After years of restoration, the ninth-century Qarawiyyin library in north-eastern Morocco is finally set to reopen – with strict security and a new underground canal system to protect its most prized manuscripts
Founded by a Muslim woman, the University of Al Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, opened its doors in 859.
The university is no doubt older than Egypt’s Azhar University (970) and its European counterparts: the University of Oxford, which is regarded as the oldest university in the English-speaking world (roughly founded in 1096), and the University of Bologna (founded approximately in 1088).
The historic University of Fez is actually recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest degree-granting university in the world. Moreover, UNESCO considers Al-Karaouine to have been a university since its founding.
Last year, Quartz Africa wrote: “Its (the University of Al Qarawiyyin in Fez) library has been restored during the last three years by another woman, Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni. A wing will be open to the general public later this year.
The library houses a collection of 4,000 rare books and ancient Arabic manuscripts written by renowned scholars of the region. According to the AP, the manuscripts include a 9th-century version of the Quran and a manuscript on Islamic jurisprudence written by philosopher Averroes.
“The University complex was founded as a mosque by Fatima Al-Fihri, who inherited her merchant father’s fortunes after the family moved from Al Qayrawan, or modern-day Tunisia.
“In “The golden age of Islam,” (French, video) a documentary that aired on France 5 Channel, Al-Fihri was described as a young woman fascinated by knowledge and curious about the world. She oversaw the construction of the mosque, and until her, later years attended lectures by reputed scholars who traveled to teach at the mosque school.
“It is still considered a leading religious and educational institution in the Muslim world. Today, the University of Al Qarawiyyin has moved away to another part of Fez, but the mosque and the library remain at the ancient complex.”
Aziza Chaouni on TED