Who was Lalla Masuda? Meet Morocco’s 16th Century Sultanate Daughter Who Became a Humanitarian
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
The country of Morocco is home to beautiful culture, exquisite architecture, amazing scientific discoveries, and it is also known as a place of great learning with it having established the oldest university in the world. Did you know, in the 16th century that a Sultan’s daughter became one of the country’s earliest humanitarians? Yes, this is true, and we have the opportunity here to meet this fascinating woman who became a political figure in Morocco during the 1500s. Her name is Lalla Masuda, and she is known throughout history for many things including her humanitarian work, her role in Sufi Islam, and because she was the mother to two future sultans in Morocco.
Early Life & Background:
So, who was Lalla Masuda, and what was her background? Masuda came from a distinguished familial lineage since she was the “daughter of the prince of Ouarzazate, Sheikh Abu Al-‘Abbas Ahmed bin Abdellah al-Wizkiti al Warzazi.” Lalla’s father was famous because he helped to establish the Saadi Dynasty in the Sous-Dra’a area. The Saadian Sultanate was famous for “resisting the Ottoman expansion, making Morocco a regional power, [and for their emphasis on creating cultural products of] art and architecture.” Because of her royal heritage, she was the sultan’s daughter, and Masuda was able to exact change for the poor who lived under the Saadi Sultanate. Historians do not know the exact timeline of when she lived, but it is believed that Masuda may have died around 1591. Lalla Masuda is her westernized name, but in Morocco, and throughout the rest of the Arab World, she is known by a couple of names including Lala ‘Auda and Mas’uda al-Wizkitiya.
Lalla Masuda in her lifetime was considered to be a great humanitarian in her home country of Morocco. She could also be considered a social reformer since she believed in widespread education for her subjects, access to healthcare, and supporting businesses in rural villages. She was also a symbol of female empowerment since Masuda even provided counsel to the sultans who were in charge of the Saadian Sultanate. She engaged in numerous projects including “creating mosques and [Quranic] schools, [gave patronage] to improve the rural roads by connecting them to urban centers, providing access to healthcare, education, constructed bridges, gave legal counsel to the Sultan, supported impoverished communities so young people could recognize their right to have a dowry, and get married.”
Masuda became an advocate for her people, and because of these actions, she has now become highly revered for her charitable work in Morocco. In a way, Masuda could be thought of as the ‘Mother Teresa’ or ‘Gautama Buddha’ of Morocco and the Arab World because of her privileged upbringing, but yet she decided to help the poorest of the poor, and in so doing, she became quite respected.
Lalla Masuda is also known as Lala ‘Auda which meant “the Lady of Return as she would often travel through the countryside bringing fortunes. She has also been called the Free Lady and the Phoenix of the Sahara.”Source: Wikipedia
An interesting point of meaning is that Lalla was called the ‘Phoenix of the Sahara,’ and that is because phoenixes tend to represent rebirth, cycles of life, or remarkable things! Well, Lalla Masuda, definitely fits that notion of being remarkable!
Lalla Masuda’s Legacy:
Lalla Masuda has now developed quite a remarkable legacy mostly due to her wonderful charitable and humanitarian work, but also because of her mothering two future sultans, by her becoming associated with Sufism, the mystical side of Islam, and finally, with her exquisite documentation so we actually get to know who she was.
Masuda is known throughout Morocco for her wonderful work where she supported the sick, educated and provided for the poor, gave patronage to establish mosques, and because of her kind heart which was evident in everything she did. Lalla is also famous because she birthed two future Saadi Sultans, those being Ahmad al-Mansur and Abd al-Malik I. al-Mansur is particularly important to Moroccan history because he was considered an “extremely learned man in Islam, loved books, calligraphy, mathematics, and engaged in awesome scholarly discussions.” In a sense, al-Mansur could be considered to be an early pedagogue. Furthermore, her other son was Abd al-Malik I, who was another sultan in Morocco and fought in a famous battle against Portugal in 1578. Masuda was also considered a waliya which is a saint in Sufi Islam or just a very respected person. Finally, the reason that we know who she is in the first place is because of the extensive notes that she wrote down during her lifetime. To a(n) historian, her documentation is golden because we get to know what life was like during her time from her own perspective.
In conclusion, Lalla Masuda was an amazing woman who cared for her people and she used her status for good in the world. She could definitely be considered an early example of an empowered woman in Moroccan society, and she also used her skills to empower others who were less fortunate. Finally, she leaves behind a great legacy by being the mother to two sultans, caring for the sick and impoverished, and she achieved a sort of respect that is almost on a mystical and divine level by being remembered as a waliya. Lalla Masuda was truly one of the greats in early Moroccan history!
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