Browse Primary Sources

Kuttab, or Primary Level Qur’an School

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.

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Maqamat al-Hariri, Kuttab School

In this painting of a kuttab, or primary school, boys sit on a mat or carpet huddled close together with their writing boards. Boys, and sometimes girls, learned to recite the Qur'an at an early age, as well as the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic in schools called kuttabs. It might be held in a mosque, a building especially for the purpose, or an open courtyard, as in West Africa.

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Thumbnail of women and children in mosque

Majalis al-‘ushshak: Gathering in a Mosque

This image from a 16th-century Persian manuscript illustrates the visit of a renowned teacher to a mosque. Such visits were much anticipated, and this image demonstrates the wide range of people who attended. Seating arrangements illustrate the social organization for the event. The guest of honor sat on the seat at the top of the minbar, or pulpit, while the older men sat in the first row.

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Thumbnail of sheep shaped cake mold

Animal Baking Mold

This hollow cast iron container is a baking mold used for shaping bread or cake for children, according to archaeologists. It was excavated with a similar elephant mold. The mold is from the excavation of Hallado en al-Fudyan in Jordan, dated to the 8th century CE, during the Umayyad Islamic period. The mold is 17 cm high, 16.5 cm wide, and 6 cm deep (6.7 x 6.5 x 2.4 inches).

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Thumbnail of fanoos making father and son

Child in Ramdan Lantern Family Workshop

In the weeks and months before the start of Ramadan, the ninth lunar month when Muslims fast, traditional workshops like the one on Ahmad Maher Street in the medieval quarter of Cairo, turn recycled tin cans into glittering lanterns.

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Thumbnail of girl looking at lantern

Egyptian Ramadan Lanterns

The photograph at the top shows two children gazing into the soft light of a fanoos [fan-NOOS], or traditional Ramadan lantern. In the photograph below, Ramadan lanterns are hung outside a shop in a section of medieval Cairo. As far as is known, the tradition originated in Egypt, perhaps as long ago as pharaonic times, when it may have announced the Nile flood.

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Eid Holiday Amusements

On the two major celebrations of the Islamic lunar calendar—Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—public festivities in cities and towns across Muslim regions of Asia, Africa, and elsewhere include rides of various kinds. In the photograph at top from Jenin, in the West Bank city of Palestine, children and young adults ride a whirling disk brought in for the occasion.

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Thumbnail of ijazahs diploma

Ijazahs (Diploma)

During the medieval period, gifted children who successfully memorized the entire Qur'an left their home at the age of about 12-14 to travel to a nearby town and eventually around the Middle East to study with renowned academic authorities to hear historical, religious, philosophical, and legal texts.

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Education in a Warzone

In some regions of the Middle East today, conflict impacts students' daily educational experience. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, militants have targeted educational establishments, thousands of academics have fled the country, and up to 70% of schools have been closed. People in this region maintain their high regard for education in the face of adversity, as this podcast relates.

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Thumbnail of Rosas painting

Manuelita

Manuela Rosas (1817-1898), the daughter of Juan Manuel de Rosas, emerged as one of the most important political symbols of the early 19th century. In 1838, her mother, Doña Encarcación, died, and her father proclaimed his daughter as the nation's first lady. At the age of 21, Manuela was thrust into a new political role. By all accounts, she was very popular.

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