In the 8th century, the school happened to be one of the leading Islamic learning centers in the world. Habib Bourguiba, an independence leader and secularist strongman, forced the school to shut down in order to curtail the religious influence in Tunisia. Its ancient university was merged with the state's Tunis University.
The residents of Tunis witnessed the beginning of Islamic revival when a court official stepped forward and unlocked the huge wooden doors of the historic school. The volunteers took no time to start cleaning up the dust from the chairs and furniture on which once great Islamic scholars used to sit and learn Islamic teachings.
The ancient school of Zaitouna Mosque was known to spread moderate brand of Islam and was once popular in the North Africa. The religious scholars and activists are optimistic that the school would again play a vital role in countering the spread of radical views.
Fathi Al-Khamiri, the head of a pressure group that won court orders for the school to be reopened, said, "The return of this religious educational beacon is very important in light of the increased religious extremism that we are living with."
"The aim is to restore Zaitouna's educational and religious role in Tunisia and North Africa in order to spread the principles of moderate religion," he added.
He informed that the teachers of the college are currently being recruited and the curriculum will be finalized in coming days. The school will come under direct scrutiny of the Ministry of Higher Education in the country like other academic institutions.
The religious school at Zaitouna Mosque once competed vigorously with the Al-Azhar University of Egypt in terms of top Islamic learning centers in the world. However, the former President Bourguiba hindered the strides of the Islamic institution in the 1950s and the same attitude was followed by his successor Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali who, during his 23-year rule, imprisoned thousands of religious scholars. Last year’s revolution in Tunisia wiped out the power of the dictator and brought the moderate Islamist Ennahda party into power after winning the elections.
The rejuvenation of the school was welcomed by dozens of men and women who also gathered to claim their places. There were bundles of applications visible on a table for the enrolment in religion course that includes theology, morals and the life of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). The school formally commences classes next month for the students of 18-20 years.
A good number of women were also witnessed on the steps of historic Zaitouna Mosque who were getting themselves familiar with the bright history of Zaitouna by a religious scholar.
A woman said that she had brought her daughter to get enrolled in the school so that she would knew how Islam protects the rights of women and she would be able to understand the deception of extremists who always distort the real teachings of Islam.
The people at the opening believed that the school’s moderate version of Islam will bring the message of openness, moderation and tolerance among young people and it will also restrain them to join the extremists who carry arms.