Reign of Raziya Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Raziya had the distinction of being the only woman who ever occupied the throne of Delhi. Her remarkable career helps dispel the myth of the relative unimportance of women in Islamic society.

Summary of Event

When Raziya ascended the throne of the Delhi sultanate, also known as the Turkish Slave Dynasty, she took the title sultan rather than sultana. In doing so, she was making the point that a person’s gender should not be a determining factor in a ruler’s ability or legitimacy. Women;India India;women in [kw]Reign of Raziya (1236-1240) [kw]Raziya, Reign of (1236-1240) Raziya Delhi sultanate India;1236-1240: Reign of Raziya[2380] Government and politics;1236-1240: Reign of Raziya[2380] Raziya Iltutmish Ruknuddin Firūz Shah Jamāl al-Dīn Yakut Ikhtiar al-Dīn Altuniya

Raziya, the first and only female sultan of Delhi, was the daughter of Sultan Iltutmish Iltutmish , a man who began his career in India as a slave. An able and literate man, he was purchased in Ghazna (now in Afghanistan) by the founder of the Delhi sultanate, Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak , who eventually freed Iltutmish and came to view him as his son. Iltutmish ascended the throne in 1211. As was typical of the politics of the time, the Turkish elite challenged Iltutmish’s accession. After defeating the dissenters in the Battle of Tarain Tarain, Battle of (1215/1216) (1215-1216), he began expanding the territorial holdings and working toward a unified and enlightened system of government. Near the end of his distinguished reign, he named his extremely able daughter Raziya to succeed him. Although he had two sons of age and one minor son, he believed that his daughter alone had the remarkable qualities required of a good ruler. Before Iltutmish’s death in 1236, he ordered his secretary general to prepare a decree naming Raziya as his successor.

Iltutmish’s choice for a successor was based on objective observation and rational evaluation of his offspring. Specifically, Raziya had demonstrated her talents as a fair and able administrator when she served as regent while her father conducted a military campaign in Gwalior to the south of Delhi. Although Raziya’s father trusted his daughter’s abilities, a powerful group of Turkish noblemen known as the Forty Amirs Forty Amirs objected vociferously to her accession. Taking matters into their own hands, they made Ruknuddin Firūz Shah Ruknuddin Firūz Shah , Iltutmish’s drunkard son, sultan. The responsibility of rule unfortunately did not deter Ruknuddin from his degenerate ways, and he continued to indulge his excessive pursuit of pleasure and intoxicants. Meanwhile, Ruknuddin’s mother, the notorious Shah Turkan Shah Turkan , plotted to destroy any perceived contender for her son’s rule, including Raziya, whom she viewed as a continued threat to her son’s authority and her own position as high-ranking woman of the realm. In her quest for control, Shah Turkan insisted that her son, the sultan, blind and put to death Iltutmish’s youngest heir, a child of ten born by a minor wife.

The shocking deed infuriated the nobility throughout the kingdom, and many became openly hostile to the throne. Rebellion broke out in the vicinity of Mansurpur and Tarain, and it had to be put down by the sultan, who led his forces on the battlefield. Meanwhile, in Delhi, Raziya, realizing that her own life was in danger, took advantage of the chaotic conditions to establish order and justice. In an open assembly at the mosque during Friday prayers, Raziya wore a red garment, the color worn by the aggrieved, and publicly accused Shah Turkan of plotting to kill her as she had her younger brother. In the name of her father, Iltutmish, she appealed to the people for help. A fiery and courageous speaker, she asked for a chance to prove her abilities, saying that if she failed, she should be decapitated. Moved by her entreaty, the people attacked the royal palace and seized Shah Turkan. When her son Ruknuddin returned to the city, he found his mother in prison and the city in revolt. The situation was so dire that the Amirs conceded, removing the sultan and placing Raziya on the throne; Ruknuddin’s reign had lasted little more than six months.

Having achieved her father’s goal, Raziya took the title sultan-ud-duniya-wa-ud-dīn, or king of the world and religion. For her first act as ruler, she ordered that Ruknuddin join his mother in prison. Ultimately, Ruknuddin and his mother were tried in an impartial court and were subsequently executed. Despite Raziya’s popular support, her reign from the very start was troubled because of the prevailing attitude toward a woman in a position of command. Two Muslim sects, the heretical Kiramitah and Mulahidah, staged a revolt against her; more than one thousand armed heretics entered the great mosque in the city and killed many worshipers. Also, despite their initial support, some of the Amirs resented Raziya’s position. Eventually, a few lay siege on Delhi, forcing Raziya and her troops into armed warfare on the banks of the Yamuna River near Delhi. The insurrection was short-lived, but dissention continued to plague the noble ranks despite Raziya’s efforts to win the loyalty and support of the Amirs. In particular, she created a stir when she appointed Jamāl al-Dīn Yakut Jamāl al-Dīn Yakut , an Ethiopian, to the high-ranking post of commander of the army. Yakut, a non-Turk who was a longtime trusted friend and supporter of Raziya and her father, had earned his new position; nonetheless, he aroused envy among the Turkish nobles and thereby provided ammunition for Raziya’s detractors.

