World’s oldest university: Al-Qarawiyyin

The University of al-Qarawiyyin, founded in 859 AD, holds the prestigious title of the oldest existing and continually operating higher educational institution in the world, as recognized by UNESCO and the Guinness World Records. Nestled in the heart of Fes, this historic university has played a crucial role in the intellectual and cultural life of the Islamic world for over a millennium.

Established by Fatima al-Fihri, a visionary woman from a wealthy merchant family, al-Qarawiyyin began as a madrasa (educational institution) attached to a mosque. Over the centuries, it evolved into a full-fledged university, attracting scholars and students from across the Islamic world and beyond. Its establishment is a testament to the rich tradition of learning and scholarship in medieval Islamic society.

The university’s curriculum has traditionally focused on Islamic law, theology, grammar, rhetoric, logic, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, history, geography, and music. It has produced many notable scholars, including Ibn Khaldun, a pioneering historian and sociologist, and Ibn al-Arabi, a renowned philosopher and mystic.

Al-Qarawiyyin’s architectural beauty is another highlight, featuring intricate tile work, beautifully carved wooden doors, and serene courtyards. The library, one of the world’s oldest, houses a treasure trove of manuscripts and rare books, some dating back to the 9th century. It underwent significant renovations recently, making its invaluable collections more accessible to researchers and the public.

Today, the University of al-Qarawiyyin remains a symbol of Morocco’s rich cultural heritage and enduring legacy of knowledge. It continues to function as a religious and educational institution, blending traditional Islamic education with modern subjects. This blend ensures that al-Qarawiyyin remains relevant in the contemporary world while honoring its storied past.

The university’s recognition by UNESCO and the Guinness World Records underscores its global importance as a beacon of learning and cultural preservation. As it continues to educate future generations, al-Qarawiyyin stands as a proud testament to the enduring power of knowledge and the vital role of education in society.

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