Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya;
(Arabic: فاطمة بنت محمد الفهرية القرشية) was an Arab Muslim woman who is credited with founding the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree-awarding university in the world, the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco in 859 CE, although this is disputed. She is also known as “Umm al-Banayn”.
Al-Fihri was born around 800 AD in the town of Kairouan, in present-day Tunisia. She is of Arab Qurayshi descent, hence the name “Fatima al-Fihri al-Qurashiyya [the Qurayshi one]. Her family was part of a large migration to Fes from Kairouan. Although her family did not start out wealthy, her father, Mohammed al-Fihri, became a successful merchant.
She and her sister Maryam were well-educated and studied the Islamic jurisprudence Fiqh and the Hadith, or the records of Prophet Muhammed. Both went on to found mosques in Fes: Fatima founded Al-Qarawiyyin and Maryam founded Al-Andalus.
Little is known about her personal life, except for what was recorded by 14th century historian Ibn Abi-Zaraa’. This is largely due to the fact that the Al-Qarawiyyin library suffered a large fire in 1323. Al-Fihri was married, but both her husband and father died shortly after the wedding. Her father left his wealth to both Fatima and her sister, his only children.