The oldest known doctor of medicine degree was awarded to a Moroccan in Fez

The oldest known doctor of medicine degree was granted in Fez to Moroccan student Abdellah Ben Saleh Al Koutami. The latter studied at the Univesity of al-Qarawiyyin and was the disciple of prestigious Muslim scientists, including Al Baytar and Annabati.

The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco. / DR
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Morocco’s first university had granted one of its students the oldest known and documented Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree delivered in the world. Known as the oldest existing and continually operating higher educational institution in the world, the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez gave the certificate to Abdellah Ben Saleh Al Koutami in 1207.

Titled Ijazah (certificate), the degree allowed Al Koutami to practice human and veterinary medicine, becoming the oldest known university student to receive such license.

A study published in February by the Journal of Medical and Surgical research (Vol. VI) argues that the al-Qarawiyyin Ijaza is the «First Available and Documented MD Certificate Delivered in the World».

Compiled by Dr Younes Cherradi, the study reveals that the certificate included «an introduction to the great value of medicine and medical sciences in Islam». It also referred to Islam’s medical sciences «progress from cupping therapy (hijama) to all the research and works authored by scientists in all aspects of medicines, plant, and herbal sciences», before attributing some of the criteria to Al Koutami.

The desciple of Al Baytar and Annabati

The Ijaza acknowledged that Doctor Abdellah Ibn Saleh Al Koutami requested said license from the «qualified authorities» in the city of Fez. The degree attested that Al Koutami had the needed expertise and knowledge to practice medicine, veterinary and pharmacy and described him as an «honest man with good reputation and no history of criminality or disloyalty».

IJAZAH delivered in Medicine from AL Quaraouiyine University in Fez- Morocco in 1207 A.J.C (603 of Islamic Calendar). / Journal of Medical and Surgical Research -Younes CharradiIJAZAH delivered in Medicine from AL Quaraouiyine University in Fez- Morocco in 1207 A.J.C (603 of Islamic Calendar). / Journal of Medical and Surgical Research -Younes Charradi

Al Koutami was, furthermore, praised as a «religious [man]» who «was regular in 5 prayers and benevolence», Cherradi wrote.

Al Koutami’s Ijaza was handed to him in the presence of renowned scientist, including Andalusian scientist, botanist, pharmacist and theologian Abul Abbas Annabati, Andalusian pharmacist, botanist, physician and scientist Abu Mohammed Ibn Al Baytar and mathematician Al Ichbili ibn Al Hajjaj ibn al-Yasamin.

The ceremony was also attended by the Judge of Fez Mohammed Ibn Abdullah Taher and two witnesses, Abdullah Ben Ali Cherradi and Sulaimane Ben Idriss, Younes Cherradi recalled.

Based on Al Koutami’s certificate, Cherradi indicates that his degree was indeed a medical one. Quoting medieval culture professor George Makdisi, the doctor argued that the Ijazat attadris «was a sort of qualification or doctorate degree».

The same idea was confirmed by 1930s professor of Arabic Alfred Guillaume who referred to the «Ijazah» as «a precursor to the licentia docendi, supporting the Islamic origin of the 'University Degree'», the same source concluded.

Al Koutami’s medical degree is also backed by the history of the university that granted it. Indeed, al-Qarawiyyin was founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859. Among the subjects taught at the university, alongside the Qur'an and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), are grammar, rhetoric, logic, medicine, mathematics as well as astronomy.

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