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Madrassas revive the “Golden Age” in Fez, Morocco – International News News – Report by AFR

In the narrow streets of the old town of Fez, Morocco’s first capital, centuries-old places of learning are being revived to promote the moderation of Islam as their founders originally intended.

Studying at the 14th-century madrassa Bou Inania (religious school) within the UNESCO-listed walled city offers, according to student Moaz Soueif, life “in the embrace of a venerable academic history.”

The Bou Inania madrasa is one of six such facilities under renovation since 2017 under a program funded by the Moroccan government to preserve the city’s heritage and boost tourism.

Soueif, 25, shares the upper floor of the madrassa with about 40 students from Qarawiyyin University, which was a world-leading spiritual and educational center centuries before the European Renaissance.

Decorated throughout with intricate inscriptions and mosaics, students are not the only visitors to Bou Inania. Tourists also flock to see the elegant open-air courtyard, adorned by a central fountain and walls of carefully tended tiles.

The madrassa is located right inside the Bab Boujelloud, one of the main entrances to the old town and an important landmark for tourists.

The nearby Cherratine and Attarine madrassas have also recently been refurbished for the benefit of tourists, who “usually say their time here feels spiritual and the Old City is really real,” according to city guide Sabah Alawi.

Today, Fez serves as a monument to a peak of Islamic civilization, the 13th and 14th centuries, when Muslim rulers ruled from Morocco to western China.

This period also represents a golden age in the history of the city, which has just been reinstated as Morocco’s capital after being overshadowed for three centuries by Marrakech further south.

– Polymath Pope –

Up a steep alley of Bou Inania, lined with stalls selling traditional goods and local food, stands the Qarawiyyin Mosque, built when the city was founded in the 9th century.

It later became the heart of the university of the same name – one of the oldest in the world.

El-Haj Moussa Aouni, professor of history at Fez University, said the city was in the 13th-14th centuries. Thrived in the 19th century along with other centers in the Maghreb region – from Marrakesh to Oran in Algeria and Kairouan in Tunisia.

The madrassas of Fes are “extensions of the main university that were used to teach sciences such as mathematics, medicine, mechanics and music, as well as Islamic studies and literature,” he said.

The Qarawiyyin Mosque has a large, roofless courtyard surrounded by pillars separating it from the covered areas intended for prayer and study.

The site is off-limits to tourists – although some use the doors, which open just before prayer, to take photos in the courtyard.

At the time of its founding, the university was one of the best in the world and hosted well-known scholars such as the Tunisian Ibn Khaldoun, who is considered the founding father of sociology.

Another prominent figure believed to have studied there was Gerbert of Aurillac, a polymath who introduced Arabic numerals to Europe, who is credited with inventing the mechanical clock, and who later became Pope Sylvester II.

In addition to preserving the city’s architectural treasures, the renovations are part of Morocco’s broader effort to promote Islam’s moderation.

– Tolerance model –

The scholars have left their mark on the city – for example in the Qarawiyyin Library, which houses around 4,000 manuscripts, including an original donated by Ibn Khaldoun himself.

“It is one of the oldest libraries in the Islamic world,” said its rector, Abdulfattah Boukachouf.

The 14th-century institution occupies a courtyard filled with the ringing of brass and silver workers’ hammers. But in the reading room, most recently expanded by Sultan Mohammed V, the grandfather of the current King Mohammed VI, there is silence.

In one corner, a team of women expertly restore delicate manuscripts.

Qarawiyyin University has launched a new program for postgraduates who have excelled in writing and memorizing the Qur’an.

The students cover “various Islamic studies, comparative religion, French, English and Hebrew, which allows them to understand other cultures,” said Soueif, from the northern city of Ksar El-Kebir.

“We should be a model of tolerant Islam, on the same level as the great scholars who came here before us,” he said.

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