The word ‘Jamiah’ in Arabic means ‘university’. The word ‘Jami’ stands for ‘Masjid’. Many scholars of the early Muslim civilization saw a clear connection between learning and faith. The first revelation, “Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists).” (Al-Alaq 96:1), was a significant sign to urge the early Muslims to learn new things and share their discoveries.
Travelling teachers, known as Ahl al-Ilm (the people with knowledge), became the means to spread knowledge between towns and cities. By the late ninth century, almost every Masjid housed an elementary school for boys and girls. Kids began school at the age of six. Among the early skills school kids learnt were how to write verses from the Quran and the 99 names of Allah. They then went on to memorize all 6,239 verses of the Noble Book.
The affluent members of the society hired tutors to teach their children at home. Each Muslim school had an exclusive architecture with arched hallways leading to a courtyard for outdoor lessons, a prayer hall, living quarters for students, and an ablution room. Talking, laughing, or joking was not permitted in the classrooms. There were mainly four different types of Muslim schools: regular (primary schools), houses of readers (high schools), houses of Hadeeth (religious schools), and medical schools.
Most schools had libraries filled with books written in Arabic on such advanced topics as chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Education was free, and some students were even provided with books, stipends, and lodging facilities. An Awqaf was set up for building schools, paying salaries to teachers, and arranging meals for students. Much like college students today, students at universities in the Muslim world took entrance examinations, joined study groups, and had to pass final exams to graduate.
According to a travelling geographer, Ibn Hawqal, the city of Palermo in Muslim Sicily had 300 Masajid that taught various subjects in the late tenth century. By the fifteenth century, the Ottomans had revolutionized schools by setting up a kind of learning centre called a Kulliye. Each complex had a Masjid, school, hospital, and dining area.
A quest for advanced education among Muslim scholars led to the spread of universities throughout the Muslim world: Baghdad, Timbuktu in Mali, Fes in Morocco, Bayt al-Hikmah in Tunisia, and countless more.
The spark of learning lit up the Dark Ages in the European world, too. European students travelled back and forth to Muslim cities to study at colleges and to learn Arabic, in order to access the latest discoveries, intellectual advancements, and inventions. This contributed to the spread of Islamic knowledge and the exchange of ideas in the world at that time.