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About Moorish Spain

For centuries before the Catholic monarchs conquered Granada and claimed its 
beautiful Alhambra, a diverse people ruled Muslim Spain. These are their stories.

The Moors 

The Moors were Islamic people of Arabian and Negro descent, who invaded the Iberian Peninsula, which encompasses modern-day Portugal and Spain, beginning in the Christian eighth century. They called the conquered land al-jazirat al-Andalus, but in later years, the term referred only to the south of Spain and became Andalusia in modern times.

The Moors penetrated the interior and brought three-fifths of the peninsula under their control. They gave their unique culture, rich language, and the religion of Islam to a land that welcomed them at first, for the valuable riches and social order they brought. Where superstition and ignorance once pervaded all elements of life, the Moors brought intellectual pursuit and reasoning. Their blood mingled with that of the Visigoths and produced a mixed race of individuals.

By Islamic law, Muslim men could marry or have relations with non-Muslim women. Periods of zealous anti-Christian and anti-Jewish views occurred and resulted in forced conversion, but mostly, Christians and Jews enjoyed religious tolerance under Moorish rule. Some families chose to convert willingly, for all the requisite benefits including as the avoidance of certain taxes and the gains of political and social advancement, while others practiced their former religion in secret.

Spurred on by religious fanaticism, bigotry, and jealousy of the Moorish achievements, the people of the northern half of the peninsula began the Reconquista, a determined struggle against the Moors. Beginning in the Christian tenth century, the rebellion spread slowly southward, until only one Moorish kingdom remained, Granada, nestled within the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The rulers of Granada were the Nasrid family.

The Nasrid family allegedly arrived in the peninsula during the early stages of the establishment of Moorish rule. They claimed descent from Sa’d ibn Ubadah, a chieftain of the Khazraj tribe in Arabia, a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad. Ibn Ubadah’s descendants settled in the Arjuno region and served in the army of the Umayyad Caliphate, distinguishing themselves in their military leadership as officers and generals. 

A Map of Moorish Spain
Major cities of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy

The Alhambra
Explore the setting of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy

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About Fatima in Sultana & Sultana's Legacy

Fatima, the heroine of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy, lived in a decadent but violent world. She witnessed the reign of the first seven Nasrid Sultans. In her connections to them, she was granddaughter, daughter, sister, mother and grandmother to some of the dynasty's most cultured and cruel men. I've often wondered, since chroniclers of the period tell us so little of Fatima's life, how she viewed the sudden changes that must have drastically altered the world around her. Fatima was truly a remarkable woman, a survivor. In writing about her, I hope the achievements of her family and her personal experiences will shed light on a lesser known era in history and literature.

Fatima possessed no political power of her own, but the sources indicate she had some interest in the machinations of the court. She would have been familiar with its rituals, if not its administration also. She would have seen the men in her life issue edicts that would direct the course of more than Andalusia's history. She would have been familiar with all the cities in the map above, having made her home in Granada and Malaga. Several of her male relations, including uncles, brothers and sons, would have governed each of those cities during her lifetime. 

Her view of the Alhambra, as in the photos above, would have been different. Several parts of the complex did not exist while she lived or they were significantly altered after she died. The walls of the Alcazaba would have towered over her as a child. She would have also witnessed the construction of the Mexuar and the Generalife in later years. But the Patio de los Leones and the Partal existed only after her death.

Though born to privilege and power, Fatima would have learned all too easily that neither offered protection from tragedy and murder. She would have suffered the knowledge of her grandfather Muhammad I's fatal fall from his horse as a teenager. As a woman, the cruel poisoning of her father Muhammad II must have pained her deeply. She could not help but have been affected by the struggles between her brothers, the rulers Muhammad III and Nasr I. Her son Ismail I kept her husband Faraj under guard for the last seven years of his life and later, Ismail overthrew his uncle Nasr I and claimed the throne for himself.

After what should have been her greatest triumph as the mother of the monarch, Fatima personally witnessed another devastating blow as her son bled to death in her chamber from stab wounds inflicted by three of his cousins. Eight years later, Ismail's son Muhammad IV also died by violence, murdered with a lance when he was only eighteen. Fatima must have placed all her hopes for the future on her grandson Yusuf. When I wrote Sultana and Sultana's Legacy, one of many things I did not know was when Fatima died, but further research for other books in the series has indicated that her passing occurred during Yusuf I's reign on February 26, 1349 at dawn. A prominent minister of Yusuf's court wrote of her, "...She was Fatima, daughter of Muhammad II. She was the cream of the kingdom, the central pearl of the dynasty, the pride of the harem women, the height of honor and respect, the link that gave the people protection of the kings and her life was a reminder of the legacy of the royal family."

The ancient Egyptians thought that speaking the name of the dead made them live again and granted them the honor of being remembered for eternity. I hope interest in Fatima's world will continue through new research into the Alhambra's past, the rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty and in the pages of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy.

