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The University of Al-Karaouine or Al-Qarawiyyin (Arabic: ????? ?????????) (other transliterations of the name include Qarawiyin, Kairouyine, Kairaouine, Qairawiyin, Qaraouyine, Quaraouiyine, Quarawin, and Qaraouiyn) is the first university in the world located in Fes, Morocco which was founded in 859. It has been and continues to be one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world.
The Al-Karaouine played a leading role in the cultural and academic relations between the Islamic world and Europe in the middle ages. The cartographer Mohammed al-Idrisi (d. 1166), whose maps aided European exploration in the Renaissance is said to have lived in Fes for some time, suggesting that he may have worked or studied at Al Karaouine. The University has produced numerous scholars who have strongly influenced the intellectual and academic history of the Muslim and Jewish worlds. Among these are Ibn Rushayd al-Sabti (d. 1321), Mohammed Ibn al-Hajj al-Abdari al-Fasi (d. 1336), Abu Imran al-Fasi (d. 1015), a leading theorist of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, Leo Africanus, a renowned traveler and writer, and Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon.
The Al Karaouine institution is considered by the Guinness book, the UNESCO and many historians as the oldest continuously operating academic degree-granting university in the world. However, this claim is contested by other historians who consider that medieval universities in the Islamic world and medieval European universities followed very different historical trajectories until the former were expanded to the latter in modern times, and the certificate delivered in non-European universities deviated in concept and procedure from the medieval doctorate out of which modern university degrees evolved.
In 1947, it was reorganized to become a modern university.
The Al-Karaouine is part of a mosque, founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihria, the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Mohammed Al-Fihri. The Al-Fihri family had migrated from Kairouan (hence the name of the mosque), Tunisia to Fes in the early 9th century, joining a community of other migrants from Kairouan who had settled in a western district of the city. Fatima and her sister Mariam, both of whom were well educated, inherited a large amount of money from their father. Fatima vowed to spend her entire inheritance on the construction of a mosque suitable for her community.
In addition to a place for worship, the mosque soon developed into a place for religious instruction and political discussion, gradually extending its education to a broad range of subjects, particularly the natural sciences.
Al-Karaouine gained the patronage of politically powerful sultans. It compiled a large selection of manuscripts that were kept at a library founded by the Marinid Sultan Abu Inan Faris in 1349. Among the most precious manuscripts currently housed in the library are volumes from the famous Al-Muwatta of Malik written on gazelle parchment, the Sirat Ibn Ishaq, a copy of the Qur'an given by Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur in 1602, and the original copy of Ibn Khaldun's book Al-'Ibar. Among the subjects taught, alongside the Qur'an and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), are grammar, rhetoric, logic, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, history, geography and music.
Al-Karaouine played, in medieval times, a leading role in the cultural exchange and transfer of knowledge between Muslims and Europeans. Pioneer scholars such as Ibn Maimun (Maimonides), (1135–1204), Al-Idrissi (d.1166 AD), Ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240 AD), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1395 AD), Ibn al-Khatib, Al-Bitruji (Alpetragius), Ibn Hirzihim, and Al-Wazzan were all connected with the University either as students or lecturers. Among Christian scholars visiting Al-Karaouine were the Belgian Nicolas Cleynaerts and the Dutchman Golius.
Al-Karaouine became a modern university in 1947, by granting academic degrees.
In 1975, the General Studies were transferred to the newly founded Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University ; Al-Karaouine kept the Islamic and theological courses of studies.
Architecture of the mosque
Successive dynasties expanded the Al Karaouine mosque until it became the largest in North Africa, with a capacity of more than 20,000 worshipers. Compared with the great mosques of Isfahan or Istanbul, the design is austere. The columns and arches are plain white; the floors are covered in reed mats, not lush carpets. Yet the seemingly endless forest of arches creates a sense of infinite majesty and intimate privacy, while the simplicity of the design complements the finely decorated niches, pulpit and outer courtyard, with its superb tiles, plasterwork, woodcarvings and paintings.
The present form of the mosque is the result of a long historical evolution over the course of more than 1,000 years. Originally the mosque was about 30 meters long with a courtyard and four transverse aisles. The first expansion was undertaken in 956, by Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba, Abd-ar-Rahman III. The prayer hall was extended and the minaret was relocated, taking on a square form that served as a model for countless North African minarets. At this time it became a tradition that other mosques of Fes would make the call to prayer only after they heard Al Karaouine. In the minaret of the Al-Karaouine mosque there is a special room, the Dar al-Muwaqqit, where the times of prayer are established.
The most extensive reconstruction was carried out in 1135 under the patronage of the Almoravid ruler sultan Ali Ibn Yusuf who ordered the extension of the mosque from 18 to 21 aisles, expanding the structure to more than 3,000 square meters. The mosque acquired its present appearance at this time, featuring horseshoe arches and ijmiz frames decorated with beautiful geometrical and floral Andalusian art, bordered with Kufic calligraphy.
In the 16th century, the Saadis restored the mosque, adding two patios to the northern and southern ends of the courtyard.
References and notes
1. a b "Qarawiyin". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
2. a b The Report: Morocco 2009 - Page 252 Oxford Business Group "... yet for many Morocco's cultural, artistic and spiritual capital remains Fez. The best-preserved ... School has been in session at Karaouine University since 859, making it the world's oldest continuously operating university. "
3. a b Esposito, John (2003). The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 328. ISBN 0-19-512559-2.
4. a b Joseph, S, and Najmabadi, A. Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures: Economics, education, mobility, and space. Brill, 2003, p. 314.
5. a b Swartley, Keith. Encountering the World of Islam?. Authentic, 2005, p. 74.
6. a b Kettani, M. Ali. Engineering Education in the Arab World. Middle East Journal, 1974, 28(4):441.
7. The Guinness Book Of Records, Published 1998, ISBN 0-553-57895-2, P.242
8. [UNESCO World Heritage Centre,The Medina of Fez http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/170]
9. Illustrated Dictionary of the Muslim World, Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 2010  p.161
10. Hidden Giants, 2nd Edition, by Sethanne Howard, Publisher: Lulu.com 2008  p.60
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