Razia al-Din usually referred to in history as Razia Sultan, was the Sultan because of Delhi in India from 1236 to May 1240. She was of Turkish Seljuks slave ancestry and like some other Muslim princesses of the time, she was trained to lead armies and administer kingdoms if necessary. Razia Sultana, the fifth Mamluk Sultan, was one of the few female sovereigns in the history of Islamic civilization.
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Razia as Sultan
Razia succeeded her father Shams-ud-din Iltutmish to the Sultanate of Delhi in 1236. Iltutmish became the first sultan to appoint a woman as his successor when he designated his daughter Razia as his heir apparent. (According to one source, Iltumish’s eldest son had initially been groomed as his successor, but had died prematurely.) But the Muslim nobility had no intention of acceding to Iltutmish’s appointment of a woman as heir, and after the sultan died on April 29, 1236, Razia’s brother, Ruknuddin Feroze Shah, was elevated to the throne instead.
Ruknuddin’s reign was short. With Iltutmish’s widow Shah Turkaan for all practical purposes running the government, Ruknuddin abandoned himself to the pursuit of personal pleasure and debauchery, to the considerable outrage of the citizenry. On November 9, 1236, both Ruknuddin and his mother Shah Turkaan were assassinated after only six months in power.
With reluctance, the nobility agreed to allow Razia to reign as Sultan of Delhi. As a child and adolescent, Razia had had little contact with the women of the harem, so she had not learnt the customary behavior of women in the Muslim society that she was born into. Even before she became Sultan, she was reportedly preoccupied with the affairs of state during her father’s reign. As Sultan, Razia preferred a man’s tunic and headdress; and contrary to custom, she would later show her face when she rode an elephant into battle at the head of her army.
A shrewd politician, Razia managed to keep the nobles in check, while enlisting the support of the army and the populace. Her greatest accomplishment on the political front was to manipulate rebel factions into opposing each other. At that point, Razia seemed destined to become one of the most powerful rulers of the Delhi Sultanate.
But Razia miscounted the consequences that a relationship with one of her advisers, Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, an Abyssinian Siddi (Habshi) slave,would have for her reign. According to some accounts, Razia and Yaqut were lovers (which is unlikely since Yaqut cared for the stables all day and Raziya is only known to have ridden elephants); other sources simply identify them as close confidants. In any case, before long she had aroused the jealousy of the Turkish nobility by the favoritism she displayed toward Yaqut, who was not a Turk, when she appointed him to be Superintendent of the Stables. Eventually, a childhood friend named Malik Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda, joined a rebellion by other provincial governors who refused to accept Razia’s authority.
A battle between Razia and Altunia ensued, with the result that Yaqut was killed and Razia taken prisoner. To escape death, Razia agreed to marry Altunia. In some accounts, as demonstrated in Anant Pai’s famous comic ‘Sultan Razia,’ Altunia and Razia are made out to be lovers. Meanwhile, Razia’s brother, Muizuddin Bahram Shah, had usurped the throne. After Altunia and Razia undertook to take back the sultanate from Bahram through battle, both Razia and her husband defeated on 24th of Rabi’ al-awwal A.H. 638 (Oct. 1240). They fled Delhi and reached Kaithal the next day, where their remaining forces abandoned them. They both fell into the hands of the enemy and were killed on 25th of Rabi’ al-awwal A.H. 638, this date corresponds to October 14, 1240. Bahram, for his part, would later be dethroned for incompetence.
Controversy regarding Razia’s Grave
There are conflicting account regarding her actual site of grave. There are at least three claims regarding her grave site. This is compounded by the fact that none of the 3 grave site has epitaph (inscription) on tombstone in memory of the one buried there. So far there are no archaeological or documentary evidences to confirm the site of her grave. The dispute is whether she was buried in Kaithal or Delhi or Tonk, and also where were Altunia and Yakut buried.
