University of al-Qarawiyyin

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The University of al-Qarawiyyin or al-Karaouine (Arabic: جامعة القرويين‎) is a university located in Fes, Morocco. It is the oldest existing, continually operating and the first degree awarding educational institution in the world according to UNESCO and Guinness World Records and is sometimes referred to as the oldest university. The al-Qarawiyyin mosque-religious school / college was founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859 with an associated school, or 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 claim of the university being the oldest in the world are subject to discussions as other institutions, such as the Zaytouna mosque-school founded in 703 in Tunis, predated the founding of al-Qarawiyyin. Al-Qarawiyyin itself is named after the Qairaouan Mosque in Tunisia, the oldest mosque in the Maghreb and the cradle of the Muslim Maliki rite.

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 and IT 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.

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