Muslim Women: Past and Present

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Throughout the ages, from the earliest days of Islam to contemporary times today, Muslim women have been and continue to be active leaders in their communities and countries across the world. This directory is a growing archive of leading Muslim women scholars, activists, writers, politicians, artists, religious and spiritual leaders, civil society leaders and more. Please contribute to this archive by suggesting Muslim women to be featured through our recommendation form.

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Zainab al-Nafzawiyya

In her time there was none more beautiful or intelligent or witty.

Kitab al-Istibsar

Known For: Co-Ruler of Berber Empire
Dates: Hijri 453 – 501 (AH)
Common Era Ruled from: 1061 – 1107 (CE)

Country: Morocco

About

Zainab al-Nafzawiyya of the Berber Empire, co-ruled the kingdom with her husband Yusuf ibn Tashufin who was the founder of the Tashufinid Dynasty. The influence of their empire spread from Spain and across North Africa.

According to the 14th century text, “Al-Bayan al-Maghreb,” Zainab, after having rejected a number of suitors, citing that she would only marry a man who could govern the entire Maghreb, initially married Yusuf’s cousin Abu Bakr. It was Abu Bakr who began building the city of Marrakech. Yet, when her first husband had to leave her for a substantial period of time to suppress a rebellion in his lands in the desert, they divorced and she subsequently wed Yusuf.

Because of the wealth, connections, and sound counsel Zainab brought to the marriage her husband was able to carve out a large Berber Empire. In 1086, he attacked Spain, re-establishing Islamic primacy in the region. She had the right to the title Malika or queen and was perhaps the most famous Berber queen to bear the honour.

Zainab was renowned in her time as a woman of great beauty, nobility, and intelligence. Some claimed that she was a sorceress and that she controlled jinn. According to legend, the one who was able to win her hand would gain the right to a treasure of gold and pearls, buried underground. Certainly, the wealth that Zainab brought to her marriage with Yusuf indicates that at least the last had some bearing in reality.

Sources of the time name her as the one who ruled her husband’s kingdom in truth. Although her influence was a well-known fact throughout the kingdom, her name was nonetheless excluded from the weekly khutbahs whose purpose was to affirm the ruler’s right to reign. Another 14th century text, “Rawd al-Qirtas” claims that under her direction, Yusuf conquered the Maghreb, and it was Zainab who conducted the negotiations. It was her skill at mediation that earned her the nickname “The Magician.”

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This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women by their Country. We are actively building the archive of Muslim women leaders from the past, as well as from today, and we would welcome your recommendations of women to feature. Please complete our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.
This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women leaders by entering the keyword(s) of your choice. If you cannot find a particular woman that you are looking for, please let us know by completing our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.