Born in 1011, she was the daughter of Muhammad bin ‘Abd ar-Rahman bin ‘Obayd Allah (known as Muhammad III of Córdoba) and his Ethiopian slave. He was the one of the last Umayyad Caliphs, ruling in Córdoba for only two years before his assassination in 1025. Wallada could not inherit the throne but inherited all his properties, becoming a very wealthy woman. She was considered quite exotic- blonde and blue-eyed in the Berber descendants of the original invaders. She had been very well educated, and was known for her wit, charm, singing and poetry.
When she was thirty, she sold the properties and set up a literary salon, where she competed with men in poetry. It was probably there in poetry competitions she met Abu al-Waleed Ahmad Ibn Zaydún al-Makhzuml, known as Ibn Zaydún. From different sides of the political gap, they had a very public passionate affair. In the poetry competitions, she had said-
I fear for you, my beloved so much, that even my own sight even the ground you tread even the hours that pass threaten to snatch you away from me. Even if I were able to conceal you within the pupils of my eyes and hide you there until the Day of Judgment my fear would still not be allayed.
He then answered back-
Your passion has made me famous among high and low your face devours my feelings and thoughts. When you are absent, I cannot be consoled, but when you appear, my all my cares and troubles fly away. When she offers me jasmine in the palm of her hand I collect bright stars from the hand of the moon.
Ibn Abdús, the vizier, was a jealous rival. He had Ibn Zaydún watched and caught him with Wallada’s black slave girl. Spurned, Wallada wrote this-
If you had been truly sincere in the love, which joined us, you would not have preferred, to me, one of my own slaves. In so doing, you scorned the bough, which blossoms with beauty and chose a branch, which bears only hard and bitter fruit. You know that I am the clear, shining moon of the heavens but, to my sorrow, you chose, instead, a dark and shadowy planet.
Wallada then moved into the house of Ibn Abdús and walked the streets of Córdoba with him, side by side. This made Ibn Zaydún jealous, and he wrote-
You were for me nothing but a sweetmeat that I took a bite of and then tossed away the crust, leaving it to be gnawed on by a rat.
This outraged Wallada, who then outed Ibn Zaydún-
The nickname they give you is Number Six and it will stick to you until you die because you are a pansy, a bugger a fornicator a cuckold, a swine and a thief. If a phallus could become a palm tree, you would turn into a woodpecker.
While homosexuality was illegal, in some places in Andalus it had been accepted. However, since a public scandal happened due to the poetry, he was imprisoned in Seville. He was eventually released, but was a broken man, only returning to Córdoba once. They renewed their relationship while he was in Córdoba, but it was still politically divisive.
Wallada, while living with the vizier Ibn Abdús, never married him and walked the streets of Córdoba without a hijab. When she was called a harlot by the local religious authorities, she had her poems embroidered on her clothes. On the left it said-
I am fit for high positions by God and am going my way with pride.
and on the right-
I will give my cheek to my lover and my kisses to anyone I choose.
Wallada died on March 26, 1091. She lived in a time of great political and religious upheaval. Conservative Islam had been rising during her life and it telling that she died on the day the conservative Berbers the Almoravids invaded Spain.
Wallada Bint al-Mustakfi: The Poetess of Andalus in Al Shindagah.
Hispano-Arabic poetry: a student anthology by James T. Monroe. Via Google Books.
Poems of Arab Andalusis edited by Cola Franzen. Via Google Books.
Ibn Zaydun & the Princess Wallada by Wijdan al Shommari. From Andalucia.com.
Walladah al-Mustakfi (1011-1091 / Spain) on PoemHunter.com.
‘I Am, by God, Fit for High Positions’: On the Political Role of Women in al-Andalus by Nada Mourtada-Sabbah and Adrian Gully. JStor article.
Ubi Sunt: Memory and Nostalgia in Taifa Court Culture by Cynthia Robinson. JStor article.
The “Nūniyya” of Ibn Zaydūn: A Structural and Thematic Analysis by Raymond K. Farrin. JStor article.