Located in Fes, Morocco, the University of al-Qarawiyyin is said to be the oldest existing university in the world. The school was founded in 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri — yes, a Muslim woman. Famous alumni include Jewish philosopher Maimonides, Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, and Pope Sylvester II, who, after studying there in the tenth century, is said to have introduced the Arabic numerals to Europe.
Female students only recently began studying at Al-Qarawiyyin, despite the school being established by a woman some 1,157 years ago. Asmaa, 20, is the first woman in her family to go to university and says that that “mentalities change” regarding higher education for women. “I want to do something with my life and have a supportive family,” she adds.
Another female student, Ilhem Ibrahim, 22, explains the history of the university. “Fatima was well-educated and rich,” she says. “She came to Fes and gave her family’s money to Allah by building the university. She fasted for the 18 years it took to build.” Ms. Ibrahim is also the first woman in her family to study at university but stresses that it’s “not because women were barred from studying but it was social tradition to study to twelve years and then get married; now you only find this in the countryside and mountains.”