Islamic Colleges - Madrassas
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What is a Madrassa?

Madrasa
Shirij Madrasa, Fez, Morocco, about 1350 AD

If you had done well at your maktab (elementary school), your parents might decide to send you on to a madrassa (high school and college) when you were about fifteen years old. Only boys could go to madrassas, and only if their parents could afford to send them. Some boys could walk to a madrassa, and some had to go to a bigger town where they had a school. Those boys slept in dormitories at the madrassa, or rented rooms nearby.

Madrassa
Students hearing a lecture in a madrassa

The earliest madrassas were probably built beginning about 850 AD, replacing earlier Roman and Sassanian schools. Like maktabs, madrassas were usually next to a mosque. At the madrassa, boys learned more about Islam, but they also studied non-religious subjects like algebra, astronomy, medicine, history, poetry, and law.

Madrassas were also centers for research and study for adults, like universities today. They were open to anybody who wanted to visit and learn, if the visitors knew enough to be able to understand what they heard.

Learn by doing: go to a public university lecture about Islam
More about Islamic science

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Islamic schools:

More about the Islamic Empire
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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