Africa Is Home To Some Of The Worlds Oldest Universities.

Generation after generation, children in Africa learned their skills and gathered their knowledge from their parents and relatives and their community. Did you know? Africa is home to some of the world’s oldest universities. 

If you ever assumed that the oldest university in the world is in Europe or China, then kindly come again because it’s not.


The oldest standing university on earth is in Morocco. Known as Al-Qarawiyyin, the university was founded in 859 AD by a young princess from Tunisia, Fatima al-Fihri.

The university has been recognized by UNESCO and the Guinness World Records as the oldest existing, continuously operating university, as well as, the first institution to issue educational degrees. It is located in the city of Fes, which was once a leading spiritual and educational centre of the Muslim world.

History recounts that over 1200 years ago, al-Fihri and her family moved from Qayrawan (modern-day Tunisia) to Fes, Morocco.

RECOMMENDED READ: The University of al-Qarawiyyin

After her father’s death, al-Fihri decided to spend her family’s inheritance on building a mosque for her community with a madrasa, Islamic school to give people the opportunity to practice their faith and still expand their knowledge on spiritual issues.

The mosque, which began with enough room for 22,000 worshipers, is one of the largest in Africa.

Over the years, Al-Qarawiyyin became one of the key religious and educational centres in the Muslim world. The madrasa was initially meant to focus on religious instruction and Quran memorization but later expanded to teach calligraphy, Arabic grammar, Sufism, medicine, music and astronomy.

In 1947, the school was registered into the state education system and ten years after, chemistry, physics and foreign languages were introduced.

In 1963, it joined the modern state university system, and in 1965 it was officially renamed “University of al- Qarawiyyin” rather than simply “al- Qarawiyyin”.

The university, during its early days, attracted some of the highest quality teachers at the time.

It also received many applications from different parts of Morocco and Islamic West Africa, as well as, Muslim Central Asia, hence the school came out with a rigorous selection process. Some of these conditions are still in place currently. For instance, students applying to study at the University must have memorized the whole Quran if they are even to be considered.

University of Sankoré

In the early 15th century Mali, precisely in the eastern city of Timbuktu, you could find three major intellectual institutions, which were, Jungaray Ber, Sidi Yahya, and finally, located in the North East district of Timbuktu, the eminent University of Sankoré, a spectacular pyramid-shaped work of architecture. 

Few today know that the University of Sankore was founded in 989 AD by the erudite chief judge of Tumbuktu, Al-Qadi Aqib Ibn Mahmud. It was founded during the time of the Empire of Ghana, stayed relevant into the Empire of Mali, then survived another political transition into the time period of the Empire of Songhai.

The city of Timbuktu had the most universities in any nation. It was proof of the talents, creativity and ingenuity of the African people.

RECOMMENDED READ:  The University of Sankore, Timbuktu (989 AD)

Sankore’s achievement in higher education is important to Islamic civilisation even though it was less known in comparison to Al-Azhar, Al-Qayrawan, Al-Qarawiyyin and Qurtuba Universities.

It is also said to be a source of pride amongst African-Carribean communities worldwide, as it was a great intellectual institution dating back to civilisations in Mali, Ghana and Songhay – particularly during the 12th to 16th centuries.

The University of Timbuktu is often referred to as the ‘University of Sankore’, as there are two other universities in Timbuktu, ‘Jingaray Ber’ and ‘Sidi Yahya’. The University of Sankore is located in the North East district of Timbuktu and housed within the Sankore Mosque.

The Sankore Mosque was founded in 989 CE by the erudite chief judge of Timbuktu, Al-Qadi Aqib ibn Mahmud ibn Umar. He had built the inner court of the mosque parallel to the exact dimensions of the Ka’abah in Makkah. A wealthy Mandinka lady financed Sankore University making it the leading centre of education. The Sankore University prospered and became a very significant seat of learning in the Muslim world, especially under the reign of Mansa Musa (1307-1332) and the Askia Dynasty (1493-1591).

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