Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Raziyya Iltutmish

(ruled 1236-1240)

Raziyya (or Razia, or Radiyya) Iltutmish (or Altamsh) was the first Sultana (a Moslem woman ruler) of Northern India. Her father was Shamsudin Iltutmish, a former Turkish slave who became the greatest Sultan of the Mamluk ("Slave") Dynasty in Delhi. The father realized that his two sons were not worthy of the throne, so he designated his daughter Raziyya as his successor. Neither her half-brothers nor many of the subjects were pleased with this announcement and, in response, riots broke out in the city. Raziyya herself led the troops that put down these riots.

Her first act as a sovereign was to have coins minted with her name and the following inscription:

Pillar of Women
Queen of the Times
Sultana Radiyya Bint Shams al-Din Iltutmish
2

Although courageous and intelligent, she had difficulty gaining the loyalty of her subjects because she was a woman. She didn't wear a veil, but dressed like a man, wearing trousers, a turban and a sword. She hunted, held court and led her army in battle. She also tried to raise non-Turks to high positions. It has been speculated that Raziyya fell in love with Jamal al-Din Yaqut, the Master of the Horse, an Ethiopian slave in her court, and that she promoted him too fast, which caused jealousies in the court. One day it was witnessed that Yaqut helped Raziyya get on her horse by lifting her up. The fact that Sultana allowed herself to be touched by a slave was seen as a violation of ethical behavior and was used by her enemies as a pretext to have her removed from the throne. An army led by Ikhtiyar al-Din Altuniyya engaged Raziyya's troops in battle and Raziyya was captured. Unexpectedly, Altuniyya fell in love with Raziyya and they married. Together they tried to reconquer Delhi, but they lost.

Ibn Battuta, a 14-century Arab traveler and author of Rihlah (Travels) left the following account of Raziyya's demise:

"Raziya's troops suffered a defeat and she fled. Overpowered by hunger and strained by fatigue she repaired to a peasant whom she found tilling the soil. She asked him for something to eat. He gave her a piece of bread which she ate and fell asleep; and she was dressed like a man. But, while she was asleep, the peasant's eyes fell upon a gown (gaba) studded with jewels which she was wearing under her clothes. He realized that she was a woman. So he killed her, plundered her and drove away her horse, and then buried her in his field. Then he went to the market to dispose of one of her garments. But the people of the market became suspicious of him and took him to the shihna (police magistrate)... There he was beaten into confessing his murder and pointed out where he had burried her. Her body was then disinterred, washed, shrouded, and buried there." 2

Raziyya had been on the throne only four years.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

Bibliography:
1. Women Who Ruled: A Biographical Encyclopedia by Guida M. Jackson, Barnes & Noble Books, 1998
2. The Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatima Mernissi, University of Minnesota Press, 1993
3. Larousse Dictionary of Women, edited by Melanie Parry, Larousse, 1996
4. Women Warriors: A History by David E. Jones, Brassey's, 1997

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