General

Sultan Raziyye: a Woman Ruler in Muslim India

Ruling Women In Muslim History: Sultan Raziyye of Medieval India

In the illustration the sultan kneels on a cushions as supplicants come and kneel before her.
Sultan Raziyye Hatun of Delhi. (Illustration from Dr. Bahriye Üçok’s “Female Sovereigns in Islamic States.”)

Ruling Women In Muslim History is based on Turkish historian Dr. Bahriye Üçok’s book “Female Sovereigns in Islamic States.” Read Dr. Rampoldi’s introduction to the series.
Raziyye Hatun is a mostly forgotten female ruler in the Muslim Turkish State of Delhi.
The city was conquered in 1188-9 by Emir Kutbüddin Aybek, who was a
slave of Shahabüddin Mehmed bin Sâm, the ruler of Gûr. Following the
death of Shahabüddin Mehmed (Muizzüddîn Mehmed) in 1205-6, Aybek
formally proclaimed the independence of Delhi and gave the name of
Muizziyye to the dynasty he founded. After his death, he was followed by
his son Aram Shah.
However, he was not to rule for long. That same year he was forced to
give up the throne and was executed. Iltutmush “Shems üd-Dünya
v’ed-Dîn,” who was Kutbüddîn Aybek’s slave and son-in-law, seized the
throne and took the title of sovereign and became very powerful. His
dynasty was given the name of “Shemsiyye.” He was a just ruler and chose
his daughter Raziyye Hatun as heir to the throne. Sultan Raziyye was
the only female Muslim ruler who, of the three possible means of
succession to the throne, was chosen by “Ahid,” that is to say was appointed by the ruling monarch to succeed him.
While this decree was being prepared, some of the influential
statesmen who were in contact with the sultan asked him why, when he had
sons who were of age, he had chosen to make his daughter Raziyye heir
to the Moslem Sultanate of India. Sultan Iltutmush replied that his sons
were given to passing their time in drinking and youthful
entertainment, that not one of them was capable of managing the
country’s affairs without becoming more mature. When Raziyye was
sovereign, they would realize what a fortunate choice her appointment as
heir had been.
In this decision we see the importance of virtue and morality in the
choice of a sovereign who is not chosen because of its gender, but
because of its competence. Raziyye possessed all the qualities necessary
for a king, to a greater degree than most men and, just as she was an
accomplished warrior, so she loved and protected men of learning. She
was, in short, a courageous and good-natured woman.
When Iltutmush died, his commanders were divided into two groups. Of
these two groups, one wished to bring the heir apparent Raziyye to the
throne. The other claimed that when Iltutmush, who was very ill at the
time, returned from his last Punjab campaign the fact that he brought
with him to Delhi his son Rüknüddîn Firûz Shah, who was the governor of
Lahore, indicated that he wished Rüknüddîn to be recognized as Sultan in
place of Raziyye. Helped by the efforts of his mother Shah Türkân,
Rüknüddîn Firûz Shah was brought to the throne.
As we will see in many biographies of female rulers in Islam, there
were always people opposing their rule because of many reasons. But
because of Rüknüddîn was a drinker, Raziyye was able to get the entire
rule of the country. After many struggles and intrigues, the elite of
the army took an oath of allegiance to Raziyye and set her on the
throne. She ordered Rüknüddîn capture; he died during his imprisonment
in 1236. This shows how history’s women used Realpolitik-strategies:
when unable to assume the throne by being chosen, they take their right
by force.
The main reasons for the fall of Rüknüddîn, whose reign lasted only
six months and 28 days, were his lack of interest in state affairs, his
weakness for musicians and actors and the favouritism he showed them.
Again we see that in Islam governing depends on competence and not on
gender.
In historical sources, Raziyye is described as generous ruler who
made reforms in the administration of justice. She also fought the Nur
Karmatids and a rebellion instigated by opportunists. Nizam ül-Mülk
Jüneydî, a minister of the state, joined with Melik Alâüddîn Jânî, Melik
Seyfüddîn Kujî, Melik İzzüddîn Kebir Han Ayaz, and Melik İzzüddîn
Mehmed Sâlârî who, like himself, were against Raziyye and laid siege to
Delhi. After this battle, the power of Sultan Raziyye’s kingdom, now
that peace had been achieved, spread over a wide area. Indeed all the
high offices of state and the provinces were in the hands of the Turkish
slaves who had been bought by Iltutmush and even if they squabbled
amongst themselves for their own personal advantage, they were able to
come together and form a united front in face of any threat directed
against them.
Faced with this situation Sultan Raziyye, exchanged her
women’s clothes for those of a man and in this fashion went out among
the people with her bow and quiver always at her side. Again, we see how
a women are discriminated against in war even though, at the beginning
of Islam, Ai’sha was the commander-in-chief of an army. Sexism was
so common that even ruling women had to eliminate external signs of
femininity.
Another revolt followed. In the end she lost the throne.
Again, Dr. Bahriye Üçok describes Raziyye as a competent ruler of high morality:

Raziyye’s only thought, as she hurried from one border to
another with her bow and quiver on her back, was to repel the Hindu
invasions, to subdue the rebellious nobles, and to revive the justice
and model administration of her father’s reign … These jealous nobles,
while accepting any weakness of this kind as the most natural right,
both of themselves and of male rulers, considered it an unforgivable
fault in a brave and skilful ruler like Raziyye, who was, in fact, far
from any such thing, and deserted their noble empress, from whom they
had always received such generosity, at the time when she most needed
them.

After another lost battle, her opponents murdered her. But her
competent leadership will be part of history, if we do not permit the
story of her success as female ruler in the Muslim Medieval Age to be
buried in oblivion. Apart from her military and administrative skills,
Sultan Raziyye possessed great artistic talent as a poet.
With the male rulers following her, by 1266 the Shemsiyye dynasty had
grown weak, law and order had deteriorated and power had passed into
the hands of the eunuchs. Finally, the country, with its borders
considerably reduced compared to the time of Sultan Iltutmush and his
daughter Sultan Raziyye, was left to the house of Balaban.
Raziyye has to be remembered because she is an example of a
successful female ruler in Muslim history who was approved by people and
ruled with justice.

If you are interested in reading “Female Sovereigns in Islamic States,” you can find it on Amazon here.