

Al Quaraouiyine and the European schools were both religious by nature. Some claim, and rightly so in times in history, that true universities focused on education only don’t start until much later. Al-Qarawiyyin itself didn’t become a “true” university until 1963.

Al Quaraouiyine is a “madrasa” a mosque-based religious school or college or university[5]. Meanwhile, the European schools were essentially church-based schools or colleges or universities as well. Even Harvard, founded in the 1600’s in the US, was primarily a religious school. A non-secular education is a rather recent thing in all cultures, so this point should be considered for the surrounding debate.

Furthermore, many aspects of the Golden Age of Islam and Islam’s relationship with Europe has been mythicized in an unsound manner. One could arguably view this as a matter of historical prejudice from both sides (largely due to relationship strains since the Crusades). In truth, it is hard to argue that Al Quaraouiyine and the houses of wisdom were anything other than the inspiration for European universities, and thus modern universities.

With the above in mind, we can be comfortable in calling Al Quaraouiyine “the oldest existing still operating degree-granting university in the world”.

Fatima Muhammad Al-Fihri founder of University of Qarawiyyin (Fes, Morocco).

FACT: The mosque at Al Quaraouiyine is one of the largest in Africa.


Broadly speaking, the title first university applies to Al Quaraouiyine, but we have to remember that non-religious schools universities didn’t pop up until hundreds of years after Al Quaraouiyine was founded. We also shouldn’t forget that there were schools founded much earlier by the Greeks and other civilizations. With this in mind, Al Quaraouiyine can be considered the oldest university still operating today by a good 250 years.


  1. List of oldest universities in continuous operation”
  2. University of Al Quaraouiyine”
  3. Fathima Al-Fihri”
  4. Women, Leadership, and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority”
  5. Madrasa”

"The University of Al Quaraouiyine is the Oldest University" is tagged with: Feminism, Universities and Colleges, University of Oxford

Vote Fact or Myth: "The University of Al Quaraouiyine is the Oldest University"

Your Vote: {{ voteModel || 'no vote' | uppercase }}

Abdurrahman Ibrahim Zage on

You are the best

Shorif on
Supports this as a Fact.

Islam honors women and does not persecute them or else how could this woman (Fatima) have accomplished this task and still remembered for it to this day!?

I think a brilliant video which summarizes the founding of the university can be seen below:

Prof. Wajih A Alvi on

There is no denying the fact that Muslims have played a vital role as harbingers of education and research. But alas we have lost that shine and are the most ignorant people round the globe.What a tragedy? I wish we woke up and join the world fraternity to promote education and research for the benefit of the humanity. This is what our great religion enjoins upon us to do. Gun is not our instrument; it is the pen that was instrumental in promoting intellectual achievements of the community.

Plato on

Alt-Left revisionist history. Ancient Greece and Rome were much more of a inspiration for European universities than Morocco.

Thomas DeMichele on

Both cultures were influenced by the places of learning, learning style, and wisdom of the Romans and Greeks (think Alexandria for example). That said, it is none-the-less a fact that: “The University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fes, Morocco is the oldest, still operating, degree-granting university in the world.”

Stating facts is not alt-left revisionist history. History as it is sees a number of cultures merging in the Middle East partly due to the colonization of the Romans and Greeks, and partly due to the colonization of the Muslims, and I think partly due to the migration of the Jewish people, etc.

Afzal on
Supports this as a Fact.

Yes it is a Oldest University in the World Today

Steven Holmes on
Supports this as a Fact.

Please answer these questions.
When did this University start accepting female students? When did the first woman revieve a degree from this University

Thomas DeMichele on

A bit of irony here no doubt. Founded by a woman, yet didn’t admit women for most of its history. I think it was 1940, so about 20 years after women got the right to vote in the US and 8 years before Cambridge granted its first degree to a woman. As for the first degree, I don’t know the answer, do you?