The University of al-Qarawiyyin (Arabic: جامعة القرويين; French: Université Al Quaraouiyine), also written Al-Karaouine, is a university located in Fez, Morocco. It is the oldest existing, continually operating higher educational institution in the world according to UNESCO and Guinness World Records and is occasionally referred to as the oldest university by scholars. It was founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859 with an associated madrasa, which subsequently became one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the historic Muslim world. It was incorporated into Morocco’s modern state university system in 1963. The mosque building itself is also a significant complex of historical Moroccan and Islamic architecture encompassing elements from many different periods of Moroccan history.
Education at al-Qarawiyyin University concentrates on the Islamic religious and legal sciences with a heavy emphasis on, and particular strengths in, Classical Arabic grammar/linguistics and Maliki law, although a few lessons on other non-Islamic subjects such as French, English are also offered to students. Teaching is delivered in the traditional method, in which students are seated in a semi-circle (halqa) around a sheikh, who prompts them to read sections of a particular text, asks them questions on particular points of grammar, law, or interpretation, and explains difficult points. Students from all over Morocco and Islamic West Africa attend the Qarawiyyin, although a few might come from as far afield as Muslim Central Asia. Even Spanish Muslim converts frequently attend the institution, largely attracted by the fact that the sheikhs of the Qarawiyyin, and Islamic scholarship in Morocco in general, are heirs to the rich religious and scholarly heritage of Muslim al-Andalus.
Most students at the Qarawiyyin range from between the ages of 13 and 30, and study towards high school-level diplomas and university-level bachelor’s degrees, although Muslims with a sufficiently high level of Arabic are also able to attend lecture circles on an informal basis, given the traditional category of visitors “in search of [religious and legal] knowledge” (“zuwwaar li’l-talab fii ‘ilm”). In addition to being Muslim, prospective students of the Qarawiyyin are required to have memorized the Qur’an in full as well as several other shorter medieval Islamic texts on grammar and Maliki law, and in general to have a very good command of Classical Arabic. It is a common misconception that the university is open only to men; it is open to both men and women. Women were first admitted into the university in the 1940s.
The Arabic name of the university, جَامِعَةُ الْقَرَوِيِّينَ pronounced [ʒaːmiʕtu lqarawijiːn] means “University of the People from Qairouan (القَيْرَوَان [alqajrawaːn]),” the provenance of Fatima al-Fihriya’s family in Tunisia . The presence of the letter Qoph (ق), a voiceless uvular plosive which has no equivalent in European languages, as well as the ويّي ([awijiː]) triphthong in the university’s name, in addition to the French colonization of Morocco, have introduced a number of different orthographies for the Romanization of the university’s name, including al-Qarawiyyin, a standard anglicization; Al Quaraouiyine, following French orthography; and Al-Karaouine, another rendering using French orthography.
History of the institution
View of the Qarawiyyin Mosque on the skyline of central Fes el-Bali: the green-tiled roofs of the prayer hall and the minaret (white tower on the left) are visible.
Al-Qarawiyyin was founded with an associated madrasa in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, 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. At that time, the city of Fes was the capital of the Idrisid Dynasty, considered to be the first Moroccan Islamic state.
In the 10th century, the Idrisid dynasty fell from power and Fes became contested between the Fatimid and Cordoban Ummayyad caliphates and their allies. During this period, the Qarawiyyin progressively grew in prestige. At some point the khutba (Friday sermon) was transferred from the Shurafa Mosque of Idris II (today the Zawiya of Moulay Idris II) to the Qarawiyyin Mosque, thus granting it the status of Friday mosque (the community’s main mosque). This transfer happened either in 919-18 or in 933, both dates which correspond to brief periods of Fatimid domination over the city, which suggests that the transfer may have occurred on Fatimid initiative. In any case, the mosque and its learning institution continued to enjoy the respect of political elites, with the mosque itself being significantly expanded by the Almoravids and repeatedly embellished under subsequent dynasties. Tradition was established that all the other mosques of Fes based the timing of their call to prayer (adhan) according to that of the Qarawiyyin.
The Qarawiyyin 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.
