FSTC Research Team*
Table of contents
1. Religious commands
2. The mosque as an educational institution
3. The foundation of colleges
4. Spread of the Islamic education model to Europe
6. Articles on education on www.MuslimHeritage.com
Note of the editor
This article has been published on www.MuslimHeritage.com in June 2002 in PDF format. We present it to our readers in a new editing in HTML, with illustrations and extended references.
* * *1. Religious commands
The Quran recurrently urges the faithful to acquire knowledge, knowledge that would bring them closer to God and to His creation. Many verses of the sacred book command this act, for example:
Then ‘Say [unto them, O Muhammad]: Can those who know and those who do not know be deemed equal? But only those who are endowed with insight will keep this in mind' (Quran 39: 9).
‘And He has subjected to you, [as a gift] from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are messages indeed for people who think.' (Quran 45: 13).
The Quran uses repetition in order to imbed certain key concepts in the consciousness of its readers . Allah (God) and Rab (the Sustainer) are repeated 2,800 and 950 times respectively in the sacred text; Ilm (knowledge) comes third, with 750 repetitions . The Prophet Muhammad commanded all Muslims to seek knowledge wherever and whenever they could.
In light of these Quranic verses and Prophetic traditions, Muslim rulers gave considerable support to education and its institutions, insisting that every Muslim child be given access to it. Thus, elementary education became almost universal among Muslims. Wilds says:
‘It was this great liberality which they displayed in educating their people in the schools which was one of the most potent factors in the brilliant and rapid growth of their civilization. Education was so universally diffused that it was said to be difficult to find a Muslim who could not read or write.' 
In Muslim Spain, there was not a village where ‘the blessings of education' could not be enjoyed by the children of the most indigent peasant, and in Cordoba were eight hundred public schools frequented by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike . And in the great Muslim University of Cordoba, Jews and Christians attained to acknowledged distinction as professors . So high was the place of learning that both teachers and pupils were greatly respected by the mass of the population; and the large libraries collected by the wealthy landowners and merchants showed that learning - as in the Italian Renaissance (six hundred years later) - was one of the marks of a gentleman . Pedersen says that:
‘In scarcely any other culture has the literary life played such a role as in Islam. Learning (ilm), by which is meant the whole world of the intellect, engaged the interest of Muslims more than anything… The life that evolved in the mosques spread outward to put its mark upon influential circles everywhere.' 
All public institutions, from the mosques and madrassas to the hospitals and observatories, were places of learning. Scholars also addressed gatherings of people in their own homes. Al-Ghazali, Al-Farabi, and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), among many others, after teaching in public schools, retired to their private libraries and studies, but continued to teach ‘those fortunate enough to be invited.' 
This universality, thirst, and impetus for education, not even equaled today , was a distinguishing mark of that period, when Islam was at its zenith, both as a religion and as a civilization. The role and place of knowledge in that era will be considered (God willing) in subsequent works. The role of the madrassa, another lengthy subject, will also be covered subsequently. Here, focus will be on the organization of education, its aims, and the ways in which it was imparted, and above all the role of the mosque.
Figure 3: Students at Al-Azhar mosque in the 1880s. Photo taken by Pascal Sebah (1823-1886): "Mosquée El-Azhar (étudiants)". (Source).
2. The mosque as an educational institution
The mosque played a major part in the spread of education in the Muslim World, and the association of the mosque with education remained one of its main characteristics throughout history , and, the school became an indispensable appendage to the mosque . From the earliest days of Islam, the mosque was the centre of the Muslim community, a place for prayer, meditation, religious instruction, political discussion, and a school. And anywhere Islam took hold, mosques were established, and basic religious and educational instruction began. Once established, mosques developed into well-known places of learning, often with hundreds, even thousands, of students, and frequently contained important libraries .
The first school conne