Sultana Morayma: the Last Queen of Al Andalus

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

UnnamedAt the end of the story, in its final pages, is a queen. Not the pious despot Isabella of Castille who is about to command the Inquisition, or the embittered, vengeful Sultana Aixa la Horra who is inciting war within the house of Nasrid, but the queen who is obscured from view on this history’s chessboard, whose life and death will come to be a veritable symbol of the paradox that is Al Andalus, the queen who prevails as the enduring shadow of a legend. Her name is Morayma.

Eight hundred years have passed in Al Andalus, Muslim Spain— years turning like great mills, a resplendence of work reflected in books and buildings, cities and institutions, technology and aesthetics, bridging antiquity with modernity, east with west, fissured periodically but sewn back again and again by Iberian Muslims, Jews and Christians. Al Andalus, which, under Muslim rule, has brought about a transformation simply through inter-translation, which has dared to find direction in deviation from the known and accepted, where the Abrahamic people have found enough peace to transcend literalism and worship willingly in each other’s sacred places, to inscribe the other’s scripture on their own walls, is collapsing.

It is 1482; the year Morayma weds the Nasrid prince Abu Abdullah who is known in history mostly by nicknames: Boabdil, or Rey el Chico (“little king”), or El Zygobi (“the unfortunate one”). The house of Nasrid is at war. All that signifies Al Andalus — the books, maps, machines, manuals, poetry, medical and musical instruments, recipes, calligraphy— is about to be destroyed forever; a near-millennium of civilization utterly wiped out by the crushing machinery of the Inquisition; a tyranny of epic proportions poised to swallow an epic legacy of tolerance. It is the year that Morayma’s fate becomes knotted with the fate of the last Andalusi bastion, Granada.

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