Education was a central question in 19th-century European debate on issues of obligation and secularity. In the second half of the century, the colonial powers – particularly France and the United Kingdom – made efforts to advance these (to them) vital issues in their colonies, protectorates and spheres of interest in the Arab and Ottoman world. Sociopolitical movements on both sides of the Mediterranean attributed importance to the ultimate purpose of modern public education as a key factor in the economic, political and cultural advancement of society. Subsequently, in the Middle East, two systems came to coexist: Western-style public and private school education, which left little room for Arabic language and Arab culture, and traditional teaching in Qur’anic schools, which affirmed religious faith and Arab identity.
Zaytuna University

19th century

Institut Supérieur d’Histoire Contemporaine de la Tunisie, Tunis, Tunisia


Traditional Islamic education emphasised memorisation of the Holy Qur’an, the study of hadith, grammar, Islamic jurisprudence, and other related subjects such as philosophy and astronomy. In the 19th century, European-inspired schools were founded in the Arab and Ottoman world, coexisting with traditional institutions.

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