With a reputation for being one of the largest mosques in Africa and one of the world’s oldest universities, the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fez, Morocco, is simply one attraction that can’t be missed. This beautiful mosque, which dates back to the 9th century, is also a noted place of worship.

Many see Al-Qarawiyyin as being the perfect example of how the Muslim faith combines the spiritual with the educational. Certainly, Muslim saints and scholars have been congregating in the mosque’s ornamental courtyard for more than 1,000 years. Even the very foundations of this majestic monument have a story to tell.

According to history, the mosque was founded by a princess by the name of Fatima Al-Fihri – the daughter of a wealthy Qayrawani immigrant. Both Fatima and her sister were highly educated and displayed noteworthy religious devotion. Upon her father’s death, Fatima inherited a large amount of money. Instead of spending this on enriching herself, she chose to enrich the people that surrounded her by using it to build a mosque suitable for her community. This is not only an example of how education and religion merge in this small corner of the globe, it sheds light on the esteemed role that woman can play in the Islamic community – an aspect of Islam that is often misunderstood.

Over the years the mosque has played greater or lesser roles in the history of the country and the nation. During medieval times it was regarded as being a major intellectual centre in the Mediterranean. Its excellent reputation even led to Gerber of Auvergne studying at the mosque. Auvergne later went on to become Pope Sylvester II and has been given the credit of introducing Arabic numerals and the zero to the rest of Europe. The mosque was added to in the 12th and 18th centuries and now boasts carved stucco, wood, glazed tiles, stone minarets, stuccoed bricks, carved cedar wood beams, blue and while tiles and magnificent marble fountains. It is truly a treat to walk along the hallowed halls of the mosque and university and to take in all it has to offer.