Al-Hikma University (Baghdad)

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Al-Hikma University
Established 1956; 61 years ago (1956)
Religious affiliation
originally Jesuit (Roman Catholic)
Location Baghdad, Iraq
Website Al Hikma

Al-Hikma University (Arabic: جامعة الحكمة‎‎) was a university in Baghdad founded in 1956 by members of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus. It was located in Zaafarania on the southern outskirts of Baghdad. The university was seized by the government of Iraq and its student body was transferred to the University of Baghdad. Over its lifetime, around 1900 students graduated from the university.[1]


Four American Jesuits were sent to Iraq in 1932 at the request of Pope Pius XI, upon the urging of the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, as the Kingdom of Iraq prepared for its independence from Great Britain.[2] There they founded Baghdad College, which soon became known as an institution of academic excellence.[3]

In 1952 the decision was made to provide a university-level facility for the city. The buildings were designed and built by the Jesuits on a 195-acre campus.[3] When it opened in The University's initial student body numbered 45 students, but, by the time that the university was closed, it was admitting about 150 each year, and there were 656 students in total.

In 1960, the construction of a new library building for Al-Hikma University commenced. It was funded by the Ford Foundation (Qubain 1966), but the Foundation expected the University to find the money for furnishing it. The building was completed in 1962, when the collection was around 20,000 volumes. Although the library was not architecturally commendable, it was reported to have attracted some imitators. The Library had a collection of 327 manuscripts, a private collection donated in 1965, which were catalogued with support funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation (Qazanchi 1970). In the late 1960s, Gurgis Awad (Librarian of the Iraqi Museum) donated his private collection to the Al-Hikma University Library (Zado 1990).

Al-Hikma University's student body was extremely diverse in ethnicity, religion and gender. Students were roughly 40 percent Muslim, 32 percent Catholic, 21 percent Orthodox Christian, and about 7 percent Jewish. The staff was also mixed: roughly half of them were Jesuits, while Iraqi lay teachers, both Christian and Muslim, Fulbright professors, and a small group of volunteer teachers from abroad made up the rest.[1]

In 1966, a law was passed under which the private universities were converted into public universities, but continued to charge tuition fees. In 1968, a new law nationalised Al-Hikma University. In autumn 1968, an Iraqi was imposed as president of the university. The University became the object of protests by groups of nationalist students. Eventually, in November, the American faculty of the university were expelled by the Baathist government, and the institution was integrated into Baghdad University.[1] The college was seized, along with all the Jesuit's property, by the government the following year, and the foreign faculty was also expelled.

Reunions of graduates of both Baghdad College and Al-Hikma University continue to be held bi-annually. The most recent one was organised in Chicago in July 2006.[1]

The history of the Jesuit mission in Iraq has been chronicled by the Rev. Joseph MacDonnell, S.J., late of Fairfield University, in his book Jesuits by the Tigris.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d "Al-Hikma University". Iraqi Jews at Al-Hikma University. 
  2. ^ a b MacDonnell, Joseph, S.J. (1994). Jesuits by the Tigris. Boston, Massachusetts: Jesuit Mission Press. 
  3. ^ a b MacDonnell, Joseph, S.J. (Fall 2003). "The Jesuits of Baghdad: 1932-69" (PDF). FairfieldNow: 32–35. 


  • Qazanchi, F.Y.M. Academic libraries in Iraq. 1970. Al-Mustansiriya University Review, 1, 158-167
  • Qubain, F.I. Education and Science in the Arab World.1966. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press
  • Zado, V.Y. The General Information Programme (PGI) and developing countries: a case study of Iraq. 1990. PhD thesis, Loughborough University