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Fatima al-Fihri (800-870AD) founded the world’s first university in Morocco. 

Fatima al-Fihri was born in 800 AD in Qayrawan, Carthage (present-day Tunisia). She had brothers and one sister. When she was a child, many people from Qayrawan (“Qayrawiyyins”), including her family, moved to Fez (in present-day Morroco) as it was a big city. Her father was a successful merchant, he thought education was very important and made sure that his children were well-educated. At that time it was unusual for girls to receive an excellent education but both al-Fihri and her sister did. 


Fatima’s father and brothers died, leaving al-Fihri and her sister. They inherited their father’s fortune. Both women were devout Muslims and wanted to give back to their community. al-Fihri decided to build a mosque with teaching facilities for the Qayrawiyyin community in Fez. Even though she had no experience in building, she managed the construction of the mosque and other facilities. There was a prayer hall, a library, classrooms and a courtyard. 


To start with the university was for religious study only, but they soon added other courses including Arabic grammar and astronomy. By 859 it got its name: the University of Al-Qarawiyyin (also spelt Al-Karaouine). The university became famous and there were many people travelling from around the world to study there.  The sultans were impressed and gave donations and gifts. It was the first establishment of this kind which is why it is known as the world’s first university. 


Even after al-Fihri’s death (around 870), the university continued to grow and it was of great importance during the middle ages. Today the library houses some of the world’s oldest manuscripts. al-Fihri is an important figure for many reasons; she was a life-long learner who attended lectures at the university throughout her life, she gave something significant to help others and the university she founded inspired other countries to build universities as well.

Al-Fihri (810L-1000L): text

6 April 2020, Laura Webb


Image: University of Al-Qarawiyyin

Works Cited al-Fihri

Works Cited

Congress, Library O. "North Africa During the Classical Period." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 15 Dec 2011,

Crowhurst, Anna-Marie. “The True Story of Fatima Al-Fihri, the Founder of the World's First Known University.” Stylist, Stylist, 30 Aug. 2018,

“Fatima Al-Fihri.” WISE Muslim Women, 6 Dec. 2019,


Ilham, Talbi. “Fatima Al-Fihri: Founder of the World's Oldest University” DW.COM, 8 May 2020, “Al-Qarawiyyin: World's Oldest University.” IslamiCity,


Mortimer, Rebecca. “Fatima Al-Fihri: Founder of the World's First University.” Manchester University Press, 8 Mar. 2018,


Zerbaoui, Josef Abdessalam. “8 Phenomenal Moroccan Women That Were Ahead of Their Time.” Morocco World News, 8 Mar. 2020,


Tham, S. M. “the way to paradise” 13 October 2016,

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