The university was founded by the three brothers the late KH Ahmad Sahal, K.H. Zainuddin Fannani, and K.H. Imam Zarkasyi, not long after they had founded the Modern Islamic Institution (Pondok Modern) Darussalam Gontor, Ponorogo, Indonesia in 1926.
The school rapid progress and its brilliant achievement soon led to the idea of establishing a world-class Islamic university. It was their cherished desire to establish an Islamic institute of higher learning that can produce genuine and authoritative Muslim scholars (ulama). The first attempt carried out by the founders after the school had its first graduate in 1942, was establishing higher education then so called Underbow and Bovenbow. However, due to colonial and war situation, the program could no longer be carried on. Thus in the 1958 Waqf Charter of Darussalam Modern Islamic Education Institution they made it clear, among others, that the school is no longer their personal property since it belongs now to the Waqf for the Muslim Ummah, and that it must be further developed into an Islamic university and become a major centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies.
Despite all constraints and after a great effort, the idea was realised on the 1st day of Rajab 1383/17th November 1963 with the establishment of Darussalam Institute of Education (IPD- Institut Pendidikan Darussalam). In his inaugural speech, Imam Zarkasyi, the acting Rector, stated that the institute should become like the centuries-old alAzhar University in Egypt, which has survived the vicissitudes of time as the leading centre for Islamic Studies in the world. The hope was also that the institute would follow in the footstep of Aligarh Muslim University in India, which has become a symbol of the Muslim revival through its inculcation of both Islamic and Western knowledge. Furthermore, he hoped the whole guardians and lecturers of the University of Darussalam Gontor are sincere like the Muslim scholars in Syanggit, Mauritania. Meanwhile, the campus is also to be designed like Shantiniketan in India in the previous century, taught the world from the remote part of a small harmonious village.
During 1985, when the late KH. Imam Zarkasyi (the youngest Trimurti) passed away; IPD could not be upgraded to the level of university, in spite of graduating its alumnus regularly. Then in 1994, the IPD (Darussalam Institute of Education) promoted to be ISID, Institut Studi Islam Darussalam (Darussalam Institute of Islamic Studies) on the basis of starting the new faculty of Shari’ah. Two years after, in 1996 this new institute expanded its campus to the new location at Siman, Ponorogo, since then, it could be carried out intensively and independently as well. Furthermore, in 2010 ISID initiated new post-graduate program, and some numbers of departments from the whole faculties are naturally started and developed based on the standard of national accreditation.
With the newly established postgraduate program in Islamic Studies, the institute is now preparing to embark on the next agenda of setting up an Islamic University as conceived by its founding fathers: the University. Based on the Decree of Gontor Waqf Board and the recommendation of the head master of Darussalam Gontor Institution, in 2013 the committee for the establishment of Darussalam University is assigned.
With the whole means of hardworking and efforts, along with the help from various departments as well as the moral supports from the head master of Gontor, the University of Darussalam Gontor finally comes into being. The establishment of this University is based on the Decree of the Ministry of Education and Culture the Government of the Republic of Indonesia no. 197/E/O/2014, dated July 4, 2014. Then in the next Saturday, September 18, 2014, the University of Darussalam Gontor inaugurated officially by his Excellency Prof. Dr. Ja’far Abdussalam, the Secretary General of World Islamic University League at the auditorium of Darussalam Gontor Islamic Institution.