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Morocco: One of the world’s oldest universities draws global students

This April 14, 2016, photo shows the reading room of the Al-Qarawiyyin mosque in Fez, Morocco   -  
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Samia Errazouki/Copyright 2016 The AP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


Indonesian student Kamel Tahdhib traveled thousands of miles to study at a Moroccan university with such a rich history, that its renown continues to draw learners more than 1,000 years after it was founded.

The university hosts one of the world’s oldest libraries, home to unique Islamic manuscripts treasured by historians.

It was founded 12 centuries ago by a pioneering woman and nestled in the old medina of Fez in Morocco.

Tahdhib, a 22-year-old freshman, said he chose to study at al-Qarawiyyin University because of its "widespread fame around the world."

A devout and wealthy Muslim woman from the Tunisian town of Kairaouan, Fatima al-Fihri, provided the endowment for building al-Qarawiyyin in the 9th century.

Originally a mosque, it expanded in the 10th century to become a university when madrassas or Islamic religious school were built around it.

Today, the university is home to 10 of these madrassas.

As of 2015, it has become specialized in Islamic teaching and religious education.

Through the ages, the university played a crucial role in the preservation and transmission of Islamic knowledge.

However, the teaching institution was not always focused on Islamic teaching alone, says Driss Fassi Fihri, the vice-president of al-Qarawiyyin University.

"It was historically a university with specializations in all areas of education," he added.

The university's library houses a collection of manuscripts written by renowned thinkers from the region, including Ibn Khaldun’s “Muqadimmah.”

Other texts include a 9th-century Quran written in Kufic calligraphy, and a manuscript on the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence by Ibn Rochd, also known as Averroes.

Guinness world records list this university as the "oldest existing, and continually operating educational institution in the world."

The biggest challenge ahead of this university is finding the balance between retaining its authentic message while also modernizing and making use of new technology, Fihri says.