Born in the early 1200s, Raziya was the only daughter of a Mamluk ruler of the Delhi of Sultanate. (Her father’s rise to power from slave worker to ruler is fascinating.)
Perhaps because of her father’s unusual background, Raziya, who had born free, had an unusual education for a female. She learned to read and write, saw how the government operated, and along with her brothers she gained the skills of martial arts and archery.
In 1231, her father left Delhi leading a military campaign. He also left her in charge of the government—a job she handled with ease.
When her father died in 1236 still on that military campaign, he named her his heir, a wish Muslim government officials ignored when they installed her half-brother on the throne. Her brother, a weak puppet for those nobles, lasted six months before his assassination.
In November 1236, Raziya became the first woman Muslim ruler in history, leaving purdah, dropping her veil, and dressing in men’s clothing. Coins issued in her reign proclaimed her “the pillar of women” and “Queen of the times.” She became known as Sultana Raziya.
She expanded the territory she ruled, but she also established schools and libraries. Her government built roads, dug wells, and encouraged trade. She advocated equal treatment and respect for her Hindu subjects. Raziya patronized the arts, encouraging artists of all kinds.
She proved herself to an efficient and effective ruler, and certain Muslim nobles could not abide living under the rule of a woman. They had accepted her accession to the throne because they thought they could control her. Some local rulers rebelled. Several of her brothers joined the rebellions, hoping to gain the throne for themselves. Sultana Raziya did not stay in Delhi, she faced her opponents on the battlefield, often leading her forces while riding on an elephant.
In 1240, while she was away from the capital of Delhi, Raziya’s half-brother seized the throne. During her attempt to regain it, her forces were defeated. Those who survived the battle abandoned her. She attempted to flee, but was captured and killed in October 1240.
According to a historian of the time, Sultana Raziya ruled for 3 years, 6 months, and 6 days.
And now you know….
As you might imagine, Raziya’s story had captured the imaginations of modern storytellers. A biopic came out in 1983, but in 2015 a historical drama series was made that was not very historic. On the air from March to November 2015, the series has been shown in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, several places in Africa and even made it to TV in Germany.
If you want to follow up on Raziya, know that there are variants on the spelling of her name. Just be flexible.