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Determined to prove her worthiness and to deal with men on their own terms, Raziya began to wear men’s clothing and appeared in public without the veil prescribed for women. She appeared so not only in court but also in public; she rode openly through the streets of Delhi in an attempt to connect directly to the people she ruled. Whether an act of defiance or practicality, her garb and unabashed manner added to the discord among the nobles. When a feudatory governor in Lahore rebelled, Sultan Raziya led the attack at the head of the army. Another rebellion broke out in Tabarhindah; again Raziya led the attack on the rebels. In that battle, her trusted officer Yakut was killed, and Raziya was captured and imprisoned.

Once news of her capture reached Delhi, her brother Bahrām Shāh Bahrām Shāh (Dehli sultan) (r. 1240-1242) took the throne. After a short time, however, he began to lose the support of some of the nobles, including Ikhtiar al-Dīn Altuniya Ikhtiar al-Dīn Altuniya , a distant relative of Raziya.

An Amir of high position, Altuniya initially participated in the revolt at Tabarhindah but later switched sides and married Raziya during her imprisonment. Now aligned politically and by marriage, the two were anxious to oust the usurper, and therefore, they embarked on a plan to recapture Raziya’s throne and kingdom. They assembled a large army to retake Delhi. Marriage as a political tool;Delhi sultanate Learning of the plan, the sultan Bāhram Shāh decided not to wait for the advancing march on the capital but led his troops as far as Kaithal, where the two armies clashed. Outflanked and outmaneuvered, both Raziya and Altuniya were killed in battle on October 13, 1240. Raziya had been sultan for three years, six months, and six days. She was not yet thirty years of age.

Significance

Raziya’s chief biographer, the historian Minhāj Sirāj Jūzjānī, wrote that Sultan Raziya was a great sovereign who cherished her subjects and was wise, beneficent, a patron of the learned, a dispenser of justice, and gifted with a talent in war. In fact, he claimed that she was endowed with all the attributes and qualifications necessary for a good king but that she had not attained her destiny because she was born a woman. To extol the virtues of a male king was customary, but for Jūzjānī to profusely praise a woman indicates Raziya’s exceptional qualities and capacities for leadership. Her impartiality, her intolerance of racial discrimination, her quest for knowledge, and her need to establish justice were just a few of her remarkable gifts.

The historian Ferishta (c. 1560-c. 1620) wrote that Raziya possessed every good normally attributed to the ablest princes and that those who scrutinized her actions would find no fault but that she was a woman. He also noted that she read the Qu՚rān with the correct pronunciation and, in her father’s lifetime, employed herself frequently in the affairs of the government, a disposition that her father encouraged in her.

Sultan Raziya was the only woman to occupy the throne in her own right. She was not a proxy ruler for any male. She was not queen, but king. An able politician, she outwitted the Forty Amirs by appealing directly to her subjects, the people of Delhi. In doing so, she became the first democratically elected monarch of India. Her accession shattered the myth of the lowly position of women in Islam.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brijbhushari, Jamila. Sultan Raziya: Her Life and Times, a Reappraisal. New Delhi, India: Manohar, 1990. A comprehensive history of the life of Raziya and the political and religious dictates of her world. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Madhavananda, Swami, and Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, eds. Great Women of India. Calcutta, India: Advaita Ashrama, 1993. An excellent general survey of the role of women in Indian culture with articles on certain important and influential Indian women throughout history. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Minhāj Sirāj Jūzjānī. Tabakāt-i Nāsirī. Translated by H. G. Raverty. 2 vols. 1881. Reprint. Calcutta, India: The Asiatic Society, 1995. The principal contemporary account.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sharma, L. P. The Sultanate of Delhi. New Delhi, India: Konark, 1988. A detailed, reliable, and excellent history of this brief period in Indian history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zakaria, Rafiq. Razia: Queen of India. Bombay, India: Popular Prakashan, 1966. A fictional history based on the life of India’s female sultan of Delhi. Includes epilogue and bibliography.

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