Madrasa comes from ancient Latin and, directly translated, means 'place of education', ie. a school or training centre for skills. Used in this way, it means higher education in the Islamic religion.
With the introduction of Madrasas, an Islamic institution was created, combining in the same building, prayer rooms, classrooms, a library and a home for the students. Apart from the mainly religious books, the library also contained publications on mathematics, medicine, grammar, astronomy, geography and philosophy.
As part of the further development of this institution the Madrasas became part of the mosque or was built close to it.
The reason for the start of a new Madrasa could be a religious foundation (wagf), where the founder could decide the complete program of learning, particulary the content of ethics classes (madhhab) and also the number of students and teachers. The oldest examples of schools like this were mainly private in character, because some parts of the private home of the founder were also used for lessons.
With the foundation of the Madrasa al-Nizamiyaya (1066) in Baghdad under the reign of the Seldjuk King Nizam al-Mulk (1018 ? 1092), the system became the most important and was seen as the best example to follow for the introduction of more, now-state-supported schools. In the al-Madrasa al-Mustansiriyya (founded 1234) all four forms of moral education were allowed to be taught.
In the Islamic west the Madrasa of Fes, called Almohaden Ya´qub ibn al-Mansur founded in 1285 was the most important one. It was founded by al-Quarawiyyin, next to the main mosque. Most of the schools founded in Tunisia where from the Hafsides, between 1229 and 1574, the best-known one being al-Zaytuna, which got its name from the mosque next to it in Tunis.
There are just four Madrasas left which still, with certain exceptions, teach religious studies in the old traditional way: al-Azhar in Cairo, Dar ul-Úlum in the north Idian region of Deoband, al-Zaytuna in Tunis and al-Quarawiyyin in Fes.
Two others which are still important Seldjuk Madrasa are the Gök (blue) Medrasa and the Cifte Minare Madrasa (with the two minarets) in Sivas.