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The Fascinating Story of the First Woman Sultan of India

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Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Razia Sultan was the first woman Muslim ruler of the Indian Subcontinent.

Razia Sultan was the first woman Muslim ruler of the Indian Subcontinent.

Razia Sultan Left an Indelible Imprint on India’s History

After a successful rule of 25 years, when the sultan Iltutmish of the slave dynasty in India lay on his death bed, he took an extraordinary decision. His decision not only rewrote history but also dealt with an irreparable blow to the patriarchal mindset prevalent during his time.

He nominated his daughter Razia as the next sultan of the empire saying.

"This little girl of mine is superior to many sons."

And the little girl did not disappoint him. Razia Sultan ruled over India for just about four years between 1236 and 1240 but she left an indelible imprint on India’s history, still continuing to be the source of inspiration for millions of Indian girls who are told every day they cannot be better than boys.

In a religion that is notoriously infamous when it comes to women's rights and equality, history proclaims Razia Sultan as one of the very few female rulers in the history of Islamic civilizations across the world.

In fact, it also gives a chilling lesson to the hardliners of today’s world; Islam granted rights of inheritance to women more than 1000 years before they were granted to European women. But sadly, the guardians of today have not learned much from it.

Yes, while there have been many books, serials, soap operas, and movies written and made on her, but sadly most of them seem to focus only on her love life with her slave rather than her political and administrative acumen as a monarch of excellence. It is time we give her back her rightful place in the annals of women empowerment.

Sultan Iltitmish took an extraordinary decision by nominating his daughter Razia as the next sultan despite having multiple sons.

Sultan Iltitmish took an extraordinary decision by nominating his daughter Razia as the next sultan despite having multiple sons.

The Story of Razia Sultan

Razia was born Iltutmish and Qutub Begum in 1205. As a child and later in her growing age, she was treated no differently from her brothers. She was trained in professional warfare and was taught military skills, along with her siblings.

She also had a strong knowledge of governance and administration under the tutelage of her father and soon she became the trusted advisor of her father in military and strategic issues.

And when she took over the throne on 10 November 1236, with the official name of Jalâlat-ud-Dîn Raziyâ, one of the first decisions she made was to do away with her traditional Muslim woman attire, including the pardah, which invited the fury of conservative Muslims. Instead, she chose to wear a gender-neutral attire in the lines of her male counterparts that was ‘not very acceptable’ in her time.

And she also did away with the term ‘sultana’ instructing all to call her sultan instead. Her justification was that ‘sultana’ meant wife or mistress to a sultan and she considered herself second to none.

And as a sultan, her roaring address at the Quwwatul Islam Masjid in Delhi was one of the best speeches made by any woman in history at a mosque. In fact, in times where women only used to go to mosques, she became a unique aberration by building beautiful mosques.

Razia's coins call her Sultan Jalalat al-Duniya wal-Din . The Sanskrit language inscriptions of the Sultanate call her Jallaladina

Razia's coins call her Sultan Jalalat al-Duniya wal-Din . The Sanskrit language inscriptions of the Sultanate call her Jallaladina

Razia Sultan Was a Great Administrator

She was called the builder and intellectual queen, and, in her reign, she established a host of schools, academies, centers for research, and public libraries. She modified the syllabus of subjects taught in schools by introducing more advanced topics in science, philosophy, astronomy, and literature to stimulate curiosity within children. She was a follower of peace with war being only the last option and, in her reign, there was complete peace all over her domain.

She was also a secular Sultan and she treated the Hindus with full justice and respect under her rule. She gave prominent positions to Hindu scholars in science and technology and encouraged them to work as equal citizens in the national interest.

Not only this, she herself contributed to the field of craftsmanship, painting, and fine arts and made the culture of Delhi rich with scholars, painters, and craftsmen visiting from all over the world.

She was a feminist icon of her times and set a shining example for women all over the world to follow in her footsteps. An able administrator, a generous king, and a Braveheart on the battlefield, India and the world had never seen any queen like her.

