Queen of Yemen and Patron of the Arts
Hijri Unknown–480 (AH); Common Era Unknown-1087 (CE)
Asma bint Shihab was the wife of Ali bin Muhammad al-Sulayhi, the King of Yemen, who reigned from 1047-1067. A notable woman, she was independent and took an active role in the affairs of the state. Because of the Fatimid endorsement of equal education for both women and men, Ali entrusted her with care of the realm and she attended state councils with her face unveiled. Her name was declared alongside her husband’s from the mosque pulpits during Friday khutbas. Queen Asma was also an active influence on the life of the future Queen Arwa for whom she acted as a teacher, and doubtlessly, an admirable role model. She also taught her son, ensuring that both he and his wife were equipped with the necessary tools to be successful rulers. Commentaries of the time indicate intelligence, the breadth of her knowledge, and her role in promoting the arts and acting as a patron for poets. After her husband fell victim to tribal vendetta and was murdered in 1067 while on Hajj, Queen Asma was held prisoner for a year before her son managed to free her. After he fell ill, she acted on behalf of her son Ahmed al-Mukarram. Since Ahmed was paralyzed, Queen Asma continued in her active role in managing the state. After her death, Queen Arwa assumed Asma’s place of power, continuing on the tradition of strong Yemeni queens into another generation.