Daughter of Mohammed al-Fihri, Fatima al-Fihri, also called Umm al Banine, ‘Mother of the Boys’, is known for creating the oldest academic degree-granting university in existence today, the University of Qarawiyyin.
Fatima and her family were among several families who moved from Tunisia to Morocco during the reign of the Moroccan King Idris II.
After her husband and her brothers died, she and her sister Mariam inherited a large fortune. Both women wanted to devote their money to pious work that would benefit the community in order to receive the blessings of God. To this end, Fatima built the Al Qarawiyyin mosque, while Mariam built the Al-Andalus mosque. In 859, from the 10th to the 12th century, the Al Qarawiyyin mosque developed into a university which became an important centre of education, and one of the first Islamic and most prestigious universities in the world.
Fatima Al-Fihri was a visionary lady who lived her life for the sake of her community’s improvement. She was from a prestigious family and had inherited a fortune from her father. As a young, wealthy and well educated woman, her interest was neither in shoes or handbags, nor in any celebrity lifestyle, neither to woo any man for marriage. Not any of the shallow stereotypes that are usually associated with young women, could be attributed to this lady of great depth, whose vision was cultivated and allowed to grow because of the encouragement from the Islamic society in which she lived. Her vision did not remain a dream but, rather, was accomplished, and the results can still be seen today.
The Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque is one of the largest Masjids (mosque) in Africa and one of the world's oldest universities. Al-Qarawiyyin is the perfect historic example of how Islam, which is not separate from life's affairs, combines both spiritual and educational growth in this small corner of the globe, and it sheds light on the esteemed role that women played in the Islamic community – an aspect of Islam that is often misunderstood.
Furthermore, during medieval times, this university was regarded as being the major intellectual centre in the Mediterranean. Its excellent reputation even led to Gerber of Auvergne studying at the mosque. Auvergne later went on to become Pope Sylvester II and has been given the credit of introducing Arabic numerals and the zero to the rest of Europe.
The four most righteous ladies of Paradise, namely – Chaste Lady Mary, the mother of Holy Messenger Jesus (peace be upon him), Lady Khadijah, wife of the Holy Last Messenger (pease be upon him), Lady Fatimah, daughter of the Holy Last Messenger (peace be upon him), and Lady ‘Aasiya, the wife of Pharoah, who believed in the One Almighty Creator and was, therefore, martyred, may Allah be pleased with them all – will always remain exemplary role models for all women, regardless of race, creed, and religion. Fatima Al Fihri. has demonstrated the importance of their example by her efforts made in “seeking knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”
Fatima Al-Fihri is only one example out of many others whom Almighty Allah has elevated to a status of honor, and who add to the realisation of the empowerment and encouragement Islam gives to women. Her’s is a remarkable story that leaves a lasting impression!