From 1236 to 1240, Razia Sultan was the Sultan of Delhi in India; she was the first Muslim female ruler. Her ascension to the throne is significant in history not only because she was a woman, but also because her forefathers were originally slaves, not nobles. Iltutmish’s father had arrived in Delhi as a slave serving under Qutb-ud-din and had risen to the position of provincial governor. Iltutmish gathered the support of the Turkish nobility and became sultan following Qutb-ud-death. din’s Iltutmish made history as the first sultan to name his daughter Razia as his heir apparent. Razia was a courageous young woman who had been trained in military combat and administration. However, her ascension to the throne was not without difficulty. Her brother had ascended to the throne following their father’s death, and she could claim the crown only upon her brother’s demise. She adopted masculine attire after becoming the Sultan of Delhi and established herself as an efficient, just, and noble ruler. She was completely devoted to her empire and was admired and respected by her subjects. The valiant sultan met an untimely demise when her brother usurped the throne and she was killed in the ensuing conflicts.
Childhood & Early Life
Razia Sultan was born Raziya al-Din in 1205 in Budaun, India, as the only daughter of Shams-ud-din Iltutmish. She grew up with three brothers. Her father had arrived in Delhi as a slave employed by Qutb-ud-din. He had so impressed the ruler with his diligence and valor that he was appointed provincial governor by Qutb-ud-din. He continued to play a significant role in governance, and Qutb-ud-din eventually married him off to his daughter.
In 1210, following Qutb-ud-demise, din’s his son Aram Baksh succeeded to the throne. He was, however, an inept ruler, and Iltutmish ascended to the throne with the support of the Amirs—the Turkish nobility.
Not only was Iltutmish a highly efficient ruler, but he was also a very liberal thinker. He ensured that each of his children, including Razia, received proper martial arts and administrative training. Additionally, he observed that all of his sons were incompetent and more interested in the pleasures of life, whereas his daughter possessed exceptional ability and competence. He defied Muslim tradition by appointing Razia as his heir apparent, becoming the first sultan to do so.
Accession to the Throne and Reign
On 30 April 1236, Shams-ud-din Iltutmish died. Despite the fact that Razia was his appointed heir apartment, the Muslim nobility was opposed to the appointment of a female sultan. As a result, her brother Rukn ud din Firuz was elevated to the throne.
Rukn ud din Firuz was an inept ruler. Shah Turkaan, Iltutmish’s widow, effectively ran the government while the so-called ruler indulged in pleasure seeking. Ruknuddin and his mother Shah Turkaan were assassinated six months later, on 9 November 1236.
On 10 November 1236, Razia assumed the throne as Jalâlat ud-Dîn Raziyâ. When she became sultan, she adopted men’s clothing and renounced the veil, shocking the conservative Muslim society. She quickly asserted her authority, ordering coins minted in her name as “Pillar of women, Queen of the times, Sultana Razia, daughter of Shamsuddin Altumish.”
She established herself as a benevolent and just sultan who genuinely cared about her subjects. A skilled and courageous warrior, she led battles, conquered new lands, and attempted to consolidate her kingdom. Additionally, she was an excellent administrator.
She was also a religiously tolerant sultan, founding schools, academies, and public libraries that housed ancient philosophers’ works alongside the Qur’an. Hindu scientific and literary works were reportedly also studied in the institutions.
Her accession to the throne, however, infuriated the Turkish nobles, who were jealous that a woman could become sultan. They devised a plot to overthrow her and hatched a conspiracy. Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Aitigin, who had risen to the position of Badaun’s governor, was the conspirator’s leader.
Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda and a childhood friend, initiated the revolt in accordance with the plan. She led an army against him with courage, but was defeated and taken prisoner by Altunia. Razia’s brother, Muizuddin Bahram Shah, usurped the throne following her capture.
Significant Works of Razia
Razia Sultana was Delhi Sultanate’s first and only female ruler. A courageous woman, she defied Muslim tradition by removing her veil and leading her horse into battle. Additionally, she is credited with being a just and charitable ruler who genuinely cared about her subjects. Unfortunately, her reign was brief, and she fell victim to jealous rivals’ conspiracies.
Personal Life & Legacy
As sultan, she showed considerable favoritism toward Jamaluddin Yaqut, an Abyssinian slave. This fueled rumors that she was in love with him—for centuries, it has been debatable whether the two were lovers. Yaqut was killed during Razia’s battle with Altunia.
She was imprisoned at Qila Mubarak in Bathinda following her capture by Altunia. Altunia and Razia were childhood friends, and some sources indicate that they were also infatuated at one point. Even as a prisoner, she was treated royally, and the couple eventually married.
Razia and her husband decided to usurp her brother’s kingdom. They were, however, defeated in the subsequent battle and fled Delhi. On 13 October 1240, while attempting to flee with their lives, they fell into the hands of Jats, who robbed and killed them.