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City in north central Tunisia.

Qairawan (also Kairouan, al-Qayrawan) is located some 100 miles (156 km) south of Tunis. Its population in 2002 was estimated at 162,130. Its economy is based on agriculture, arboriculture, carpets, and leatherwork. Like many North African cities, it has a walled older section and a modern quarter established during colonialism. It was initially a military camp set up by the Arab Muslim invaders spreading Islam during the late seventh century. Gradually a town emerged with the building of mosques, shops, and fortresses; its founding is often associated with Okba (Uqba ibn Nafi), a Muslim general (to whom a mosque is dedicated); others also played a role, however. The city boasts the oldest extant mosque in Africa.

Following upheaval brought on by Kharijite revolts, the town came under Aghlabid rule in the ninth century, and under their patronage it was transformed into an important regional intellectual and religious center, known for its schools and pilgrimage stops. Decline followed, however, as did the pillaging of the city by nomadic groups in the mid-eleventh century. In the early thirteenth century, the capital was moved to Tunis, which became the hub of political and intellectual life in Tunisia. Today, Qairawan is considered a Holy City of Islam, and it is the center of the governorate of the same name.

matthew s. gordon