Sayyida al Hurra

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Sayyida al Hurra, (Arabic: السيدة الحرة‎‎), full name Sayyida al-Hurra bint Ali ibn Rashid al-Alami, Hakimat Titwan, (1485 - after 1542), was a queen of Tétouan in 1515-1542 and a pirate queen in the early 16th century.[1] She is considered to be "one of the most important female figures of the Islamic West in the modern age".[2]

Allied with the Turkish corsair Barbarossa of Algiers, al Hurra controlled the western Mediterranean Sea while Barbarossa controlled the eastern. She was also prefect of Tétouan. In 1515 she became the last person in Islamic history to legitimately hold the title of al Hurra (Queen) following the death of her husband, who ruled Tétouan. She later married the Berber King of Morocco, Ahmed al-Wattasi, but refused to leave Tétouan to do so. This marriage marks the only time in Moroccan history a King married away from the capital, Fez.[2][3]

The title sayyida al Hurra means "noble lady who is free and independent; the woman sovereign who bows to no superior authority." [4] Hakima Tatwan means governor of Tétouan.[3]


Sayyida al Hurra was born around 1485 (Hijri around 890) to a prominent Muslim family, the Banu Rashid.[1][3] Her family origins were Arab, Berber Moroccan or Andalusian.[3] She fled with her family to Morocco when Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492, at the end of the Reconquista; they settled in Chaouen.[3]

Sayyida's childhood was happy and secure, yet clouded by constant reminders of the forced exile from Granada. She was married at 16 to a man 30 years her senior, a friend of her father, al-Mandri, to whom she was promised when she was still a child.[2] Some sources state she was married to al-Mandri's son, al-Mandri II.[5]

An intelligent woman, she learned much assisting her husband in his business affairs, and after his death in 1515, she became a governor of Tétouan.[3] Spanish and Portuguese sources describe al-Hurra as "their partner in the diplomatic game".[3]

Soon she married again. Her groom, Ahmed al-Wattasi, the King of Fes, traveled to Tétouan to marry her. It is believed that Sayyida insisted on this to show everybody that she was not going to give up governing Tétouan even though married to the King.[3][5]

Sayyida could neither forget nor forgive the humiliation of being forced to flee Granada. In her wish to avenge herself on the "Christian enemy", she turned to piracy. She made contact with Barbarossa of Algiers.[3] Piracy provided a quick income, "booty and ransom for captives", and also helped to keep alive the dream of returning to Andalusia.[3] She was well respected by Christians as a queen who had power over the Mediterranean Sea. She also was the one with whom one had to negotiate the release of Portuguese and Spanish captives.[3][5] For example, in The Forgotten Queens of Islam Fatima Mernissi mentions Spanish historical documents of 1540 according to which there were negotiations "between the Spaniards and Sayyida al-Hurra" after a successful pirating operation in Gibraltar in which the pirates took "much booty and many prisoners".[6]

Some historians believe that the unusual "degree of acceptance of al Hurra as a ruler" could be attributed to "Andalusian familiarity with powerful female monarchs in Spain such as Isabella I of Castile.[5] Others believe that al Hurra succeeded as governor because she was "the undisputed leader of pirates of the western Mediterranean".[7][8]

Sayyida al Hurra lived a life of adventure and romance.[3] After she had ruled as governor for 30 years, her son-in-law overthrew her in 1542. According to the Yemen Times, "She was stripped of her property and power and her subsequent fate is unknown."[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Extraordinary Muslim women". Yemen Times. 06-04-2010. Retrieved 11 February 2011.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ a b c Rodolfo Gil (Benumeya) Grimau. "SAYYIDA AL-HURRA, MUJER MARROQUÍ DE ORIGEN ANDALUSÍ" (PDF). Retrieved 11 February 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mernissi, Fatima (1997). The Forgotten Queens of Islam. Univ. Of Minnesota Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-8166-2439-3. Retrieved 11 February 2011. 
  4. ^ Mernissi (1997), p. 115
  5. ^ a b c d Thomas Kerlin Park, Aomar Boum (January 28, 2006). Historical dictionary of Morocco. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 317. ISBN 978-0-8108-5341-6. Retrieved 11 February 2011. 
  6. ^ Mernissi (1997), p. 193
  7. ^ Ann Marie Maxwell. "The Daring Daughters of Kahena". Retrieved 11 February 2011. 
  8. ^ Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous (2003), "Non-Arab Women in the Arab World" (PDF), al-Raida, Beirut University College. Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World, 20 (101-2): 20, retrieved 11 February 2011