The twelfth century cartographer Mohammed al-Idrisi, 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-Qarawiyyin. The madrasa has produced numerous scholars who have strongly influenced the intellectual and academic history of the Muslim world. 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. Pioneer scholars such as 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 madrasa either as students or lecturers. Some Christian scholars also visited the al-Qarawiyyin, including the Flemish Nicolas Cleynaerts and the Dutchman Golius, as well as Gerbert d’Aurillac who later became Pope Sylvester II. (Although the story of Gerbert’s visit to Fes is viewed as a legend by some modern scholars.)
At the time Morocco became a French protectorate in 1912, al-Qarawiyyin had witnessed a decline as a religious center of learning from its medieval prime. However, it had retained some significance as an educational venue for the sultan’s administration. The student body was rigidly divided along social strata; ethnicity (Arab or Berber), social status, personal wealth and the geographic background (rural or urban) determined the group membership of the students who were segregated on the teaching facility as well as in their personal quarters. The French administration implemented a number of structural reforms between 1914 and 1947, but did not modernize the contents of teaching likewise which were still dominated by the traditional worldviews of the ulama. At the same time, the student numbers at al-Qarawiyyin dwindled to a total of 300 in 1922 as the Moroccan elite began to send its children instead to the new-found Western-style colleges and institutes elsewhere in the country.
In 1947, al-Qarawiyyin was integrated into the state educational system, but it was only by royal decree after independence, in 1963, that the madrasa was finally transformed into a university under the supervision of the ministry of education. The old madrasa was shut down and the new campus established at former French Army barracks. While the dean took its seat at Fez, four faculties were founded in and outside the city: a faculty of Islamic law in Fez, a faculty of Arab studies in Marrakech and a faculty of theology in Tétouan, plus one near Agadir in 1979. Modern curricula and textbooks were introduced and the professional training of the teachers improved. Following the reforms, al-Qarawiyyin was officially renamed “University of Al Quaraouiyine” in 1965.
In 1975, the General Studies were transferred to the newly founded Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University; al-Qarawiyyin kept the Islamic and theological courses of studies. In 1973, Abdelhadi Tazi published a three-volume history of the establishment entitled جامع القرويين (The al-Qarawiyyin Mosque).
In 1988, after a hiatus of almost three decades, the teaching of traditional Islamic education at the madrasa of al-Qarawiyyin was resumed by king Hassan II in what has been interpreted as a move to bolster conservative support for the monarchy.
Architectural history of the mosque
Courtyard of the mosque with the 10th-century minaret, seen from inside one of the two 17th-century Saadian pavilions. The Dar al-Muwaqqit (14th century) is also visible to the left of the minaret, marked by a window just above the gallery of arches.
Early history (9th-10th centuries)
The mosque was founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, but its present form is the result of a long historical evolution over the course of more than 1,000 years. The original building, whose traces are preserved in the layout of the current mosque, occupied much of what is today the central area of the prayer hall, south of the courtyard. It had a rectangular floor plan measuring 36 by 32 metres, covering an area of 1520 square metres, and was composed of a prayer hall with four transverse aisles (running roughly east-west, parallel to the southern qibla wall). It probably also had a courtyard of relatively small size, and the first minaret, also of small size, reportedly stood on the location now occupied by the wooden anaza and the central entrance to the prayer hall from the courtyard. Water for the mosque was initially provided by a well dug within the mosque’s precinct.
As the city of Fes grew and as the mosque also increased in prestige, the original building was insufficient for its religious and institutional needs. During the 10th century, the Ummayyad Caliphate of Cordoba (in Spain/Portugal) and the Fatimid Caliphate (in Tunisia) constantly vied for control over Fes and Morocco, seen as a buffer zone between the two. Despite this uncertain period, the mosque received significant patronage and had its first expansions. The Zenata Berber amir Ahmed ibn Abi Said, one of the rulers of Fes during this period who was aligned with the Ummayyads, wrote to the Caliph Abd al-Rahman III in Cordoba for permission and funds to expand the mosque. The caliph approved, and the work was carried out or completed in 956. This work expanded the mosque on three sides, encompassing the area of the present-day courtyard to the north and up to the current eastern and western boundaries of the building. It also replaced the original minaret with a new, larger minaret still standing today. Its overall form, with a square shaft, was indicative of the subsequent development of North African (Maghrebi) and Andalusian minarets. (Similar work was also carried out under Abd al-Rahman III at the same time on the other great mosque of Fes, the Andalusian Mosque.)
