I ran across this while I was browsing some Arab websites:

The Arabic Origin of ‘Baccalaureate’ and ‘Bachelor’ By: Abdul-Settar Abdul-Latif

When Oxford and Cambridge Universities were erected as two cradles of sublime learning, the scholastic masters at the time wondered as to the title of the degree the two centres would bestow their graduates maintaining the latter’s rights.

Modern research points to the year 1167 as the date at which Oxford became a stadium generale (A place of study). The research tells that studies at Oxford were suspended nearly in 1209 and accordingly three thousand scholars dispersed, some to Reading, some to Cambridge, some to Paris.

By the end of the twelfth century, Cambridge was to come a town of importance, but it is not still early in the thirteenth century that genuine history records the presence there of a concourse of clerks. In order to be out of their bafflement, there was no harm, the masters believed, from borrowing from the experiences of other peoples who had earlier established their own institutes and centres of learning. Thus Oxford and Cambridge masters tended their faces to the universities of the Moslems’ Orient in order to check, and learn what degree the Islamic universities awarded their graduates.

The famous institute of learning at the time was Al-Ma’moon’s Bait Al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom) which later came to be known as Al-Mustensiriyah University in Abbassaid Baghdad at the early decades of the ninth century. Bait Al-Hikma was founded by Caliph Al-Ma’moon (Haroon Al-Rasheed’s second son) whose tenure ranged from 813 to 833.

The research testifies that Baghdad, as a centre of learning, preceded both Oxford and Cambridge by at least three or four hundred years in defining the prerequisites of learning and education. Also, the research proved that Ancient Al-Mustensiriyah awarded any Moslem student that was graduated a certain license legally, technically, and professionally covering him to “restate what its holder had learnt in the university on the hand of his referred-to Moslem scholars in order to re-teach others elsewhere who could not afford to come to Baghdad to study, for one reason or another”. This is the crux of what was written in the license. But Arabic language is synoptic.

In the license was written a brief term annexed to the holder’s name. It honoured him the legal and professional right to behave within the limits of its privileges. The term can be literary transcribed into English as it is pronounced in Arabic. It is “Bihaqq al-riwayatt” " بحق الرواية ". The term incorporates three Arabic words: ‘Bi’ stands as preposition (with); ‘haqq’ (the right) and “Al-riwayatt” (to restate the learning to somebody else). That is to say ancient Moslem graduate was awarded “with the right to restate the learning to somebody else”.

And this is the true meaning of “Bachelor” or “Baccalaureate” used in almost European languages. Now the term with its preposition “Bihaqq Al-riwayatt” later was taken as a title of the degree itself by European scholars, students and translators who frequented the nearest parts of the Ancient Islamic Empire to, Christendom; these parts were Cordova, Toledo, Castello in Spain and Sicily in Italy as well as Malta as the main Arab centres of learning and rendition at medieval ages.

“Bihaqq Al-riwayatt” thus was exposed to many alterations and modification related to the different new linguistic region the term reached and resided. The above mentioned variations of the term- "Baccalaureate and Bachelor” are in use. This fact is unknown to many people of well-established scholarship.

For instance, The Random House Dictionary of the English Language sets queer etymology for these two variations. While (Bacca + laures), according to The Random, means “laurel berry”, (Bachelor), again according to The Random, is taken from a vulgar Latin word spelled as (baccalaris) that descends from (bacca), itself a variation of a Latin word for (cow=vacca). One wonders what the connection between (dairy farm) or (cows) and (a university degree). The story of the trip the Arabic word took to reach Europe was the topic of an article entitled “Did the Arab Invent the University?” published in The Times Higher Education Supplement, No. 185 (May 2, 1975), p. 11. by R. Y. Ebied & M. J. L. Young

Is this etymology plausible, or is it debunked?

  • 1
    What exactly is your question? Is "Bihaqq al-riwayat" the real origin of Bachelor and Baccalaureate? Instead of copy-pasting, you could've posted that question plus a link to the site where you found this looong text (by the way, difficult to read, with peculiar grammar and some leaps in logic). Won't comment on the ethymology, but find it curious that the title universities confer in Hispanic countries is "licenciado": "the licenced one" i.e. receives a license to legally practice.
    – Joe Pineda
    Mar 29, 2014 at 15:20
  • 5
    That's the meaning of Doctor; from Latin doceo 'I teach', doctor 'one who teaches', specifically one who is licensed to teach in a university. In the twelfth century Arabic was unknown in Europe, and Latin was the universal language of learning. There is no evidence that this, or any other, Arabic phrase ever reached the ears of any European university until centuries later; certainly there is no evidence whatsoever that early European universities (Paris, Bologna, Oxford) adopted an Arabic term for one of their degrees. Mar 29, 2014 at 15:27
  • From "docere" also comes "docente", a very archaic and formal word for a teacher in Spanish. jlawler's right: outside Spain and other places in southern Europe under Muslim domination, nobody knew Arabic - so it was Jews usually who were tasked with translating Arabic texts.
    – Joe Pineda
    Mar 29, 2014 at 15:48
  • OED says that the word bachelor (ME bacheler) originally meant "A young knight, not old enough, or having too few vassals, to display his own banner, and who therefore followed the banner of another; a novice in arms."
    – Alex B.
    Mar 29, 2014 at 16:28
  • 2
    Le Grand Robert adds that OF bacheler (1080) was also used with the same meaning, cf. "Sous la féodalité, Jeune gentilhomme qui aspirait à devenir chevalier, et s'y préparait sous la conduite d'un seigneur."
    – Alex B.
    Mar 29, 2014 at 16:37

2 Answers 2


Yes, it has been debunked many times. Here is one such case: http://www.salaam.co.uk/knowledge/baccalaureate.php

  • 1
    Either your dictionary or your linking skills are at fault: that site tries to support the theory (though without any actual evidence). Debunking the idea would be to say,for example, "The word bachelor was used for a young knight long before the first Arabic university. The origin is not clear, but the progress from there to meaning 'scholar who has completed a course of study but is not ready to teach' is well-documented." Oct 6, 2014 at 12:23

I found this to be a fascinating read in support of the Arabic etymology: http://www.jphogendijk.nl/arabsci/bachelor.html

Synopsis: there is no certain documentary evidence; there were early occidental/european scholars educated at arab institutions, and this is known because they left latin translations of arabic texts; there are historical arabic documents ("ijazat") using the term of art "bi-haqq al-riwaya;" the assonance is there.

While hardly definitive, it is better supported and cited than some other sources.

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