When speaking about the legacy of scholarship and education in the Islamic world and the Islamic Golden age, we pride ourselves on symbols of scholarship and the legacy of education within our community such as the Qarawiyyin University in Morocco or Al Azhar University in Egypt, which are considered to be the oldest universities in the world.
However, another famous university that was established by Muslims but is rarely spoken about was the Sankore Universtiy, that was founded in the Masjid buit by Mansa Musa in 1327 in West Africa. This university, which started off as an Islamic school or madrassa inside the masjid, went on to become one of the largest universities in the world at the time, hosting in its height 25,000 students and a library of 700,000 manuscripts, making it the largest libray in Africa since the library of Alexandri.
The curriculum consisted not just of Islamic subjects, but science, mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and even the occult science and medicine.
Recent studies of these documents, for example, show a mathematics test that was used to teach the students studying in this university 600 years ago.
And when this text was translated from Arabic into French, and sent to Sorbonne University in Paris. They confirmed that the level of mathematics being taught 600 years ago at this university was equivalent to the second year of their mathematic degree programme which is one of the hardest to get into in France and in the western world.
Aside from this, literary criticism of ancient Greek philosophy, detailed medical testbooks explaining how to conduct eye cataract removal operations and thousands of verses of poetry translated and commented on, not just in Arabic, but in local West African languages using the tradition of Ajami Script, which is writing west African languages with the Arabic script, were all found amongst the thousands and thousands of manuscripts here from this university.
There was even a story of a scholar from the Hijaz who travelled to Mali in order to be able to teach in the university and was told he needed to take 10 years of pre-requisite courses in the Qarawiyyin university in Morocco before he could be admitted into sankore as a student.
So, when speaking about the centres of learning in the Muslim world, such as the house of wisdom and Al-Azhar and Qarawiyyin and Zaytouna, we shouldn’t also forget Sankore University and many of the other institutes of higher learning that existed at the same time in West Africa.