And perhaps her only folly that led to her downfall was her infatuation towards Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, an African slave, and her close confidant working in her court. Her continued patronage of Yaqut gave her enemies the ammunition to conspire against her, finally leading to her downfall and death.

Razia's actual tomb is still shrouded in mystery as there are at least three places in India where her tomb is claimed to have been built.

Razia's actual tomb is still shrouded in mystery as there are at least three places in India where her tomb is claimed to have been built.

Her Downfall

Razia’s rise to power sparked jealousy among many court nobles who felt a female Sultan was a humiliation to males. One such noble was Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Altunia, the then governor of Bhatinda, who conspired against Razia.

The conspiracy started with her character assassination with the nobles publicizing her illicit relationship with a slave and soon the conspirators got a sizable number of nobles wanting to revolt against her. Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Altunia soon raised an army against her along with her brother Muizuddin Bahram Shah who was promised the throne by the rebels after Raziya’s death.

Raziya fought tooth and nail but lost the battle as Altunia took her captive and make Bahram Shah the king. But Raziya was not done yet. She played an astute political card and married Altunia, thus bringing him to her side. Then the husband-wife duo proceeded to Delhi to fight against Bahram Shah, the usurper.

But Bahram Shah defeated them both killing them in a fierce battle that went for over eight hours. Thus died, the first and last woman Sultan of Delhi, at the young age of 35.

Although Razia’s reign as Sultan was short, only four years but in that short time, she acquired the reputation of a brave, fearless, and resourceful ruler who changed the rules of the game despite the strict patriarchal conditions existing in the Indian society at that time. Not many women in Islamic countries can achieve that even today what Raziya did 1000 years ago.

As an unknown 13th century poet aptly describes her valor

“For several months, her face was veiled—

her sword’s ray flashed, lightning-like, from behind the screen.

Since the sword remained in the sheath,

many rebellions were left unchecked.

With a royal blow, she tore away the veil;

she showed her face’s sun from behind the screen.

The [lioness] showed so much force

that brave men bent low before her”

Sources

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 29, 2021:

@FlourishAnyway? Yes, I agree that four years is short as we're told in the story. Palace intrigue, kingship rivalry, and jealeousy are factoring in. Any person with common sense will zealously protect their rights and privileges. That's what the Queen Sultan did. Unfortunately, she lost her life in the war. Methink with her military skills, she fought bravely, and met death galantly. @Ravirajah, This little girl has too much of sons in her.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks Flourish for your comments

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 28, 2021:

An impressive article. Four years was far too short for her leadership.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks Rawan

Rawan Osama from Egypt on June 28, 2021:

I enjoyed reading it and know more about her

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks Devika

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 28, 2021:

Wow! Interesting and a lot I had no idea of here. History about India is a great topic. Razia Sultan sounds impressive in reign.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks Rosina for your comments

Rosina S Khan on June 28, 2021:

It was interesting to read about Razia Sultan and her reign over India about 1000 years ago. I am impressed to know about her contributions over her short reign of time. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 28, 2021:

Ravi, I enjoy the read which is educative and informing. Thanks.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks Ishika

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks Chitrangada

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks Liz for your comments

ISHIKA MEHERE from NAGPUR on June 28, 2021:

Thank you for this article Ravi Rajan. I got to know more about Razia sultan today.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on June 28, 2021:

Very well written article about Razia Sultan—A courageous and powerful woman ruler, quite ahead of her times. You are right that the movies and television series based on her life, have not covered it, as it should have been.

Thank you for sharing this well researched article.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 28, 2021:

This is an interesting and well-researched article. It is a shame that her reign was so short.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks, Misbah for your comments.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Rebels. on June 28, 2021:

Ravi, Razia Sultana was truly a great woman. You have covered the whole topic so beautifully. Very well-written and comprehensive. Thank you so much for sharing

Many Blessings and Peace

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on June 28, 2021:

Thanks, Moondot for your comments.

EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on June 28, 2021:

You have covered the topic beautifully. I liked the sentence of the sultan, " This little girl of mine is superior to many sons".

Thanks for sharing it with us.

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