Raziyya, the eldest daughter of Sultan Shams al-Din Iltutmish, was a remarkable woman who possessed all the qualities of a great leader. Her mother, Turkan Khatun, was the chief lady of the harem, and Raziyya's residence was the royal palace, the Kushk-i-Firuz.
During his Gwalior campaign, Iltutmish entrusted Raziyya with the responsibility of managing Delhi. Upon his return, he was thoroughly impressed by her abilities in managing the administration of the Sultanate with great skill and efficiency. Despite being a daughter, Sultan Iltutmish was impressed by the indications of sovereignty and high spirit displayed by his child.
When Sultan Iltutmish returned from capturing Gwalior, he commanded the secretary to write a decree naming her as his heir-apparent. However, the courtiers questioned the Sultan's decision, pointing out that he had eligible sons who could inherit the throne. The Sultan replied, "My sons are devoted to the pleasures of youth, and no one of them is qualified to be king. They are unfit to rule the country, and after my death you will find that there is no one more competent to guide the State than my daughter".
Rukn-ud-din Firuz Succeeds Iltutmish: Upon the death of Iltutmish in 1236, the nobles placed his eldest surviving son, Rukn al-Din Firuz, on the throne. However, Rukn-ud-din was more interested in pleasure than governing, leaving the affairs of the government to his mother, Shah Turkan. Shah Turkan used her authority to mistreat the ladies of Iltutmish's harem, even going so far as to blind and murder Qutb al-Din, the infant son of Iltutmish. When Shah Turkan attempted to assassinate Raziyya, the people of Delhi rose in her defense, leading to Shah Turkan's imprisonment and Raziyya's ascension to the throne in November 1236. Rukn-ud-din was captured and confined by Raziyya, where he eventually died.
Raziyya, Fifth Ruler of the First Turkish Sultanate of Delhi:
Raziyyat-ud-dunya wa ud-din (r: 1236-1240) holds the distinction of being the first woman ruler of Delhi and the only female to have ever ascended the throne of Delhi.
When Raziyya took the throne, she faced opposition from the wazir, Nizam-ul-Mulk Junaidi, and four other Maliks: Malik Jani, Malik Kuji, Malik Izz al-Din Salari, and Malik Izz al-Din Kabir Khan Ayaz. These rebels assembled outside the gates of Delhi and began hostilities. Raziyya then summoned Malik Nasir al-Din Tabashi Muizzi, the governor of Awadh, to come to her aid. However, before he could cross the Ganges, he was defeated and captured by the rebels.
Raziyya marched out of Delhi with her army and encamped on the banks of the river Yamuna to confront the rebels. After several clashes, a compromise was reached. Maliks Izz al-Din Salari and Kabir Khan Ayaz, secretly joined Raziyya's side on the condition that Malik Jani, Malik Kuji and Junaidi be imprisoned. When this news spread, these Maliks fled. Raziyya's army pursued them, and Malik Kuji, his brother Fakhr al-Din, and Malik Jani were captured and killed. Junaidi managed to escape to the Sirmur Hills, where he eventually died. After her triumphant return to Delhi, Raziyya's authority was acknowledged by all Maliks and Amirs from Lakhnauti to Dewal. Khwaja Muhazzab al-Din was appointed as the new wazir with the title of Nizam-ul-Mulk.
The kingdom of Raziyya rose to great prominence. She dispatched an army led by Qutb al-Din Hasan Ghauri to confront the Rajputs of Ranthambhore, who had taken control of the fort since the death of her father Iltutmish. Qutb al-Din successfully raised the siege and relieved the fort. The garrison was then safely withdrawn.
Raziyya and Yaqut: Malik Jamal al-Din Yaqut, an Abyssinian, was Lord of the Stables (Amir-i-Akhur) and gained favor in attendance upon Sultan Raziyya, which created jealousy among the Turks.
Around the year 1239, Sultan Raziyya made a bold move by discarding her female attire and appearing in public wearing a tunic and kullah. She sat on the throne without a veil and even made public appearances riding on an elephant. Isami and many other historians have distorted her character by claiming that she began to ride escorted by the State officers and people became suspicious of her. Isami further alleges that Yaqut used to stand by her side when she mounted her horse; holding her arm and helping her to mount firmly.
Rebellions: In 1239, Kabir Khan Ayaz, the governor of Lahore, rose up in rebellion. Raziyya led an army against him and eventually forced him to surrender. In March 1240, Malik Ikhtiyar al-Din Altunia, the governor of Tabarhind (also known as Bhatinda and Sirhind), revolted with the secret support of some of the Turkish Amirs of the court. Raziyya marched to Tabarhind to quell the rebellion, but was ultimately defeated. Yaqut, the Abyssinian, was executed by the rebels and Raziyya was imprisoned in the fort of Tabarhind. The victorious Turk rebels returned to Delhi, and elevated Raziyya's half-brother Muizz al-Din Bahram (r: 1240-1242) to the throne.
Marriage with Altunia: Malik Ikhtiyar al-Din Altunia had joined the Turks in their opposition to Raziyya, in hopes of securing a powerful position in the court. However, he soon realized that he had been used as a pawn in their plans and was left out in the cold. In a surprising turn of events, Altunia entered into a matrimonial contract with Raziyya and became her husband.
Death of Sultan Raziyya: Together, Raziyya and Altunia managed to win over certain Amirs of Delhi and amassed a large army of Jats and Khokars, marching towards Delhi. Bahram sent a formidable force to oppose them, resulting in their defeat. As they reached Kaithal in Haryana, their remaining troops abandoned them, and they were taken captive by the Hindus and tragically lost their lives. Raziyya met her tragic end on October 14th, 1240, after a reign of three years and six months. Altunia was taken to Mansurpur and lost his life on the same day.
Iltutmish's eldest and most capable son, Nasir al-Din Mahmud, died prematurely in 1229.
Tabakat-i-Nasiri: A general history of the Muhammadan dynasties of Asia, including Hindustan; from A. H. 194 (810 A.D.) to A.H. 658 (1260 A.D.) and the irruption of the infidel Mughals into Islam, by Minhaj-ud-din, Abu-Umar-i-Usman; Translated by H. G. Raverty