Sayyida al Hurra

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Sayyida al Hurra, (Which translates to "Lady who is free and independent") (Arabic: السيدة الحرة‎), real name Lalla Aicha bint Ali ibn Rashid al-Alami, Hakimat Titwan, (1485 - July 14, 1561[1]), was a queen of Tétouan in 1515-1542 and a pirate queen in the early 16th century.[2] She is considered to be "one of the most important female figures of the Islamic West in the modern age".[3]

The life of Sayyida al Hurra can be understood within geopolitical and religious contexts. The Ottomans had just captured Constantinople in 1453 marking the end of the Roman Empire. She was two years old when the Portuguese started their colonial conquest by capturing some ports at the western coast of Morocco starting the year 1487. A few years later, Granada was falling into the hands of the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Católicos) Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon and with that, forced conversions of Muslims in Spain followed.

Allied with the Turkish corsair Barbarossa of Algiers,[4] al Hurra controlled the western Mediterranean Sea while Barbarossa controlled the eastern.[5] 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.[3][6]


The title Sayyida al Hurra means "noble lady who is free and independent; the woman sovereign who bows to no superior authority." [7] Hakimat Tatwan means governor of Tétouan.[6]

Early life[edit]

Sayyida al Hurra was born around 1485 (Hijri around 890) to a prominent Muslim family of Andalusian nobles who fled to Morocco after the fall of Grenada in 1492.[2][6] She is a descendant of Sharif Abd as-Salam al-Alami,[3] who is a descendant of Hasan ibn Ali[8]. 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 and settled in Chefchaouen.[6]

Sayyida's childhood was happy and secure, yet clouded by constant reminders of the forced exile from Granada. During her childhood, she was given a first-class education. She was fluent in several languages which included Castilian Spanish and Portuguese. The famous Moroccan scholar Abdallah al-Ghazwani was one of her many teachers.[1] She was married at 16 to a man 30 years her senior, a friend of her father and refounder and governor of the city of Tétouan, himself an Andalusian Moorish refugee,[9] Ali al-Mandri, to whom she was promised when she was still a child.[3] Some sources state she was married to al-Mandri's son, al-Mandri II.[10]

As Governor of Tétouan[edit]

An intelligent woman, she learned much assisting her husband in his business affairs. She was a de facto vice-governor, with her husband entrusting the reins of power to her each time he made a trip outside the city. When the latter died in 1515, the population, who had become accustomed to seeing her exercise power, accepted her as a governor of Tétouan, giving her the title of al-Hurra.[6] Spanish and Portuguese sources describe al-Hurra as "their partner in the diplomatic game".[6] Some historians believe that the unusual "degree of acceptance of al Hurra as a ruler" could be attributed to "Andalusian familiarity with female inheriting power from monarch families in Spain such as Isabella I of Castile.[10] Others believe that al Hurra succeeded as governor because she was "the undisputed leader of pirates of the western Mediterranean".[11][12]

In 1541, she accepted a marriage proposal from Ahmed al-Wattasi, a Sultan of the Moroccan Wattasid dynasty, who traveled from Fez to Tétouan to marry her. Her marriage with him was the only recorded instance of a Moroccan king marrying outside of his capital. This occurred because she was not ready to give up her role as queen of Tétouan or even to leave the city for the marriage ceremony, forcing al-Wattasi to come to her.[2] It is believed that Sayyida insisted on this to show everybody that she was not going to give up governing Tétouan despite being married to the Sultan.[6][10]

Sayyida al Hurra lived a life of adventure and romance.[6] She concurrently appointed her brother Moulay Ibrahim as vizier to Ahmed al-Wattasi, Sultan of Fez, and this placed the Rashids as major players in the effort to unify Morocco against the fast-growing powers of Spain and Portugal[13].

As a corsair[edit]

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 the Ottoman pirate Barbarossa of Algiers.[6] Piracy provided a quick income, "booty and ransom for captives", and also helped to keep alive the dream of returning to Andalusia.[6] 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.[6][10] 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".[14]

Later life[edit]

After she had ruled as queen for 30 years, her son-in-law Muhammad al-Hassan al-Mandri overthrew her in October 1542.[15] According to the Yemen Times, "She was stripped of her property and power."[2] Accepting her fate, she retired to Chefchaouen, where she lived nearly 20 years more, until July 14, 1561.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Malika VI: Sayyida Al-Hurra". AramcoWorld. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "Extraordinary Muslim women". Yemen Times. 6 April 2010. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d Rodolfo Gil (Benumeya) Grimau. "SAYYIDA AL-HURRA, MUJER MARROQUÍ DE ORIGEN ANDALUSÍ" (PDF). Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  4. ^ Klausman, Ulrike (2010). Women Pirates and the Politics of the Jolly Roger. Perseus Book LLC. p. 98. ISBN 1282000012. OCLC 892994261.
  5. ^ Qazi, Moin. Women in Islam : exploring new paradigms. ISBN 9789384878030. OCLC 906544767.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Mernissi, Fatima (1997). The Forgotten Queens of Islam. Univ. Of Minnesota Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-8166-2439-3. Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  7. ^ Mernissi (1997), p. 115
  8. ^ Kugle, Scott A. (2011). Sufis and Saints' Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality, and Sacred Power in Islam. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. 300.
  9. ^ Archivos del Instituto de Estudios Africanos, Volume 4. El Instituto, 1950 - Instituto de Estudios Africanos (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spain)). 1950. pp. 85, 94, 97.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Ann Marie Maxwell. "The Daring Daughters of Kahena". Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Verde, Tom; Solans Verde, Leonor (January–February 2017). "Malika VI: Sayyida Al-Hurra". AramcoWorld. Retrieved 17 July 2018.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  14. ^ Mernissi (1997), p. 193
  15. ^ Daoud, Mohammed (1993). History of Tétouan (تاريخ تطوان) (PDF) (in Arabic). p. 122. Retrieved 7 October 2018.