Review of One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University

One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University
by M. O. Yuksel; illus. by Mariam Quraishi
Primary, Intermediate    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-06-303291-0    $18.99

In a text rich with imagery, Yuksel (In My Mosque) tells the true story of Fatima ­al-Fihri, whose one wish was to build a school for all. But how? As a girl in early-ninth-century Tunisia who was tutored at home, Fatima did not know how to actualize such a grandiose vision. Then her family was forced to flee Tunisia due to war; they resettled as refugees in Fez, Morocco, where she eventually married. Upon the deaths of her father and husband, she decided to use her substantial inheritance to realize her dream and establish a school. After much planning, the al-Qarawiyyin Mosque (which, per the appended note, “functioned as a school from its inception” and is now the ­University of ­al-Qarawiyyin) opened, a place where all students, “especially the poor and the refugees, could live and study for free.” Watercolor and gouache illustrations contrast bright colors with sandy tones of the landscape while revealing the school’s distinctive architectural style, replete with spacious courtyards and arches adorned with mosaics. The illustrations develop their own visual language: Fatima’s yellow dress and blue scarf are consistent through the book as she matures; future students don clothes that repeat the same patterns, linking past with present. Ample back matter includes a glossary; more information about ­al-Qarawiyyin, the oldest existing and continuously operating university in the world; and an author’s note separating speculation from fact. A welcome story that emphasizes the intellectual foundations of Islamic North Africa and the importance of charitable work that plants seeds for subsequent generations.

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam

Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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