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This study examines the emergence and evolution of madrasa as a specific organizational form of higher learning from a comparative-historical perspective. The article begins by discussing how the madrasa emerged and which factors contributed to its rise and spread among the Islamicate political regimes during the Middle Ages and afterwards. Then, it provides a comparison between the medieval European university and the madrasa, with particular attention to the characteristics of the legal systems on which they were founded and the influences of the political environment on the respective institutions. It is argued that the differences in the legal tradition and the political authority structures may help us to grasp why madrasa and university produced different outcomes in terms of internal governance and institutional autonomy. The short discussion of the Ottoman case, where madrasas functioned as the main higher learning institutions at least until the adoption of the Western-style educational institutions from the 18th century, is presented as an illustrative case to test these assumptions.