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.”
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.
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.
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. 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.