Encyclopedia Womannica

Leaders: Razia Sultana

Episode Summary

Razia Sultana (c. 1205-1240) was the first and only female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. She became a beloved ruler despite the many nobles who sought to keep her from power.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard.

This episode of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by Bossy Cosmetics. Go to bossybeauty.com and use code ENCYCLOPEDIA for 15% off your first purchase.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

In case you’re just tuning in, here’s the deal. Every weekday we’re telling the stories of women from around the world and throughout history who you may not know about, but definitely should. Each month is themed. This month, in honor of the new year and new decade, we’re talking about leaders. 

Our leader of the day was the first and only female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. Despite the many nobles who tried to keep her off of the throne because of her gender, she became a beloved Sultan. Let’s talk about Razia Sultana.

Razia al-Din was born around 1205 in The Delhi Sultanate, an Islamic empire with its capital in what’s now Delhi, India. The Delhi Sultanate spanned large parts of the country for over 300 years, but Razia was born during the very first dynasty, called the Mamluk, or Slave, dynasty. The dynasty’s founder was a former slave who worked his way up to become the ruler of a kingdom, and Razia’s own father was also a slave when he first came to Delhi. He earned his status and married into royalty after impressing the country’s ruler.

Razia’s father was known as a patron of the arts, and taught all of his children archery, martial arts, and leadership skills. 

The Mamluk dynasty was based on merit rather than gender or birth order, and Razia’s father chose her to be his heir instead of her brothers. But when he died in 1236, the Delhi nobles decided they didn’t want a woman in power. They appointed Razia’s half-brother, Rukn ud din Firuz, as sultan instead. That didn’t last long. Firuz was assassinated less than a year into his rule

Though the nobility still hated the idea of a woman in power, they then allowed Razia to take her place on the throne.

Razia was a popular sultan. She improved administrative systems, established schools, and founded public libraries. She also broke a lot of norms. She wore men’s clothing, refused to don a veil, and rode at the front of her army to conquer new territories. 

Eventually Razia’s taboo-shattering rein went too far for the Delhi nobles to handle. She started to closely associate with an Abyssinnian Siddi slave named Jamal ud-Din Yaqut. While some accounts claim they were lovers, others say they were only confidants. Either way, the kingdom’s nobility said Razia was showing problematic favoritism to Yaqut, and they rejected her authority. One governor sent soldiers to battle Razia’s forces, kill Yaqut, and take Razia prisoner.

Razia was forced to marry that governor in order to be spared. During the confusion of the battle, Razia’s brother had usurped the throne. Though Razia and her new forced husband tried to gather their own troops to reclaim the throne through battle, the Razia’s brother defeated their combined troops and forced the couple to flee north.

The remainder of Razia’s soldiers abandoned her. In the year 1240, she was killed, though the circumstances and location are unclear.

Razia Sultana is remembered as a powerful leader for her strength in battle and devotion to cultural development. A historian from the era described her as a, “wise, just, generous, benefactor to her realm, dispenser of justice, protector of her people and leader of her armies; and endowed with all the admirable attributes and qualifications necessary for a king.”

Join us tomorrow to hear the story of another ancient leader!

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!