Primary Source

Kuttab, or Primary Level Qur’an School

  • Photo of public building


This public building of Mamluk Cairo in Egypt has two functions. Its lower level housed a sabil, or fountain, for dispensing water to thirsty travelers and denizens of the city, and its upper level was a public primary school for the teaching of Qur'an, called a kuttab. Kuttab schools taught basic literacy skills such as arithmetic and grammar along with recitation of the Qur'an needed to perform Islamic prayers. The building was open to air and light on three façades. The sabil featured copper grillwork windows through which cups of water could be passed by an attendant inside, or passers-by could enter the cool interior with decorative tiles.

Pupils entered the building and climbed a stone stairway to the kuttab. They entered the rectangular schoolroom to sit on woven mats while the teacher likely sat on the raised platform that surrounded the room on three sides. A balcony projects slightly over the street, shaded by a large wooden awning. Delicate, turned-wooden pillars form 15 arches connected by balustrades and carved wooden screens called mashrabiyya. Clay water jugs cooled the drinking water in the breeze created by the mashrabiyya, a typical Middle Eastern architectural feature. The schoolroom walls were open to the street but screened from the sun and activity, making it an inviting, pleasant place to learn. Passers-by could take pleasure in hearing the children recite the Qu'an in unison. The construction of this significant building in 1748 CE is credited to Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda, Overseer of Awqaf (Charitable Endowments), who was associated with many Cairo monuments of the period.

Museum with No Frontiers


Sabil (Water Dispensary) and Kuttab (Qur'an School) of Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda, MWNF Working Number: ET 20, Museum with No Frontiers, Discover Islamic Art," at;ISL;eg;M... (accessed April 7, 2009).

How to Cite This Source
Kuttab, or Primary Level Qur’an School in World History Commons,