About Butayna and Maryam in Sultana: Two Sisters

Butayna, the Christian mother of Sultan Muhammad V and the concubine / first wife of Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf I, left no record of her life in the Alhambra. I do not know her original name, the date or location of her birth, or her age when she bore Yusuf his heir. The only certainties are her harem name Butayna, which meant ‘one who possesses a young and tender body,’ her status as a slave in Yusuf’s harem by at least AD 1337 prior to her first pregnancy and her belief in the Christian faith. She was one of apparently five Christian women who became mothers of the Sultans of Granada. Chroniclers of the period learned miniscule details of her life through the deep-seated rivalry she and Maryam shared. Both women sought the throne of Granada for their sons after Yusuf’s death. Butayna became the mother of two of Yusuf’s children, including a younger daughter Aisha.

Period sources referred to Butayna as either a concubine or wife of the ruler Yusuf. As a Christian concubine, she became the first in his harem to bear him a son. Since history most often refers to her as a slave, it is unlikely she ever converted to Islam. Muslim law sanctioned the freedom of all persons who converted. It also recognized the concept of freedom for the slave mothers of children born to Islamic rulers, but the practice was not universal. Most of the Christian West relied on primogeniture (the inheritance by the firstborn). The Muslim West never followed such strict rules. Sons vied with each other for their inheritances, even the throne of Granada. Yusuf’s apparently favorable disposition toward Maryam and her children meant Butayna’s son, even as Yusuf’s firstborn, should not have expected to inherit the throne automatically.

Life altered forever for Butayna on October 19, AD 1354, when Yusuf died. Records indicate she was still alive at this time. Then, Butayna set aside the label of slave forever and became a queen, the mother of the Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad V. Islamic law recognized the manumission of slaves upon the deaths of their masters. Butayna’s role in the harem would have changed. She might have influenced her son’s decision-making and perhaps, the course of Spanish history. I often wonder whether her gains at Muhammad’s side compensated for the trials she must have endured as Yusuf’s slave.

Maryam, the concubine / second wife of Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf I, and the mother of two of his sons, Ismail and Qays, and five of his daughters, Fatima, Mumina, Khadija, Shams and Zaynab, also left no record of her life. One secondary source indicates the modern day understanding of her name as Maryam might be an error in transcribing the original Arabic; instead, the name might have been Rim. Her origins and date of birth are uncertain. A slave like Butayna, she seems to have enjoyed greater influence over Yusuf than her rival did. Maryam gave Yusuf his second son, a boy named for his grandfather Ismail, born on October 2, AD 1338 or 16 Rabi al-Awwal 739 AH. His elder brother Muhammad preceded him by ten months. It is highly likely Maryam conceived Ismail within a short span of time around the birth of Butayna’s first child. Maryam would have enjoyed the same luxuries as her rival in the Alhambra, including close access to the Sultan. In time, her eldest daughter married a red-haired cousin, Muhammad, more commonly known in Castilian Spanish history as El Bermejo. He descended from Yusuf’s grandmother Sultana Fatima through her second son, also named Muhammad, the father of Ismail, who became El Bermejo’s father.

When Yusuf died, Maryam and her children lived under the dominion of Sultan Muhammad V and his mother Butayna would have controlled Muhammad’s harem. Muhammad gave his stepmother and her family quarters in another part of the Alhambra complex. What was life like for Maryam at this time? She went from having influence over one Sultan, her husband, to likely none with her stepson Muhammad V. A step down, just when her star seemed to be rising. It is interesting to consider the possibilities and problems faced by a woman in Maryam’s position. I have portrayed her as greedy and ambitious, just as the sources indicate, but one detail in my characterization is different from the historical record. For dramatic purposes, I have described Maryam as a Jewish woman, but chroniclers of the period indicate she began life as a Christian like Butayna. 

Whatever the truth of their circumstances may have been, Maryam and Butayna were sisters in faith, through their belief in the same God, as well as sisters in bondage within the palace of Alhambra. Each played her part in shaping the future of Muslim Spain. Their compelling lives were the inspiration for Sultana: Two Sisters and I hope readers will be fascinated to learn more about them in the next book in the series, Sultana: The Bride Price.

About the Nasrid Dynasty
A Genealogy Table of Related Characters from Sultana and Sultana's Legacy

A Genealogy Table of Related Characters from Sultana: Two Sisters and Sultana: The Bride Price

Coming Soon!

Wikipedia Project on the Nasrid Dynasty

For several years, I have helped contribute to the Wikipedia entry on the Nasrid Dynasty, donating the wealth of my research to expanding the available information. When I started researching the Nasrid period in 1995, the sources were deplorable or mired in legends and foolish fancies about Moorish culture and society. After amassing so much detail on the Moorish period in Spain and the last Muslim dynasty to rule a significant portion of the country, I had to pay it forward for future generations to learn more about a fascinating history and people. As much as some ridicule the data compiled on Wikipedia, I'm very proud to have added in any small way to the entries on the Sultans of the Nasrid Dynasty and my contributions will continue. 

Other Web Resources on Moorish Spain