The mosque was again embellished when the Amirid ruler al-Muzaffar (son of al-Mansur) led a military expedition to Fes in 998. The embellishments included a new minbar and a new dome topped by talismans in the shape of a rat, a serpent, and a scorpion, but none of these works have survived.
The Almoravid expansion (12th century)
One of the most significant expansions and renovations was carried out between 1135 and 1143 under the patronage of the Almoravid ruler Ali Ibn Yusuf, and the current form of the mosque owes much to this work. The prayer hall was extended by dismantling the existing southern (qibla) wall and adding three more transverse aisles, bringing the number of these from 7 to 10, while essentially replicating the format of the existing arches of the mosque. This expansion required the purchase and demolition of a number of neighbouring houses and structures, including some that were apparently part of the nearby Jewish neighbourhood (before the existence of the later Mellah of Fes). The new expansion of the mosque involved not only a new mihrab (niche symbolizing the direction of prayer) in the middle of the new southern wall, but also the reconstruction or embellishment of the prayer hall’s central “nave” (the arches along its central axis, in a line perpendicular to the southern wall and to the other rows of arches) leading from the courtyard to the mihrab. This involved not only embellishing some of the arches with new forms but also adding a series of highly elaborate cupola ceilings composed in muqarnas (honeycomb or stalactite-like) sculpting and further decorated with intricate reliefs of arabesques and Kufic letters. Lastly, a new minbar (pulpit), in similar style and of similar artistic provenance as the famous (and slightly earlier) minbar of the Koutoubia Mosque, was completed and installed in 1144. Made of wood in an elaborate work of marquetry, decorated with inlaid materials and intricately carved arabesque reliefs, it marked another highly accomplished work in a style that was emulated for later Moroccan minbars.
Elsewhere, many of the mosque’s main entrances were given doors made of wood overlaid with ornate bronze fittings, which today count among the oldest surviving bronze artworks in Moroccan/Andalusian architecture. Another interesting element added to the mosque was a small secondary oratory, known as the Jama’ al-Gnaiz (“Funeral Mosque” or “Mosque of the Dead”), which was separated from the main prayer hall and dedicated to providing funerary rites for the deceased before their burial. This annex is also decorated with a muqarnas cupola and a number of ornate archways and windows.
Embellishment under subsequent dynasties (later 12th century and after)
Later dynasties continued to embellish the mosque or gift it with new furnishings, though no works as radical as the Almoravid expansion were undertaken again. The Almohads (later 12th century and 13th century) conquered Fes after a long siege in 1145-1146. Historical sources (particularly the Rawd al-Qirtas) report a story claiming that the inhabitants of Fes, fearful that the “puritan” Almohads would resent the lavish decoration placed inside the mosque, hurriedly covered up some of the most ornate carvings and decorations from Ali ibn Yusuf’s expansion near the mihrab. Although French scholar Henri Terrasse suggests this operation may have been carried out a few years later by the Almohad authorities themselves. The Almoravid ornamentation was only fully uncovered again during renovations in the early 20th century.
However, under the reign of Muhammad al-Nasir (ruled 1199-1213) the Almohads did add or upgrade a number of elements in the mosque, some of which were nonetheless marked with strong decorative flourishes. The ablutions facilities in the courtyard were upgraded, a separate mida’a (Arabic: ميضأة) or ablutions room was added to the north (of which only the rough layout has survived today), and a new underground storage room was created. They also replaced the mosque’s grand chandelier with a new and more ornate one in bronze, still hanging in the central nave of the mosque today.
