She was the daughter of a merchant named Mohammed, she was known as ‘the lady of Fez’ and ‘the mother of boys’-Fatima Al Fihri, founder of the very first academic university.
It all started some 1215 years ago, Fatima was born in approximately 800 CE in Tunisia. After quite some years the whole family moved to Fez which was one of the most influential Muslim cities back then. It was the place to be for ambitious people. And that was exactly what the Al Fihri family needed. They had started out as a struggling family. Initially they had little money but their hard work paid off and Mohammed Al Fihri became a very successful businessman.
When Fatima’s father and brother died she was left alone with her sister Mariam. They were very lucky as they inherited huge sums of money. As generous as they were, they both decided to invest their money in projects that would benefit their community. Fatima’s sister decided to build a mosque which is known as the Al Andalus Mosque. Fatima herself decided to benefit her community through education. In 859 she founded the Al Qarrawiyyin University which was the very first academic university throughout the world.
This university wasn’t only a big achievement when it came to education but it was also a great opportunity for Muslims to unite with European cultures. Many non-Muslims studied at the Al Qarrawiyyin University probably because of its wide range of subjects. For a university built in the 9th century in a Muslim country you’d think that the only subjects taught there were the Quran and the Fiqh (Islamic legislation). But that was not the case, a lot of different subjects were taught there.
Apart from astronomy, subject areas included the Quran and theology, law, rhetoric, prose and verse writing, logic, arithmetic, geography, and medicine. There were also courses on grammar, Islamic history, and elements of chemistry and mathematics. The variety of topics and the high quality of lessons drew scholars and students from all over the Muslim and non-Muslim world as well.
Fatima was a woman of vision. Even though she was a wealthy woman who could have invested her wealth on fleeting things, she instead decided to invest in other people and in education. Up to this date, the woman is admired by many Moroccans for being the smart, successful, ambitious and inspiring woman she was.
Fatima died in 880 CE and almost 1135 years after her death, the Al Qarrawiyyin University still exists as one of the most highly recognized Moroccan universities. Fatima Al Fihri’s story reminds us that learning has always been at the core of Islamic tradition. Hopefully, this story will inspire young women the world over.