Fierce Female of the Week: Fatima al-Fihri

Did you know that the first ever academic and degree granting university in the world was founded by a woman? A Muslim woman by the name of Fatima al-Fihri was the founder of the University of Al Quaraouiyine, which is the oldest university in the world, that is based on academics and gave degrees to its participants – it is still running currently!

Fatima was a high-born woman, born c. 800, who received an extensive education, and after losing her father and inheriting some of his great fortune, she insisted upon the founding of the university and madrasa. Her sister, Mariam, used her portion to start a mosque as well.

Fatima always valued learning, and wanted others to have the chance to learn as she did. She began having the university constructed in Fez, Morocco where she lived at the time. The general course of study at the university today includes – but is not limited to – legal science, French, Arabic grammar, Islamic religious studies, English, Arabic linguistics, and Maliki law study. One interesting fact about potential future students is that they must have the Qur’an memorized entirely, not to mention a few other literary documents!

The library within the university is also one of the oldest in the world and, within it, you can find a multitude of artifacts such as thousands of very old manuscripts and the oldest known collection in the world of hadiths.

Fatima herself is unfortunately not detailed in many books, and there is very little currently known about her life. What is known, however, is that she was a scholar, a devout Muslim, a kind, intelligent, generous, ambitious woman, who used money – which some would use for an extravagant lifestyle – to benefit others who wanted the opportunity to learn. She was an inspiration and, thanks to her, there are likely hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who were able to receive an education.