Most people around the globe believe that Muslim women are not allowed to educate themselves because that is how Islam tells them to live. Even more, they think Muslim women have not been allowed to educate themselves throughout history. However, most people do not know of the simple fact that the first ever university for higher learning was in fact founded by a Muslim woman.[irp]
The name Fatima al-Fihri is not one that we are familiar with, however, she is the lady who founded the first ever university, which is still thriving today. Fatima was born in Tunisia into a wealthy family. She had a sister named Mariam. They were born into a pious and wealthy family, who moved to west Morocco along with their businessman father. In accordance with the Guinness Book of World Records, the Qarawiyyin Mosque, due to its degree-granting status, is the oldest university in existence. The university is famous for being the heart of Morocco and boasts some great minds, most of whom flocked to the University to study Islamic theology. It is said that Muhammad al-Idris who was a famous cartographer and whose maps played a vital role during the Renaissance had also hailed from this university.
It is believed that this great success is the result of the pious intentions of Fatima which she had for the betterment of her society and her religion. Indeed, we learn from the Ahadith that “actions are judged by intentions” and it is so that our intentions are necessary whenever we perform any task. Fatima al-Fihri has also silenced all those accusations stating that Islam does not give importance to women’s education. Her life is an example of how Muslim women have contributed to their society throughout history, yet this may be the first time you have heard of her. If her actions and achievements had been highlighted, maybe there would not be such a negative image of Muslim women and education.
Fatima is not only a noble person who has brought great pride to the Muslim community; she is also someone that all Muslim women should aspire to be like. She is pious, well-respected, someone who contributes to society and someone who demands the respect of others regardless of their faith.
If Fatima can achieve so much in a time when everything was not as easily accessible as it is today, if she can overcome all the obstacles she might have faced in such a backward time then we can also make a difference. We should never let our social or cultural restraints stop us from benefitting the society or let our fears hold us back from progressing towards a brighter future and to make yourself, your family and your community proud. Her story is indeed one all Muslims can be proud of.