Who was Razia Sultana?
Razia Sultan was the Sultan of Delhi in India from 1236 to 1240; she the first Muslim female ruler. Her ascent to the throne is of much historical significance not only because she was a woman, but also becaue her ancestors were originally slaves, not nobility. Her father Iltutmish had come to Delhi as a slave serving under Qutb-ud-din and had risen to the post of a provincial governor. Upon Qutb-ud-din’s death, Iltutmish gathered the support of the Turkish nobility and became the sultan. As ruler, Iltutmish created history by becoming the first sultan to appoint a woman as his successor when he named his daughter Razia as his heir apparent. Razia was a bold young woman, trained in military warfare and administration. However, her ascent to the throne did not come easily. Her brother had taken over the throne after the death of their father, and she could claim the crown only after her brother died. After becoming the Sultan of Delhi she adopted masculine attire and proved to be an efficient, just, and noble ruler. Completely devoted to her empire, she was well respected and loved by her subjects. The brave sultan met a tragic end when her brother usurped the throne and she got killed in the ensuing conflicts.
Childhood & Early Life
Razia Sultan was born as Raziya al-Din in 1205 in Budaun, India, to Shams-ud-din Iltutmish as his only daughter. She had three brothers. Her father had come to Delhi as a slave working under Qutb-ud-din. He had impressed the ruler with his hard work and valor so much that Qutb-ud-din appointed him as a provincial governor. He went on to play a significant role in the governance and Qutb-ud-din eventually gave him his daughter in marriage.
After Qutb-ud-din's death his son Aram Baksh inherited the throne in 1210. However he proved to be an incompetent ruler and Iltutmish took over the throne with the backing of the Amirs—the Turkish nobility.
Iltutmish was not only a very efficient ruler, but also a very liberal minded person. He saw to it that all of his children, including Razia, received good training in martial arts and administration. He also observed that all of his sons were incompetent and more interested in enjoying the pleasures of life while his daughter was highly skilled and competent. He broke away from Muslim tradition and named Razia as his heir apparent, becoming the first sultan to appoint a woman as his successor.
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Accession & Reign
Shams-ud-din Iltutmish died on 30 April 1236. Even though Razia was his appointed heir apartment, the Muslim nobility was not in favor of appointing a woman as a sultan. Thus her brother Rukn ud din Firuz was seated on the throne instead.
Rukn ud din Firuz proved to be very incompetent as a ruler. Iltutmish's widow Shah Turkaan ran the government for all practical purposes while the so-called ruler immersed himself in pursuit of pleasures. After just six months, on 9 November 1236, both Ruknuddin and his mother Shah Turkaan were assassinated.
Razia came to power on 10 November 1236 and ascended the throne with the name of Jalâlat ud-Dîn Raziyâ. Upon becoming the sultan, she adopted men’s attire and gave up the veil in a move which shocked the conservative Muslim society.
She quickly began establishing her authority and ordered for coins to be minted in her name as “Pillar of women, Queen of the times, Sultana Razia, daughter of Shamsuddin Altumish”.
She proved to be a good ruler, a just and benevolent sultan who genuinely cared about her subjects. A skilled and brave warrior, she led in battles and conquered new territories and attempted to strengthen her kingdom. She was also a good administrator.
She was also a religiously tolerant sultan who established schools, academies, and public libraries that included the works of ancient philosophers along with the Qur'an. Hindu works in the sciences and literature were also reportedly studied in the institutions.
However, her accession to the throne did not go well with the Turkish nobles who were jealous that a woman could become the sultan. They made a plan to revolt against her and hatched a conspiracy. The leader of this conspiracy was Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Aitigin who had risen from the office of the governor of Badaun.
In accordance with the plan, Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Altunia the governor of Bhatinda and her childhood friend, first raised a revolt. She courageously commanded an army against him, but was defeated and taken prisoner by Altunia. After Razia’s capture, her brother, Muizuddin Bahram Shah, usurped the throne.
Razia Sultana was the first and last female ruler of Delhi Sultanate. A very brave woman, she defied Muslim tradition to ditch the veil and lead her horse into the battlefields. She is also credited to have been a just and generous ruler who genuinely cared about her subjects. Unfortunately her reign did not last long and she fell victim to conspiracies by jealous rivals.
Personal Life & Legacy
As sultan, she showed considerable favoritism towards an Abyssinian slave, Jamaluddin Yaqut. This fuelled rumors that she was in love with him—it has been debated for centuries whether the two were lovers or not. Yaqut was killed in the battle between Razia and Altunia.
After her capture by Altunia, she was incarcerated at Qila Mubarak at Bathinda. Altunia and Razia were childhood friends, and some sources also suggest that they were deeply in love once upon a time. She was treated royally even as a prisoner and eventually the couple got married.
Razia and her husband decided to take back the kingdom from her brother. However they were defeated at the ensuing battle and fled Delhi. While escaping with their lives, they fell into the hands of Jats who robbed and killed them on 13 October 1240.