Muslim Women in History - Umm Al-Muqtadir-Billah

Since 2014-01-11

Umm Al-Muqtadir-Billah

She directed state affairs due to the incapacity of her son, the Abbasid caliph Al-Muqtadir-Billah, in the early fourth century Hijrah. In a public square in Baghdad, she set up a tribunal for the purpose of settling people's petitions and lawsuits one day a week. She placed one of her female courtiers as judge. People were scandalized and no one came to her on the first day. On the second day, the woman courtier brought the famous judge Abu'l-Hasan so the public would know that there was scholarly approval. Many wronged people benefited from this increased access to justice, so people soon overcame their resistance to this idea.

Some fourteen years later, military officers formented resentment at the female influence in the state, and staged a coup. After a failed attempt, they killed Muqtadir in a second coup in 320H. His mother, who became ill from shock, was imprisoned. The new caliph, Al-Qahir, demanded all her wealth and brutally tortured her. He then tried to force her to dissolve all her awqaf (trusts) and appoint his agent to sell them. She retorted, "I established these awqaf in the name of charity and in the name of closeness to Makkah and Madinah, for the weak and the poor, and I will not authorize their dissolution and sale."

Qahir then dissolved and sold them anyway (without the formality of her approval). In 321H, Umm al-Muqtadir's condition worsened due to the torture. A prominent townsman who had been her son's supporter cared for her at his own mother's home. She died that year and was buried in the cemetary she had founded on Al-Rusafa (a bank of the Tigris River).

[A'lam an-Nisa, 'Umar Kahhala]


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