Claim regarding Razia’s Grave at Tonk in Rajasthan
Third and more recent claim that she and her African slave paramour are buried at Tonk in Rajasthan where her father Iltumish had laid a siege The controversy and re-examination of historical facts arose after Sayed Sadique Ali, an Urdu lecturer at the local government post-graduate college claimed that the graves at the site are that of Razia and her trusted slave, Yaqut. He based his findings on the calligraphic Arabic script deciphered by the pattern of stones of irregular shapes affixed around the graves. The stones convey a particular message which, according to him, is: “Shahide Muhabbat Quvvatul-Mulk Jamaluddin Yaqut” around the smaller grave, and on the main grave, situated at a higher level, it reads: “Sultanul Hind Razia.”
Claim regarding Razia’s Grave at Siwan near Kaithal in Haryana
Second claim is that the tomb of Razia is situated in Siwan near Kaithal city, Haryana state .The tomb lies in the north-western suburbs of the city where, a few years back, a jail was erected by the present administration. A newsletter of the Haryana chapter of Intach-Virasat says ââ‚¬Å“ Restoration of Razia Sultanââ‚¬â„¢s tomb at Kaithal and its beautification was prepared by HUDA engineers at an estimated cost of Rs. 52.85 lakhs. The absence of response from the Waqf Board that had been approached for release of funds was noted, and the Haryana chapter now proposes to approach some corporate sector companies.ââ‚¬. Given the controversy surrounding her grave site, it is possible that she may have been initially interred at Kaithal and then later at Delhi but this remains purely a speculation with no evidence of any kind.
Razia is said to have pointed out that the spirit of religion was more important than its parts, and that even the Islamic prophet Muhammad spoke against overburdening the non-Muslims. On another occasion, Razia reportedly tried to appoint an Indian Muslim convert from Hinduism to an official position but again ran into opposition from the nobles.
Razia was reportedly devoted to the cause of her empire and to her subjects. There is no record that she made any attempt to remain aloof from her subjects, rather it appears she preferred to mingle among them. Her tolerance of Hinduism would later bring her criticism from Muslim historians.
Razia established schools, academies, centers for research, and public libraries that included the works of ancient philosophers along with the Qur’an and the traditions of Muhammad. Hindu works in the sciences, philosophy, astronomy, and literature were reportedly studied in schools and colleges.
Razia refused to be addressed as Sultana because it meant “wife or mistress of a sultan”. She would answer only to the title “Sultan”.
Claim regarding Razia’s Grave at Old Delhi
First claim is that Razia’s grave lies among the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, in a courtyard in Bulbul-i-khana, Shahjahanabad, near the Turkman Gate entrance. Crumbling and covered by dust and grime, the grave has clearly suffered the ravages of time. The grave is surrounded on all sides by unattractive residential buildings. In the 13th century, the site of the tomb was a jungle, and no one knows how Razia’s body ended up where it lies today. A second grave, believed to be that of her sister, Shazia, accompanies Razia’s. Some of the Muslim residents of the neighborhood have turned a part of the tomb into a mosque, where prayers are conducted five times each day.
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Razia killed by Hindu Jats near Kaithal in Haryana
In addition there is a lot of controversy over her death. According to the historian Satish Chandra, Razia died in the year 1239 in raids by bandits in a forest upon returning from battle on her elephant with a halted unit of her army. This does not hold water as she was likely to be on a horse in the battle. Popular legend tells of the queen’s death to be an arrow shot into her heart when on the battlefield crying over her husband, Altunia’s death – this account however is very unlikely because of her mobility on the horse during the war and because her brother on the throne wouldn’t have decided to kill her right away.
Medieval history does provide real reason for her death by referring to her escaping in a man’s disguise, being given shelter but then killed by Hindu Jats near Kaithal.
In popular culture
Being the first female monarch of the Delhi Sultanate, Razia Sultan has been the subject of many legends. A piece of historical fiction entitled ‘Razia: Queen of India’ based on the Sultana’s life written by Rafiq Zakaria in 2000. The Sultana also has her own title in the Indian comic book series, Amar Chitra Katha. More recently, she was the subject of Razia Sultan, a 1983 urdu film, written and directed by Kamal Amrohi, starring Hema Malini as Razia and Dharmendra as Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut.
Razia Sultana also features in an online comic strip entitled “Razia Sultan” by Halima Voyles. In the comic, Razia features as a female sultan dealing with the disgruntled Turkish nobility and courts, the disapprobation of her brothers Rukn and Muiz, her sister Shazia and her love struck childhood friend Altunia.
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