Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Sayyida al-Hurra, the Beloved, Avenging Islamic Pirate Queen

 Sayyida al-Hurra, the Beloved, Avenging Islamic Pirate Queen

Sayyida (as she's commonly called) was also known as Hakima Tatwan, which means governor of Tétouan, the northern Moroccan city that she ruled. She was born sometime around 1485 to a prominent Muslim family in the kingdom of Granada, which is part of present-day Spain. Her early childhood was happy, but in 1492—the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue—Sayyida's life changed dramatically. Catholic Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Muslim Granada at the close of the Reconquista, and Henry Kamen estimates in Spain 1469-1714: A Society of Conflict that Spanish armies murdered and enslaved up to 100,000 Muslims and forced another 20,000 to flee.
Among the refugees were Sayyida and her family. Sayyida never forgot the indignity of being forced to flee her home, and she vowed to avenge herself on her Christian enemy.
Sayyida decided to play the long game—she didn't enter piracy until 23 years after her family's exile. In the meantime, she and her family settled in Chaouen, a city in present-day Morocco. She she married a man named Abu al-Hasan al-Mandri, a man many years her senior to whom she'd been promised to as a child. Al-Mandri was the head of another prominent refugee family from Andalusia who lived in and governed nearby Tétouan. (Some sources claim she married the son, al-Mandri II, and not the father, but it seems from the place she obtained in Tétouan's government that she most likely married the elder al-Mandri.)
Despite the age difference, there seemed to be genuine affection, or at least respect, between the pair. Sayyida was her husband's "partner in the diplomatic game," according to Fatima Mernissi in The Forgotten Queens of Islam. They ruled the city side-by-side, united in their hatred of the Spanish and the Portuguese. Together the al-Mandris restored Tétouan, which had been destroyed in 1490. The high walls that fortified the city were re-erected first, and then the Grand Mosque was built. Narrow, mazelike streets warded off invaders, where jewelers and and leather workers hawked their wares in front of low, white houses. The Old City of Tetouan is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, in part due to the restoration work done by Sayyida and her husband.

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