Fatima al-Fihri

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Fatima al-Fihri (Al-Fihriya)
فاطمة بنت محمد الفهرية القرشية‎
Bornc. 800
Diedc. 880
Known forFounding first and oldest-surviving madrasa and university, Al-Qarawiyyin

Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya (Arabic: فاطمة بنت محمد الفهرية القرشية‎) was an Arab woman who is credited with founding the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree-awarding university in the world, the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco in 859 CE,[1] She is also known as "Umm al-Banayn".

Al-Fihri died around 880 AD.[2]

Early life[edit]

Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University

Fatima was born around 800 AD in the town of Kairouan, in present-day Tunisia. She is of Arab Qurayshi descent, hence the name "al-Qurashiyya", 'the Qurayshi one'. Her family was part of a large migration to Fes from Kairouan. Although her family did not start out wealthy, her father, Mohammed al-Fihri, became a successful merchant.[3]

She and her sister Maryam were well-educated and studied the Islamic jurisprudence Fiqh and the Hadith, or the records of Prophet Muhammed.[1] Both went on to found mosques in Fes: Fatima founded Al-Qarawiyyin and Maryam founded Al-Andalus.[4]

Little is known about her personal life, except for what was recorded by 14th century historian Ibn Abi-Zaraa’. This is largely due to the fact that the Al-Qarawiyyin library suffered a large fire in 1323. Al-Fihri was married, but both her husband and father died shortly after the wedding. Her father left his wealth to both Fatima and her sister, his only children.

Building Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque[edit]

Fatima used the money she inherited from her father to purchase a mosque that was built around 845 AD under the supervision of King Yahya ibn Muhammad. She then rebuilt it and bought the surrounding land, doubling its size.

The construction project was supervised by Fatima herself. Although the mosque’s architecture is extravagant, Fatima made a point to build it modestly. As Tunisian historian Hassan Hosni Abdelwahab noted in his book Famous Tunisian Women:

“She committed to only using the land she had purchased. She dug deep into the land, unearthing yellow sand, plaster, and stone to use, so as not to draw suspicion from others [for using too many resources].”[5]

The mosque took 18 years to construct.[4] According to Moroccan historian Abdelhadi Tazi, Al-Fihri fasted until the project’s completion. When it was finished, she went inside and prayed to God, thanking him for his blessings.[6] She named it after the immigrants from her hometown of Kairouan.

Al-Qarawiyyin still stands near Al-Andalus, the mosque that Fatima’s sister Maryam built.

Founding University of Al-Qarawiyyin[edit]

After the mosque’s completion, Al-Fihri established the University of Al-Qarawiyyin as an extension of the place of worship. It is the oldest continually operating university in the world and is sometimes referred to as the world's oldest university, by being the first institution to award degrees indicative of different levels of study. The courses offered include Islamic Studies, mathematics, grammar, and medicine.[3]

The library in Al-Qarawiyyin is considered the oldest in the world.[3] Recently it was renovated by Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni and reopened to the public in May 2016.[7] The library's collection of over 4000 manuscripts includes a 9th-century Qur'an and the earliest collection of hadiths.[8][3]

At the time of her death, the library and university had been running for several years.[2]


  1. ^ a b Kenney, Jeffrey T.; Moosa, Ebrahim (2013-08-15). Islam in the Modern World. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 9781135007959.
  2. ^ a b "Fatima al-Fihri: Founder of the world's first university". Manchester University Press. March 8, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Meet Fatima al-Fihri: The founder of the world's first Library". January 26, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Kahera, Akel; Abdulmalik, Latif; Anz, Craig (2009-10-26). Design Criteria for Mosques and Islamic Centres. Routledge. p. 81. ISBN 9781136441271.
  5. ^ "كتاب - شهيرات التونسيات". k-tb.com. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  6. ^ التحرير, هيئة (2019-04-09). "فاطمة الفهرية أم البنين مؤسسة أول جامعة في العالم". Ejadidanews.com - الجديدة نيوز (in Arabic). Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  7. ^ Shaheen, Kareem (2016-09-19). "World's oldest library reopens in Fez: 'You can hurt us, but you can't hurt the books'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  8. ^ Daisy Carrington. "This 1,157-year-old library gets a facelift". CNN. Retrieved 2017-05-30.

Further reading[edit]