Razia Sultan was the first Muslim female ruler. She ruled in Delhi from 1236 to 1240 as the Sultan herself – it was a title never before bestowed on a woman, a position of power never before attained by a woman. She was the fifth Mamluk Sultan, one of the few female sovereigns ever in the entire history of Islamic civilizations across the world.
Razia it is believed had refused to be addressed as a Sultana (as per her gender) as that word meant “wife or mistress of a Sultan”, but claimed the title “Sultan”, as she herself was the premier.
Razia – The Ruler
Razia’s ascent to the throne gains immense historical significance not just because she was a woman ruler, but also because she did not come from nobility per se. Her ancestors were Turkish Seljuk slaves and their dynasty was called the Slave Dynasty, thus making her rulership a subversion of existing power structures at many levels.
Her father Iltutmish had arrived in Delhi as a slave serving under Qutb-ud-din and through his bravery and skill attained the position of a provincial governor. When Qutb-ud-din died, Iltutmish garnered support from the then Turkish nobility and ascended to be the sultan, the first of the Slave dynasty.
In his last days Iltutmish almost rewrote history by appointing his daughter Razia as his heir apparent. No ruler before him had ever chosen a woman successor. However, Iltutmish, realising that she was more skilled and fit to rule the kingdom than her brothers, chose her, considering her gender no barrier to her abilities.
Razia was raised as a bold, young girl. She had trained in military skills and professional warfare along with her brothers and other children of the aristocratic class and had good knowledge of state administration too.
However, those skills were imparted to her only expecting her to later make a good queen to a king and offer advice and assistance if needed – not to be a ruler herself. Therefore, her ascent was strongly opposed by even from close family. After her father passed away, her brother took over the throne, but was assassinated in 6 short months, after which Razia claimed the throne that was rightfully hers.
After becoming the Sultan of Delhi she adopted a gender-neutral attire and proved to be an efficient, capable, and brave ruler. She was widely respected and loved by her officials and public but one of her brothers usurped the throne. In the conflicts that followed, Razia was brutally killed.
Childhood and Early Life
Razia Sultan was born Raziya al-Din in 1205 in Budaun, India. She was Shams-ud-din Iltutmish’s only daughter and had three brothers. Her mother was Qutb-ud-din’s daughter who was married to her father because of his skill and valour.
Upon Qutb-ud-din’s death his son Aram Baksh inherited the throne in 1210. He did not prove to be a very competent ruler and hence Iltutmish took over the throne with the help of the then Turkish nobility.
Iltutmish proved to be a more efficient ruler and also very liberal-minded. He imparted a similar training in martial arts and administration to all his children, including Razia.
In her formative years, Razia had very little interaction with the women in the harem, so she never really imbibed the customary demure behaviour of women of the contemporary Muslim society of her times. Even during her father’s reign as a Sultan, Razia assisted her father actively in the affairs of State. As Sultan, contrary to custom, she displayed her face in public and openly rode an elephant into battles as the chief of her army.
Over this period, Iltutmish realised that while all his sons were only interested in enjoying the royal privileges and pleasures, Razia was most skilled and sincere among them. He broke away from from the Muslim canon of every dynasty before him and named Razia as his heir apparent, the first woman successor of a Sultan ever.
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