The American University of Iraq – Baghdad (AUIB) is a non-profit University opened its doors in January 2021. As a “non-profit” university, all fees and tuition payments are used to pay some of the costs of operating the university, but they are not enough to pay everything. For this reason, the university and its sponsors seek funding from outside sources to support scholarships and other costs to keep tuition and fees as low as possible for AUIB students.
AUIB began as a dream of influential individuals in Iraq and United States business, industry and government who want to see a world-class institution of higher learning established in Baghdad, reminiscent of the days when the city was an educational and cultural mecca and the flourishing capital of the Muslim world. AUIB follows in the tradition of three historical institutions in Baghdad: the House of Wisdom, al-Nizamiyah Madrasah, often described as “the largest university in the medieval world,” and al-Mustansiriyah Madrasah.
The first of these, the House of Wisdom, was a major intellectual center during the Islamic Golden Age. From the 9th to the 13th centuries this prestigious academy attracted scholars from throughout the region. The House of Wisdom - a precursor to modern universities - became a major center of teaching and research in the humanities and sciences with studies conducted in mathematics, chemistry, zoology, geography, astronomy and more. For nearly 500 years, the House of Wisdom hosted the cream of the intellectual elite. By the 9th Century, the House of Wisdom had grown into the largest repository of books in the world, but was destroyed during the sack of the city following the Mongol siege of Baghdad, thus beginning the decline of the Islamic Golden Age.
The second of these great institutions, al-Nizamiyah Madrasah of Baghdad, was established in 1065 but like the others it was also sacked during the Mongol siege in 1258. Offering a free education, within thirty years, it had grown to over 3000 students and was soon recognized as the “largest university in the medieval world.”
Finally, the third of these institutions, the al-Mustansiriyah Madrasah, was established in 1227 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir. While it taught such subjects as medicine, math, literature, grammar, philosophy and Islamic religious studies, its major focus was Islamic law. As with the other two institutions, the Madrasah was sacked during the Mongol siege of Baghdad in 1258. This architectural treasure continues to live on today as part of al-Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad.
In spite of all these challenges, Baghdad remained a vibrant, thriving city. There was freedom of expression and cultural and religious tolerance. With its wide tree-lined streets, outdoor cafes, busy food stalls and bookstores, Baghdad was wealthy and proud. For several centuries, it was truly the intellectual and cultural capital of the Arab World.
All of this changed in the 1980s with wars in the region. Until recently, Baghdad was under a near-continuous stage of siege that all but destroyed the city. Today, the founders of AUIB are establishing a new university that is now paving the way for a complete revival of Iraq.