“I shall make a mighty sultan out of you, who will rule the whole of Morocco”
Zainab Al-Nafzawiyya was born in the eleventh century in Aghmat (modern day Morocco) – the cultural and commercial center of the region at the time. Her father was a merchant originally from Khairouan who brought up his family and Zainab into a life of wealth and culture. Her exposure to the best that life of 11th century Aghmat had to offer, along with her renowned beauty and intelligence, made her a suitable candidate to marry into a life of rule. She lived in a time of political instability, when different political entities in Morocco vied for control, which led to a series of invasions on Aghmat; one of which, led by Youself ibn Ouatas - the leader of the Maghrawa tribe, resulted in his becoming governor of Aghmat and according to Ibn Khaldun, Zainab as his concubine.
His rule was cut short after an invasion made by Luqut Al-Maghrawi of the Banu Ifrens, the first muslim Berber dynasty (790-1066 ), who captured the city of Aghmat and killed her ruling husband. Again, Zainab found herself the concubine of the invading ruler except this time, Zainab skillfully climbed her way up the concubinal ladder and became Luqut's wife. Their marriage didn't last long, rendering Luqut the first and last of the Banu Ifrens to rule Aghmat following the capture of the city by the invading AlMurabitun, who took control of the city under the generalship of Abu Bakr Bin Umar Al-Lamtooni.
With rumours circling around the city about the magnificent Zainab, Abu Bakr was intrigued and after their meeting, offered her his hand in marriage in 452 AH, 1062 CE. Although she had many suitors throughout her life, Zainab made a vow to marry the man who would rule the whole of Morocco, and she saw that figure in Abu Bakr. In fact, upon making his intentions to marry her, Zainab blindfolded Abu Bakr and led him to see her hidden treasure. She whispered in his ears, all this is yours - as she intended for him to use it to conquer the whole of Morocco.
Abu Bakr trusted Zainab, as his wife and political advisor. He began to build Marrakech for her. But as fate would have it, an uprising in the desert shortly into their marriage forced Abu Bakr to leave Marrakech. Fearing for his own life and knowing his wife was unfit for the hardships of the desert, Abu Bakr divorced Zainab and advised her to marry his cousin and general of Marrakech in his place, Yusuf Bin Tashfin.
According to an excerpt from the Book of Al-Istiqsa, upon divorcing her Abu Bakr is known to have said to her:
يا زينب إني ذاهب إلى الصحراء وأنت امرأة جميلة بضة لا طاقة لك على حرارتها، وإني مطلقك فإذا انقضت عدتك فانكحي ابن عمي يوسف بن تاشفين فهو خليفتي على بلاد المغرب
"Oh Zainab, I am leaving to the desert and you are a very beautiful woman who has no power over her heat. I hereby divorce you and if your waiting period (3 months) expires, then marry my cousin Yusuf bin Tashfin, for he is my successor in the lands of Morocco.”
Thus began her reign with Yusuf Bin Tashfin – she married him in 453 AH, 1063 CE, following her divorce from Abu Bakr, and is famously known to have said to him, “I shall make a mighty sultan out of you, who will rule the whole of Morocco.”
"سأجعل منك سلطاناً كبيرا يحكم المغرب بأكمله"
And indeed, she did.
She served behind the scenes as her new husband's political advisor and through her sound judgement, she turned the Al-Murabitun into the largest Moroccan Dynasty to date, which went on to conquer a territory ranging from Senegal to Al-Andalus, Spain, with Yousef IBn Tashfeen as it's emperor.
He completed the building of Marrakech for her and thus is attributed as being the true founder of Marrakech, turning it into the new capital of Morocco with Zainab as it's “Malika” or Queen. She was dubbed with the title of al-qa'ima bi mulkihi which literally translates to "the one in charge of her husband's mulk or rule." She even counselled her husband into ensuring a peaceful transition of power of one ruler to another when Abu Bakr came back to reclaim his rule in Marakkech from Yusuf. Through her advice and detailed instructions, her husband succeeded in keeping his position as ruler without shedding a single drop of blood.
Through her ingenuity, Yusuf became a great emperor, known as Ameer Aal Mu'ineen or "the ruler of all the faithful." He was in love with Zainab and said once to a confidant that his success came due to the grace of Zainab. The most detailed information about Zainab appears to be in the early 14th-century text Al-Bayan al-Mughrib. The Rawd al-Qirtas dates 1070 CE to be the the year of her death.
6. Al-Bayan Al-Mughrib
7. Rawd Al-Qirtas
8. Kitab Al-Istiqsa