One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World's Oldest University by M.O. Yuksel and Mariam Quraishi

Hello, M.O. Yuksel and Mariam Quraishi! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to share One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World's Oldest University's cover. I am grateful you introduced me to Fatima al-Fihri! What a fascinating story!

M.O. Yuksel, when did you first learn about Fatima al-Fihri, and when did you know you wanted to write a picture book biography about her?

M.O. Yuksel: I first learned about Fatima al-Fihri in 2010 at the NYC 1001 Inventions exhibition. I was surprised and enamored by this visionary, trailblazing woman who founded the oldest university in the world over 1,200 years ago in Fez, Morocco. Writing biographies or becoming an author was not on my radar at the time but Fatima was a personal hero I kept tucked away in my heart. When I began writing picture books in 2015 as a result of seeing a gap in the marketplace for Muslim voices, that’s when Fatima al-Fihri and my desire to write a biography about her surfaced. We need stories about women who have changed the world for the better, especially stories about underrepresented women who are often stereotyped, misunderstood, and maligned in our current society.

Mariam Quraishi, I love One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World's Oldest University’s cover illustration. Please tell us about the moment captured on the cover.

Mariam Quraishi: For the cover of ONE WISH, the art director, Dana Fritts and I worked together on number of ideas trying to capture the feeling of holding a wish in your heart. I sketched out Fatima at different ages, with her hands clasped, her eyes closed, sometimes she was in a closer crop and sometimes further away. Since she ages through the course of this story we decided to show her at an aspirational age for our young reader, right at the moment when we think Fatima might have realized her dream, and also at a moment when our readers could see themselves in her. I wanted to give the reader a sense that when they open this book, they’re going to learn about what that glint in Fatima’s eye is and what the building she’s looking at is.

M.O. Yuksel, please finish the following sentence starters:

Mariam Quraishi’s illustrations are delightful, inviting, and full of warmth. I love Mariam’s ingenious use of the main character’s dress and hijab as a thread running throughout the pages of the book.

Nonfiction picture books are a window into history and an introduction to unknown heroes like Fatima al-Fihri and other ordinary people who have contributed to humanity in extraordinary ways; heroes who have illuminated our world and continue to do so even to this day.

Mariam Quraish, please finish the following sentence starters: 

M.O. Yuksel’s manuscript for One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World's Oldest University...An absolute delight! I was so thrilled when I saw this manuscript in my inbox. It’s everything I dreamed of for a project and became such a wonderful vehicle for me as an illustrator especially as someone who is interested in history and I feel so personally, the importance of sharing the stories and histories of Muslims from all over the world.

I got to delve into the history of medieval North African architecture and textiles, I looked up trade routes to see what fabrics and dyes and building materials might have been present in the region in the 9th century. M.O. brought to life, in a very approachable way, the story of a woman we know so little about and I am so grateful she did!

Fatima al-Fihri is so inspiring! I was working on this book throughout the pandemic, and when so many systems and institutions were brought to their knees due to the situation around us, I found a small comfort in thinking of the amazing legacy that Fatima al-Fihri has left behind and just how incredible it is that she made something that has lasted centuries.

Thank you, M.O. Yuksel and Mariam Quraishi!

                                                            Photo credit: Peggy Doyle

M. O. Yuksel's debut picture book, In My Mosque, is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection, and was praised as "marvelous” and “a must” in School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly starred reviews. A graduate of Fordham University and Columbia University, M. O. Yuksel loves writing about diverse cultures and inspiring female role models. For more information about her books, please visit her online at

Mariam Quraishi is an illustrator and designer living in San Francisco. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Mariam favors traditional media, namely watercolor and gouache, for her work. In her free time, she can be found painting the beautiful champa trees and motia flowers from her hometown of Karachi. Whether the chai stains you find in her work are intentional or accidental, she’ll never tell! 


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