When thinking of the oldest universities in the world, probably the first ones that come to your mind are Oxford and Bologna, but according to UNESCO and the Guinness World Records, Al-Qarawiyyin University is the “oldest existing, and continually operating educational institution in the world.”
Founded in 859 AD by Tunisian-born Fatima al-Fihri in Morocco’s Fez, the university is not only the oldest higher education institution on Earth but also the first to be founded by a woman, and a Muslim one at that. Fatima used her inheritance from her merchant father’s wealth to found the university which started as an associated school – known as a madrassa – and a mosque that eventually grew into a place of higher education. It also introduced the system of awarding degrees according to different levels of study in a range of fields, such as religious studies, grammar and rhetoric. Though the university first focused on religious instruction, its fields of study quickly expanded to include logic, medicine, mathematics and astronomy, among many others.
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