The Marinids, who were responsible for building many of the lavish madrasas around Fes, made various contributions to the mosque. In 1286 they restored and protected the 10th-century minaret, which had been made from poor-quality stone that was deteriorating, by covering it with whitewash. At its southern foot they also built the Dar al-Muwaqqit, a chamber for the timekeeper of the mosque who was responsible for determining the precise times of prayer. The chamber was equipped with astrolabes and all manner of scientific equipment of the era in order to aid in this task. The galleries around the nearby courtyard (sahn) were also rebuilt or repaired in 1283 and 1296–97, while at the entrance from the courtyard to the prayer hall (leading to the central nave of the mihrab), a decorative wooden screen, called the anaza, was installed in 1289 and acted as a symbolic “outdoor” or “summer” mihrab for prayers in the courtyard. At the central outer entrance to the courtyard from the north, the gate called Bab al-Ward (“Gate of the Rose”), a decorative cupola and dome was installed over its vestibule in 1337, still visible today (with minor restorations). A number of ornate metal chandeliers hanging in the mosque’s prayer hall also date from the Marinid era. Three of them were made from church bells which Marinid craftsmen used as a base onto which they grafted ornate copper fittings. The largest of them, installed in the mosque in 1337, was a bell brought back from Gibraltar by the son of Sultan Abu al-Hasan, Abu Malik, after its reconquest from Spanish forces in 1333. Lastly, the mosque’s library was founded by Sultan Abu Inan in 1350, with Sultan Abu Salim adding to it in 1361. This first Marinid library was located at the mosque’s northeastern corner (as opposed to the library’s current location).
Saadian and Alaouite period
The Saadians further embellished the mosque by adding two prominent pavilions to the western and eastern ends of the courtyard, each of which sheltered a new fountain. The famous Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur was responsible for building the first pavilion to the east in 1587-88, while the western pavilion was added under his son, Muhammad al-Sheikh al-Ma’mun in 1609. The pavilions emulate those found in the Court of Lions of the Alhambra palaces (in Granada, Spain). This was the last major addition to the mosque’s architecture. The Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur also built a new room for the library on the south side of the mosque (around the library’s current location), which was connected to the mosque via a door in the qibla wall. The Alaouite dynasty, which has ruled Morocco from the 17th century onward, continued to effect minor additions and regular maintenance on the mosque, including another ribbed cupola in the central nave. The present library building, continuously updated, now dates mainly from a major expansion and modification in the 20th century, particularly in the 1940s
Architectural description of the mosque
Successive dynasties expanded the Qarawiyyin mosque until it became the largest in Africa, with a capacity of 22,000 worshipers. The present-day mosque thus covers an extensive area of about half an hectare. Broadly speaking, it consists of a large hypostyle interior space for prayers, a courtyard (sahn) with fountains, a minaret (at the courtyard’s western end), and a number of annexes in addition to the main mosque itself.
The Qarawiyyin’s exterior does not generally present a monumental appearance and is integrated with the dense urban fabric around it. By one count there are 18 separate gates and entrances distributed around its perimeter. The gates vary from small rectangular doorways to enormous horseshoe arches with huge doors preceded by wooden roofs covering the street in front of them. While the doors are generally made of wood, some of the gates have extensive ornate bronze overlays crafted during the Almoravid period. The most ornate and best-preserved examples include the doors of the principal northern gate, Bab al-Ward (which opens onto the courtyard), the western gate called Bab Sbitriyyin (whose current doors, however, are replicas replacing the originals now kept by the Dar Batha Museum), and the southwestern gate Bab al-Gna’iz which leads to the Jama’ al-Gna’iz or Funeral Mosque. The much more monumental northwestern gates of the mosque, Bab al-Shama’in (or Bab Chemaine) and Bab al-Maqsura, also have heavy bronze fittings, including some ornate knockers, which date from the Almoravid period.
Adjacent to Bab al-Ward, on its west side, is another doorway, Bab al-Hafa (“Gate of the Barefooted”), from the Almohad era, which is distinguished by a small water channel across the floor just inside it. This water allowed for worshipers entering the mosque to wash their feet on the way in, helping with initial ablutions.
Also next to the mosque is a tower known as the Borj Neffara (برج النفارة , “Tower of the Trumpeters”), an observation tower that is sometimes confused as a minaret but was actually part of another Dar al-Muwaqqit (timekeeper’s house).
