Razia Sultan – The female sultan

Razia Sultan as portrayed in the TV series Razia Sultan (2015)(Screenshot/fair use)

Razia Sultan was the only female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. Razia was the daughter of Shams-ud-din Iltutmish. Itutmish chose her out of all his sons to succeed him on the throne because he believed his sons were corrupt. 1 This had never been done before, and it shocked the Muslim nobility.

On 29 April 1236, the Muslim nobility chose Razia’s brother, Rukn ud din Firuz, to be the king instead. Ruknuddin’s reign was very controversial. He let his mother, Shan Turkan, run the affairs of state while he indulged himself in pleasure and debauchery. 2 This made him very unpopular, and the people wanted a new Sultan. Six months later Rukniddin and his mother were assassinated on 9 November 1236. 3 With the support of the people of Delhi, Razia was named the next Sultan.

Eventually, Razia was grudgingly accepted by the nobles, who had originally opposed to her being named Sultan. She discarded the purdah system, dressed up like a man wearing a headdress and tunic, and gave up the veil, which shocked the courtiers.

“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” 4

Razia’s reign seemed to start off well and showed signs that she would be a successful ruler. Razia was known to be a capable politician. She also rode out to combat dressed like a common soldier. 5She kept her nobles in check and also kept the support of the army. 6 Therefore, Razia became an accessible queen, and this shocked the Muslim court event further. She was also known as a skilled warrior. 7 One of her greatest accomplishments politically was her ability to manipulate rebel factions into opposing one another. 8

More of Razia’s accomplishments were that she made a policy on religious tolerance towards the Hindus, made crime punishable through evidence alone instead of having a trial, set up schools, and made libraries available to the public. 9 Yet, despite these accomplishments, the Turkish nobles disapproved of her reign simply because she was a woman.

The opportunity arose when Razia favoured her advisor, Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, an Ethiopian slave. When she made him Superintendent of the Stables, it sparked jealousy among the Turkish nobles. 10 It was suggested that they were lovers, but there is no evidence for this. 11 It is assumed that Razia had a great friendship with Yaqut. The nobles formed a rebellion coup led by Malik Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda, who was Razia’s childhood friend. 12 Razia’s battle with Altunia ended up to be a failure. Yaqut was killed, and Razia was taken prisoner. 13 Razia, in order to ensure her survival, made a clever ploy. She decided to marry Altunia. 14

While Razia managed to solve the conflict between Altunia, Razia had another problem. This one would lead to her downfall. Razia’s half-brother, Muizuddin Bahram Shah, had taken the throne. In order to get her throne back, Razia and her newly wedded husband, Altunia raised an army against Braham. 15 Sadly, on 24 October 1240, they were defeated. 16 Razia and Altunia fled to Kaithal and the army deserted them. Powerless, they were robbed and killed by the Jats on 25 October 1240. 17

Although Razia’s reign as Sultan was short, only four years, and unsuccessful, she was known to possess the political acumen to become a successful monarch. She was largely opposed by the Muslim nobles for being a woman. Her weakness was her relationship with Yaqut that led to an open rebellion and her eventual downfall. 18 Regardless of this, she was still regarded as being a brave, resourceful, and clever ruler to the Delhi. She was the only woman to be accepted as Sultan by the people in a strict, Muslim culture.

There has been much talk about Razia in today’s popular culture. However, instead of focusing on her accomplishments, they have focused on her love life. There is a graphic novel titled Sultana Razia by Amar Chitra Kathar. Bollywood has made a 1983 movie starring Hema Malini as Razia. This biopic focuses on her relationship with Yaqut (Razia Sultan, 1983). In the 2015, series of Razia Sultan, which is currently available on Netflix, Razia is played by Pankhuri Awasthy. This series focuses on Razia’s relationship with Altunia (Razia Sultan, 2015). Hopefully, people will, later on, remember Razia for her accomplishments rather than focusing strictly on her relationships. 19

  1. World Heritage Encyclopedia n.d
  2. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233)
  3. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233)
  4. Amir Khosrow, 1988, 49
  5. Commire and Klezmer ed., 2007, p. 1573
  6. Alikuzai, 2013. p. 233
  7. Commire and Klezmer ed., 2007, p. 1573
  8. Alikuzai, 2013. p. 233
  9. Commire and Klezmer ed., 2007, p. 1573
  10. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 23
  11. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233
  12. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233
  13. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233)
  14. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233
  15. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233
  16. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233
  17. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233
  18. Alikuzai, 2013, p. 233
  19.  Sources:

    Alikuzai, Hamid Wahed. Concise History of Afghanistan in 25 Volumes: Volume 1 
    Place of publication not identified: Trafford Publishing, 2013. Print. P. 233-235
    Khosrow Amir of Delhi, Duval Rāni Khezr Khān (Persian), ed. Ansāri M. R. A. S. and
    Nezāmi K. A., Delhi, 1988.
    “Razia (1211–1240).” Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages,
    edited by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer, vol. 2, Yorkin Publications, 2007,
    Razia Sultan. Dir. Kama Amrohi. Perf. Hema Malini. 1983. DVD.
    Razia Sultan. Dir. Kamal Mongo and Arif Ali Ansari et al. Perf. Pankhuri Awasthy. &TV, 2015. Netflix. Web. 25 July 2017.
    “Razia Sultan.” World Heritage Encyclopedia. World Heritage Encyclopedia, n.d. Web. 25 July
    2017. <http://www.worldlibrary.org/articles/razia_sultan>.

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