Taking a look back at Fatimah el-Sharif – last Queen of Libya

(public domain)

Often, Middle Eastern and African royal ladies are overlooked and overshadowed in the traditionally male-dominated society. As a result, there are numerous royal women from the Middle East and Africa who are not written about or discussed like their European counterparts. We are taking a look at one such lady.

(public domain)

Fatimah el-Sharif was the last queen consort in the Kingdom of Libya before the monarchy was overthrown in 1969. She was the wife of King Idris I who reigned from 1951 to 1969.

Fatimah was born in 1911 in what was Italian Libya in the Oasis of Kufra as the fifth daughter of Ahmed Sharif as-Senussi – who was the former 3rd Grand Seussi of the Senussi order of Sufism – and Khadija bint Ahmad al-Rifi. Her mother was the daughter of an influential general in the country, Ahmad al-Rifi. Her father was known for his involvement in the resistance toward the colonial forces in the African nation at the time.

When Fatimah was just 20-years-old, she married her first cousin, Idris, who was then the Emir of Cyrenaica. The couple married in 1931 in Siwa, Egypt, and were said to have a happy marriage. Sadly, they would only have one biological child, a son, in 1953. However, their time as parents to their son was short lived. He died at just one day old; Fatimah and Idris adopted an Algerian orphan girl named Suleima who survived both her parents. They also fostered several other children during their lifetime.

Twenty years after their union, Idris ascended the Libyan throne on 24 December 1951. Three years later was a devastating time for her as her nephew assassinated an advisor to the King, Ibrahim al-Shelhi. He did this due to a rumour that the advisor had convinced the King to divorce Fatimah and marry his daughter. Kind Idris responded by having Fatimah’s nephew killed.

Due to their lack of an heir (as an adopted child did not count in the line of succession), Fatimah supported Idris marrying again to secure an heir and even selected two women for him to choose from. Idris elected to go another direction and married an Egyptian who had been suggested by his premier. While still married to Fatimah, Idris married Aliya Khanum Effendi on 6 June 1955. Since he was still married to Fatimah, she refused to leave the residence in Tobruk; the couple would reconcile just a few months later. The King would divorce Aliya in 1958.

Fatimah el-Sharif was a very visible queen who attended many public events and was said to be able to quickly put people at ease. She was also known for her humour and elegant style. While as queen consort, she became a role model for fellow Libyan women and showed them a new way of life.

Muammar Gaddafi led the coup in 1969 against the monarchy, but when it began Fatimah and Idris were in Turkey. The couple had no money and were only able to get to Greece with the help of the Turkish government who paid for their hotel and travel. Fatimah, who was a strong supporter of her husband, wrote to a friend telling of her troubles and frustration that they could not perform the fasting for Ramadan in European countries. As a result, they travelled to Cairo in November where she remained until her death.

The Libyan People’s Court tried her in absentia in November 1971; they froze her assets and sentenced her to five years in prison, which she did not serve as she remained out of the country.

Fatimah died at age 98 in Cairo on 3 October 2009. Idris had predeceased her in 1983. Her body was taken to Saudi Arabia so that it could be buried alongside her husband and father in the Al-Baqi’ cemetery. However, Saudi Arabia denied the family’s request to bury her there. So, after the traditional Muslim funeral prayer salat al-Janazah in the Al-Masjid an-Nabawī Mosque, the family chose to lay her to rest in the Hamza Cemetery in Medina, close to Mount Uhud, on 7 October.



About Brittani Barger 48 Articles
My name is Brittani, and I am from Tennessee, USA. I have a B.A. in Political Science and History from the University of Tennessee: Knoxville, and I’m currently pursuing my master’s degree at Northeastern University. I’ve been passionate about history since I was a child. My favorite areas to study and research are World War II through the Cold War, as well as studying the ancient Romans and Egyptians. Aside from pursuing my passion for writing about history, I am the Europe Editor for Royal Central. I am also an avid reader who believes you can never stop learning! On any weekend in the fall, you can find me watching college football (American football) and cheering on my Tennessee Volunteers! You can contact me on Twitter @brittani_91 .

3 Comments

  1. I wonder why the Saudi’s refused to allow Fatimah to be buried beside her husband and father. They did however allow her to be buried in another location in Saudi Arabia. Was there something special about Al-Baqi cemetery. Perhaps no women , even if dead , allowed internment ?

    • Al-Baqi cemetery is where the Prophet Muhammad’s family is buried, which includes his wives, daughters, nurse and aunt. It is located close to the mosque where he is buried. I can’t say for a fact, but it could be that only those women who were related to Muhammad were allowed to be buried there. Saudi Arabia obviously has strict rules about women and men associating, and since this is an important place for Muslims, it could also be she wasn’t allowed to be buried there for that reason.

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