Zaytuna, an important mosque and cultural institution in the city of Tunis, was founded in 732 C.E. Zaytuna (in Arabic, "the Olive Tree") mosque became an organized Islamic university in the twelfth century and thereafter was considered one of the most important centers of Islamic scholarship and instruction in North Africa, together with Al-Azhar in Cairo and Al-Qarawiyyin in Fez. Qur˒anic exegesis, Arabic grammar, and Islamic law (shari˓a) were the main subjects offered at Zaytuna. Among the many historical figures who taught at Zaytuna were Muhammad Ibn ˓Arafa, one of the greatest scholars of Islam's Maliki school, and the famous historian Ibn Khaldun.
Zaytuna suffered from the Spanish entry in Tunis in 1534, following which the mosque and library were pillaged. But under the Ottoman rule it recovered some of its prestige, and in 1842 its programs and teaching methods were institutionalized. After the establishment of the French Protectorate (1881), Zaytuna reformed its traditional programs to include a more modern and scientific system of instruction. In the beginning of the twentieth century it bred a generation of Islamic reformist thinkers and played an important role for Tunisian and Algerian nationalist movements.
After the independence of Tunisia (1956), Zaytuna became part of the state university and its library was integrated within the National Library of Tunis.
Abdel Moula, Mahmoud. L'Université Zaytounienne et la société Tunisienne. Tunis: Maison Tiers-Monde, 1984.