Friday, October 22, 2010

Razia, the Only Muslim Woman Ruler of India

Razia (AD 1236-40) was the first and last Muslim woman ruler of Delhi. After the death of her father Sultan Iltutmish (the second ruler of the Slave dynasty of Delhi Sultanate) in 1236, her half brother Rukn-ud-din Firuz ascended the throne with the help of the nobles. This was against the wishes of Iltutmish or Altamash who was aware that his sons were not fit to be the ruler. During his rule the empire plunged into disorder. Matters were made worse by her mother Shah Turkan who unveiled a reign of terror on her adversaries. Initially a concubine in the harem of Iltutmish, Shah Turkan later on went o to become queen of the Sultan. As chaos and confusion loomed large, Rukn-ud-din Firuz and his mother Shah Turkan were put to death on November 9, 1936. He ruled for only seven months.

Razia was now the natural choice of the nobles of Delhi. Razia’s rule lasted three years ad half. She gave good account of herself as a shrewd diplomat and a strategist. At the beginning of her rule, she quelled the rebellion of provincial governors led by Muhammad Junaidi, the prime minster of the empire. She became successful in restring order in the kingdom. This was not an easy task given the conservative nature of the Muslim society in medieval times.

Razia discarded veil, began to don male attire, and rode out in public on the back of an elephant. This was not liked by the orthodox section of the Muslim populace. Another serious complaint against her that she showed undue favour to Jallaluddin Yakut, an Abyssinian by promoting him to the post of Master of Stables.

Soon discontent began to emerge among the governors of the Kingdom. Kabir khan, the governor of Lahore, was defeated by Razia. However she suffered defeat at the hands of the governor of Bhatinda, Altunia who later married her after her defeat. While she was away in Bhatinda, the nobles at Delhi proclaimed Bahram Shah, another son of Iltutmish, Sultan of Delhi. Razia was defeated in 1240 and was killed.

The contemporary historian Minhaj-us-Siraj describes Razia as “a great sovereign endowed with all the admirable qualities and qualifications necessary for kings."

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