THE FIRST WAQF UNIVERSITY: The Story of Fatimah Al Fihriyyah and the Establishment of Al Quarawiyyin University

A little trip back in history to the year 800AD would help bring into the perspective the first instance of Waqf being used to start a university – the famously known Al-Quarawiyyin University in Morocco. Before the narration of that, it would help to give a brief tale of the great woman behind it.

Fatimah Al-Fihriyyah was a lady born into the Arab descent of Qurraysh in Tunisia in the year 800AD. Although she was born in Kairouan, she migrated with her family to the town of Fes in Morocco. Her family made sure to educate both she and her sister in the fields of Islamic Jurisprudence, Fiqh and Hadith.

Her philanthropic ambition started after the death of her father. In the year 859AD, she had the intention to give back to her society and so she used her inheritance to begin the construction of the Quarawiyyin mosque. Upon its completion, she decided to extend the mosque to cater to an additional building which was called a Madrassa and which is known today as the University of Quarawiyyin.

After its establishment, the university was opened to both female and male students. Its initial curriculum was focused on instilling religious knowledge on its students. It offered courses in Quranic memorization. However, it later added other courses such as Arabic grammar, music, Sufism, medicine and astronomy. More advancements were introduced later in 1947 when its integration into the states’ education system prompted it to include courses in Physics, Chemistry and the languages of other foreign nationalities.

Similarly, its curriculum evolved further as the years went by. As at 1963, it joined the modern state university system and by 1965, its initial name of ‘al- Quarawiyyin’ opted for its official and current name ‘University of al- Quarawiyyin’ which can be translated to mean the university of the people of Quarawiyyin.

The university has been deemed the oldest existing, continually operating institution in the world by UNESCO, it also has scored itself a place in the Guinness World Records and, oftentimes, scholars refer to it as the oldest university.

Albeit all its success stories and rich history, this establishment suffers from a lack of acknowledgment. This is apparent when the discussion of successful waqf models arises, opponents and proponents alike are quick to mention famous establishments such as Harvard and Oxford and side-line one that even preceded them.

This more than anything is the reason why the existence and contribution of the university of Al-Quarawiyyin to the development of various waqf models should be propagated. And why talk of this establishment should be embedded in the mainstream discussion concerning Waqf.

To conclude, Finterra as a fintech company that is also in the business of propagating Waqf attests to the outstanding contribution of this establishment. In that, Waqf is only what it is today as a result of what it was yesterday, and so gratitude must be given to those who were responsible for upholding its true essence.