The prayer hall (interior)
The interior hypostyle prayer hall takes up most of the mosque’s area. Like the interior of most traditional mosques in Moroccan architecture, it is a relatively austere space, with mostly plain walls, wooden roofs, and rows upon rows of arches. The main area, south of the courtyard, is a vast space divided into ten transverse aisles by rows of arches running parallel to the southern wall. The southern wall of this hall also marks the qibla or direction of prayer for Muslim worshipers. The central axis of the prayer hall, perpendicular to the qibla wall, is marked by a central “nave” running between two extra lines of arches along this axis, perpendicular to the other arches. This nave leads towards the mihrab: a niche in the qibla wall which symbolizes the direction of prayer, and in front of which the imam usually leads prayers and delivers sermons. This overall layout (a hypostyle hall with a central nave emphasized against the others) is a familiar layout for North African mosques generally.
The mihrab area, which dates from the Almoravid (12th-century) expansion, is decorated with carved and painted stucco, as well as several windows of coloured glass. The mihrab niche itself is a small alcove which is covered by a small dome of muqarnas (stalactite or honeycomb-like sculpting). The central nave that runs along the axis of the mihrab is distinguished from the rest of the mosque by a number of architectural embellishments. The arches that run along it are of varying shapes, including both horseshoe arches and multi-lobed arches. Instead of the plain timber ceilings, most sections of the nave are covered by a series of intricate muqarnas ceilings and cupolas, each slightly different from the other, as well as two “ribbed” dome cupolas (similar to the domes of the Great Mosque of Cordoba and Cristo de la Luz Mosque in Toledo) dating from the Almoravid and Alaouite periods. Many of the muqarnas compositions are further decorated with intricate reliefs of arabesques and Arabic inscriptions in both Kufic and cursive letters. Additionally, there are several elaborately carved bronze chandeliers hanging in the nave which were gifted to the mosque during the Almohad and Marinid eras; at least three of which were made from bells (probably church bells) brought back from victories in Spain.
To the right of the mihrab is the minbar (pulpit) of the mosque, which could also be stored in a small room behind a door in the qibla wall here. The minbar is most likely of similar origins as the famous Almoravid minbar of the Koutoubia Mosque, made by a workshop in Cordoba not long after the latter and installed in the Qarawiyyin Mosque in 1144 (at the end of the Almoravid works on the mosque). It is another exceptional work of marquetry and woodcarving, decorated with geometric compositions, inlaid materials, and arabesque reliefs.
Aside from the embellishments of the central nave, the rest of the mosque is architecturally quite uniform, but there are some minor irregularities in the floor plan. For example, the arches in the western half of the prayer hall are shorter than those of the eastern half, and some of the transverse aisles are slightly wider than others. These anomalies have not been fully explained but they appear to have been present since the early centuries of the mosque; they may be due to early reconstructions or alterations which have gone unrecorded in historical chronicles.
The courtyard (sahn) is rectangular, surrounded by the prayer hall on three sides and by a gallery to the north. The floor is paved with typical Moroccan mosaic tiles (zellij) and at the center is a fountain. From outside the mosque, the courtyard is accessed by the main northern gate, called Bab al-Ward, whose vestibule is covered by a Marinid-era white dome which is fluted on the outside and covered in painted and carved stucco on the inside. Opposite this gate, situated on the mihrab axis, is the central entrance to the interior prayer hall, guarded by a carved and painted wooden screen called the anaza which also acted as a symbolic “outdoor” or “summer” mihrab for prayers taking place in the courtyard. (These features are visible to visitors standing outside the gate.) Both this entrance to the prayer hall and the outer gate across from it have facades decorated with carved and painted stucco.
At the western and eastern ends of the courtyard stand two ornate Saadian pavilions each sheltering another fountain. The pavilions have pyramidal domes and emulate the pavilions in the Court of Lions in the Alhambra (Spain). They are decorated with carved wood and stucco, mosaic-tiled walls, and marble columns. Behind these pavilions are extensions of the main prayer hall divided into four naves by rows of arches.The gallery and arched hall on the northeastern sides of the courtyard are a prayer space reserved for women.
