Last week---while watching a television program about the Moorish influence in Andalusia (yes, this is how I spend my free time)---I learned about a female Muslim poet, who might have been omitted for all of the above.
Wallada bint al-Mustakfi was born in 1001 in Córdoba, a town of culture and power significance in Andalusia, the jewel of the Moorish colonies. Although she was the daughter of the caliph, Muhammad III of Córdoba, she nevertheless suffered the same restrictions of all Arab Muslim women. In fact, it was the same for almost all women in medieval times, regardless of religion or culture.
To Wallada, rules were meant to be broken, or circumvented at the least...if they were intended to hold her back from her potential.
I am fit for high positions, by
And am going my way with pride
To get around her inability to speak publicly, she embroidered her poems on her clothing. To make them more visible, she rejected the fashions of Baghdad and wore transparent tunics with no hijab.
History records her as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed and extraordinarily beautiful. She had at least two stormy and passionate affairs with influential men: the politician and poet Ibn Zaydún (who was from a rival clan, thus the affair was secret) and the vizier Ibn Abdús (Zaydún's rival in politics and life, he ultimately ruined Zaydún by seizing his property and imprisoning him).
Abdús became Wallada's life partner, but the vast majority of her work is focused on her affair and break-up with Zaydún.
Forsooth, I allow my lover to
touch my cheek,
And bestow my kiss on him who
If you were faithful to our love you wouldn’t have lost your head over
You dropped a branch in full bloom for a lifeless twig.
You know I am the moon yet you fell for a tiddly star
You know that I am the moon of the skies
But, to my disgrace, you have preferred a dark planet
Wallada's father was assasinated, the common way to change the ruler, but Wallada was independently wealthy, and lived until 1091.
She hosted salons---gatherings for intellectuals and writers---and mentored young women writers.
She was truly a renaissance woman, ahead of her time.
She wasn't the only one either...I discovered more while researching Wallada, including Classical Poems by Arab Women, a Bilingual Anthology compiled and translated by Abdullah al-Udhari.
I am enthralled by this woman, her courage in thwarting convention, and managing to do so successfully for a long and rich life. I grant it was probably due to the privilege of her position, but even noblewomen weren't immune from persecution. Some things I read about Córdoba make it sound like a liberal arty town, maybe a San Francisco of its time, so possibly her position and her setting enabled it. However, she doesn't sound like she'd win any popularity contests; even her own prized student satirized her in verse after her death. But she forged her own path and inspired people, all while adding art that has lasted for centuries.
What grows inside a person that allows them to be so true to the path they see for themselves, even if it is broad of the path society sets for them?
And why don't we learn about these people in school?
I wonder, I really do, what difference it might have made, had I learned about Wallada and others of her ilk...women who lived their lives for themselves, instead of the women we learned about---the very few we learned about---who were primarily extolled for the virtue of their service to community, family, others.
(I've memorialized September 11 and my experience before, so today I wanted to do something more hopeful...something more about people living, without fear. Nevertheless, I do pause in respect and memory today. Today, which is, after six years, starting to be just another day, albeit one that deserves a pause and reflection.)
Note about Hump Day Hmm tomorrow: Take a topic, any topic, something that is weighing on you, bothering you, troubling you...and write about it from a humorous angle. It can be general or personal, just take a troubling topic and bring out the humor. FWIW, sarcasm counts. Letter style, onion style, Shakespeare style, prose, any style you want. Post it up, and email the link to me at j pippert at g mail dot com.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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