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Fatima Al Fihri
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Fatima Al Fihri – Founder of the World’s Oldest University

Fatima Al Fihri – Founder of the World’s Oldest University

Fatima Al Fihri was born in the early 9th century between 857 and 859 AD as one of two sisters. Her father was a successful merchant, and as a young girl, she had a sharp mind and an excellent memory. Fatima’s early abilities made her well-suited to the kind of work she was interested in—interpreting and analyzing ancient Islamic writings.

Fatima dove deeply into the history of Islam and similar subjects (anything that she could get her hands on!), and as a result, she became known as an expert Islamic scholar and someone to approach for advice on the teachings of Islam. From this early passion for history and theology, Fatima ended up making history by launching the world’s first university in the Moroccan city of Fez. That’s right—Fatima is responsible for opening the first degree-granting educational institution in the world. This article shares her story.

An Early Tragedy

There’s not a lot that historians know about Fatima, but there is evidence that suggests she grew up across the Middle East/North Africa region in a prosperous household. Her early knowledge was respected by her peers and encouraged by her family members.

Later in life, when Fatima experienced a tragedy, she decided to refocus on her passion for education and use her resources to open a university that would award students degrees for their intellectual work. This kind of accreditation at a school was the first of its kind in human history, and Fatima was the one who made it happen.

So, how did this come to be? Soon after Fatima got married, she experienced a terrible loss. Both her father and her husband died soon after the wedding. Despite reeling from this terrible loss, she decided to use the substantial fortune she inherited from both sides to open a university in partnership with her sister. Life can take a dark turn in a moment like this, but she and her sister got to work instead. They founded the world’s first degree-granting university and changed the practice of education forever.

Fatima Al Fihri – An Educational Innovator

There are many big names in the history of education. A look at this history shows us figures like John Dewey and Jean Piaget. But less often do we see any mention of Fatima Al Fihri whose education innovations hugely affected how we organize schools today.

Al Fihri’s inspiring story shows us the kinds of possibilities that exist even in the most difficult and frightening moments. She is widely recognized today as a beloved figure in women’s issues and education. In 2017, an award was created in Tunisia in her honor. The prize honors excellence in education for women.

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