[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Story of the Oldest Educational Institution in the World and the Woman Who Built It

Myra here.

We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading theme throughout the year, when we can.

This year, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

One Wish: Fatima Al-Fihri And The World’s Oldest University (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by M. O. Yuksel Illustrated by Mariam Quraishi
Published by: HarperCollins (2022) ISBN: 0063032910 (ISBN13: 9780063032910) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I first learned about Fatima al-Fihri through the book Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines In Living Color by Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring (Amazon | Book Depository). Click on the image below to be taken to my review of the book.

Born in Tunisia around 800 CE, Fatima had been exposed to reading and learning through her family who encouraged her love for books, the word Iqra, “read,” being the first word she recited from the Q’uran.

As Fatima was growing up, she noted that the boys were educated in schools while the girls were tutored at home. She wished that there was a “school for all” that would serve as haven for people from all walks of life who had a passion for learning. This wish was interrupted when war tore into her town, necessitating her family’s journey to Fez, Morocco where she stayed and lived.

Fatima’s wish still lived inside of her and was given space to breathe when her wealthy father and husband died, leaving her a fortune. Reminiscent of Jane Addams’ story and Malala Yousafzai, Fatima committed her entire life to building a place of learning that she eventually named “al-Qarawiyyin, after her hometown in Tunisia.”

Interestingly, while the book Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines In Living Color indicated that women were not allowed to enter Al-Qarawiyyin, the detailed Author’s Note of this picturebook biography reported that:

The king of Morocco, Yahya I, and the scholarly community of Fez supported Fatima’s vision of an institution of higher education. The al-Qarawiyyin functioned as a school from its inception, and it welcomed both men and women. According to historians, female scholars such as Alia Bint-Tayeb Benkirane also taught at al-Qarawiyyin.

The al-Qarawiyyin is still in existence and is recognized as the oldest existing educational institution in the world according to UNESCO and the Guinness World Records. And it all started with Fatima Al-Fihri’s wish. This is a picturebook biography that deserves to be in classroom (and personal) library shelves around the world.


#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 53 out of target 100

June 1, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal