On a Great Legacy

Mohammed al-Fahri wasn’t born rich, but he became a wealthy merchant. When he died in the early 800s AD, he bequeathed his fortune to his two children. It was their legacy to do with it as they saw fit. One of his children, a daughter, had married, but her husband had died. So, this child decided to use her share of the inheritance to care for the poor and the sick. The other child, well, the other child had other ideas.

You see, al-Fahri made sure both of his children were well-educated. They were both raised in Islamic law, in philosophy, in logic, and in the sciences. For someone who came from a relatively poor background himself, al-Fahri wanted to give his children an education that he knew would benefit them no matter what they decided to do with their legacy.

It was the other child realized that the legacy left by their father was a double blessing. The money, yes, the money could do great good–in fact, both children even built mosques that specialized in helping the indigent–but it was this other child that realized the other legacy of the education was equally valuable.

So, using the inherited money, this other child expanded the original mosque that had been built by purchasing the land around the facility and building a large Islamic educational center. This major expansion took over a decade and cost most of that half of the inheritance. However, the mosque soon became a leading Islamic educational facility. Across the centuries it continued to provide education for Muslims and today is part of the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco. It has become a repository for Islamic texts and learning that is famed not only throughout all of Islam but also throughout the world. Unusually for an old Islamic teaching institution, subjects are taught these days in both traditional and modern methods, so there is room at the university for people of all backgrounds. All in all, a lasting and fitting legacy that continues to this day.

UNESCO calls the site the world’s oldest continuing university. Interestingly, women were first admitted to the university in the early 1940s.

And that’s somewhat strange considering it was a Muslim woman–the other child of al-Fihri–who founded it.


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