A History of Franco-Muslim Education in Morocco and in Northwest Africa


A History of Franco-Muslim Education in Morocco and in Northwest Africa   

Between the 1850s and 1950s, colonial schools called médersas combined elements of French and Islamic educational traditions. First created in Algeria in 1850, the schools spread to the West African colonies of Senegal, French Soudan (today Mali), and Mauritania. The place of Morocco in this history is the subject of this discussion. In the 1910s, early in the protectorate period, the French established two “collèges musulmans,” the Collège Moulay Idriss in Fes and the Collège Moulay Youssef in Rabat. These were similar to the médersas in their curriculum and institutional framework; several of their directors had experience running médersas in Algeria and Senegal. In a field that remains deeply structured by national borders and by the notion of a “Saharan Divide” between North and West Africa, this research reveals close connections between societies usually considered in isolation.

Dr. Samuel Anderson is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He received a PhD in African History from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2018. His research focuses on education, race, and religion in northwest African Muslim societies under colonial rule. His current project examines the médersas, so-called “Franco-Muslim” schools, that combined Islamic and European curricula in a French effort to colonize Islamic schooling and the Muslim elite in the Maghrib and West Africa. He has conducted research on this topic in Algeria, Mauritania, Senegal, France, and now Morocco, with the support of the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS), the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), and other organizations. Portions of this project have been published in the journals Islamic Africa and History in Africa.


This episode was recorded on July 22st, 2022 at the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM)

Download the Podcast:  Feed iTunes / Podbean

Posted by Hayet Lansari, Librarian, Outreach Coordinator, Content Curator (CEMA).

Suggested Readings

Anderson, Samuel D. 2022. “From Algiers to Timbuktu: Multi-Local Research in Colonial History Across the Saharan Divide,” History in Africa 49, 1–23.


Anderson, Samuel D. 2020. “The French Médersa in West Africa: Modernizing Islamic Education and Institutionalizing Colonial Racism, 1890s–1920s,” Islamic Africa 11:1, 42–70.


Anderson, Samuel. D. 2018. Domesticating the Médersa: Franco-Muslim Education and Colonial Rule in Northwest Africa, 1850-1960Ph.D. diss. University of California UCLA.

Launay, Robert, ed. 2016. Islamic Education in Africa: Writing Boards and Blackboards. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Segalla, Spencer. 2009. The Moroccan Soul: French Education, Colonial Ethnology, and Muslim Resistance, 1912–1956. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Brenner , Louis. 2001. Controlling Knowledge: Religion, Power, and Schooling in a West African Muslim Society. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,.

Merrouni, Mekki. 1983. “Le Collège musulman de Fès (1914 à 1956)” Ph.D. diss., Université de Montréal.


Gaudefroy-Demombynes, Maurice. 1928. L’œuvre française en matière d’enseignement au Maroc. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.