Women's Activism NYC

Fatima Al-Fihri

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Fatima al-Fihri was born in the Tunisian city of Kairouan around 800 AD as the daughter of a wealthy Muslim merchant. Though much about this woman's background is unknown, one thing is certain: she founded the al-Qarawiyyin mosque in Fez, Morocco in 859 AD. Later, this mosque became the famous al-Qarawiyyin university, which is now known as the world's oldest surviving institution. The Muslim community in Fez was rapidly growing and al-Fihri realized that they needed a place to congregate. The mosque was North Africa's first religious institution and, when it grew into a university, it became the continent's largest Arab university. Although al-Fihri was an heir to a financial dynasty and inherited money from both her father’s and husband’s deaths, her love and interest in science, poetry, and astronomy outweighed her wealth. She gave away her riches and put them into supplying future generations with knowledge through the al-Qarawiyyin University, the world’s first-ever university that had a purpose. The university drew in many students and scientists; people traveled far distances just so they could attend the university. Moreover, the university is still open today. Graduates of the university include: Ibn Khaldun, a historian; Ibn Rushd, a philosopher and doctor; philosopher Musa Ibn Maimon; and Gerbert of Aurillac, who became Pope Sylvester II. The al-Qarawiyyin university was critical in the exchange of Muslim and European ideas during medieval times, in addition to giving instruction to hundreds of thousands of students over centuries. Al-Fihri was an intelligent, selfless, and inspiring Muslim woman who put the livelihoods and education of others before her wealth.

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