The minaret was constructed in the 10th century by the Ummayyad caliph of Cordoba, and overlooks the courtyard from the west. It was constructed in local limestone of relatively poor quality and was covered in whitewash by the Marinids in the 13th century in order to protect it from deterioration. It has a square shaft and is topped by a dome, as well as a parapet from which the muezzin historically issued the call to prayer (adhan). The full structure is 26.75 meters tall. One curious feature of the minaret is the lower window on its southern facade, which is shaped like a “triple” horseshoe arch, elongated vertically, which is unique to this structure. On the minaret’s southern side, just above the gallery of the courtyard, is a room known as the Dar al-Muwaqqit, devoted to determining the times of prayer in a precise manner.
The funerary annex (Jama’ al-Gnaiz)
A number of annexes are attached around the mosque, serving various functions. The northwestern edge of the building is occupied by latrines. Behind the southern qibla wall, to the west of the mihrab axis, is an area known as the Jama’ al-Gnaiz (“Funeral Mosque”, or sometimes translated as “Mosque of the Dead”), which served as a separate oratory reserved for funerary rites. This type of facility was not particularly common in the Islamic world but there are several examples in Fez, including at the Chrabliyine and Bab Guissa Mosques. It was kept separate from the main mosque in order to preserve the purity of the latter as a regular prayer space, which in principle could be soiled by the presence of a dead body. This oratory dates back to the Almoravid period and also features embellishments such as a muqarnas cupola and a number of ornate archways in varying forms.
Also behind the southern wall of the mosque, but to the east of the mihrab axis, is the historic library of the mosque and university. It is sometimes cited as the world’s oldest surviving library, and was recently restored by Aziza Chaouni and reopened in 2016. The first purpose-built library structure was added to the mosque by the Marinids in 1350 CE but was located at the mosque’s northeastern corner instead of to the south. The current library building dates in part from a Saadian construction by Ahmad al-Mansur (late 16th century), who built a chamber called al-Ahmadiyya just behind the qibla wall, but most of the building dates from a major 20th-century expansion. This expansion included the current grand reading room, which measures 23 metres long and features an ornately-painted wooden ceiling.
Status as world’s oldest university
According to UNESCO, and a number of other scholars, al-Qarawiyyin is considered to have been a university since its founding and therefore that it is the oldest university in the world. In some sources, the medieval madrasa is described as a “university”. According to Yahya Pallavicini, the university model did not spread in Europe until the 12th century, and was found throughout the Muslim world from the founding of al-Qarawiyyin in the 9th century until at least European colonialism. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, universities had existed in parts of Asia and Africa prior to the founding of the first medieval European universities.
A number of other scholars, however, consider the medieval university (from Latin universitas) to be an institution unique to Christian Europe, arguing that the first universities were located in Western Europe with Paris and Bologna often cited as the earliest examples. Jacques Verger says that while the term ‘university’ is occasionally applied by scholars to the madrasa out of convenience, the European university marked a major disruption between earlier institutions of higher learning and were the earliest true modern university. Several scholars consider that al-Qarawiyyin was founded and run as a madrasa (Arabic: مدرسة) until after World War II. They consider institutions like al-Qarawiyyin to be higher education colleges of Islamic law where other subjects were only of secondary importance. They also consider that the University was only adopted outside the West, including into the Islamic world, in the course of modernization programmes since the beginning of the 19th century. They date the transformation of the madrasa of al-Qarawiyyin into a university to its modern reorganization in 1963. In the wake of these reforms, al-Qarawiyyin was officially renamed “University of Al Quaraouiyine” two years later.
Some scholars, noting certain parallels between such madrasas and European medieval universities, have proposed that the latter may have been influenced by the madrasas of Islamic Spain and the Emirate of Sicily. Other scholars have questioned this, citing the lack of evidence for an actual transmission from the Islamic world to Christian Europe and highlighting the differences in the structure, methodologies, procedures, curricula and legal status of the “Islamic college” (madrasa) versus the European university.