Mali in 1325 and India in 1326
Certain moments in history deserve a spotlight so that the events can illuminate the minds of the present. The years of 1235-1236, although brief, brought monumental changes to Mali and India, but to Islam as a whole. In 1235, Sundiata would unify Mali after the Battle of Kirina, and become Mari Djata, the first king of Mali. The very next year in India, the only daughter of Shamsud-din Iltitmish, would be crowned Sultana Raziya-ud-din. Although the events of 1235 and 1236, can surely be traced well before and after, these two years were paramount. Sundiata overcoming assassination attempts and civil war to be coordinated Mansa. Raziya, who died in battle tried to reclaim her throne, would have to conquer sexism many times in her life and her short reign.
Sundiata, born in 1217 was a member of the Mandinka speaking, Keita clan, the same clan in which the most famous ruler of Mali, Musa, belonged to. Sundiata was the first son of the second wife of Maghan Kon Fatta. Sundiata’s mother, Sogolon Kedjou, was from south of Mali, but even as a second son and with a mother outside of the empire, Sundiata was his father’s selected heir.
The twelve kingdoms that would later be united under Sundiata, were fractured and disorganized during his childhood. The Kaniaga Kingdom was suppressing the various other kingdoms, including the Manden kingdom in which Sundiata was in line to inherit. One of the issues that the young Sundiata faced, was that he was a sickly child, who was not able to walk until the age of seven. He was also the son of a second wife, which meant even with his father’s orders, many in the empire would disagree with his rule. When Maghan Fatta died, his first wife, made sure her son, Dankaran Touman was crowned king over Sundiata.
Not only was Sundiata pushed out of the throne, he and his mother were banished from the kingdom; but they would find safety in the kingdoms of Wagadou. It seems, at least historically, Sundiata was simply trying to survive and had no intention in a life in governing. What can be assumed is that he was gifted a military education. Dankaran was not a strong ruler, more than likely he was a puppet being pulled by his mother, Sassouma.
Their power did not last long, they too were forced into exile by the king of Kaniaga. The people of Mema were without a king, and Sundiata, even while in exile was popular. Many close to his father, remember his wishes and sought out Sundiata. The delegation from Meme, found him and begged him to return. Not only return to Mema, but to unite the various clans and destroy the Kingdom of Kaniaga’s rule over the other kingdoms.
Sundiata led a united force of eleven kingdoms, and retuned to Mema, where the Kaniaga king had stayed after pushing Dankaran and his mother out of power. In 1235, at the Battle of Kirina, Sundiata and his forces would the army of the Kaniaga kingdom. At the tender age of 18, Sundiata, united the twelve kingdoms and established the Mali Empire. To put this into perspective, “Alexander the Great” was 19 when he began his conquests. Sundiata was 18 when he solidified his power. 1235, also saw the first “Great Assembly” meeting, which was a deliberative body of Mandinka speaking clans. The meeting meet in order to establish defense, trade, governance, and Islamic affairs, in which there was disagreement.
The first Queen of India, Razia-ud-din, was the daughter of Shamsud-din- Iltutmish. Shamshud died outside of the empire, but he left his daughter in full control of state affairs and was his obvious heir. To cement her claim on the throne, when she was seventeen, coins were minted with her name and title and circulated throughout the Delhi Sultanate.
Razia had many brothers who also had a claim to the throne. The facts remain, she outshone her brothers and in all matters of governing. Her knowledge and skill in diplomacy, administration, and military propelled her to the throne. It was her gender that left many in the administration and royal family disgusted, not her policies.
The death of her father was a shock to the empire, as mentioned earlier, he died outside of the empire. The heir to the throne and soon to be Sultana, was in for a surprise. Her throne was seized by Rukn-ud Firoz, but his cruelty and inability to govern left him alienated at court. One Friday afternoon, Razia dressed in all red, and gave a rousing speech at a local masjid. In her speech she laid out her claim to the throne and asked for support in her succession. In the following days, she gained support not only of the people but also of the military.
With the support of the military and people, she was crowned Sultana, and her first act was to recognize the government. She snatched power from the chiefs and governors in order to centralize her power. During the first two years of her reign, Turkish nobles would challenge her rule politically and militarily. Each time, Razia would lead her army into battle, and each time would come out victorious. Hindu princes would challenge her rule, several times, within her first two years. Each time, they were met with the full force of her army and defeated.
Her diplomacy was on display when she reached a peace agreement with the Mongols in 1238 and avoided war. The Mongols would not invade India while Razia sat on the throne, that in itself is an accomplishment, and should not be overlooked. Arts and education flourished under Razia as well. Universities, libraries, musicians, and painters all enjoyed patronage from Razia. Hindu science, Sufi mysticism, and Greek philosophy, were all accepted and appreciated under the reign of Razia.
The Turkish nobles, which plagued her first two years, would soon be her downfall. Turkish noble and governor of Bhatinada, Altuniya, would lead a revolt against her. This time, Razia was captured and imprisoned. While this was happening, other Turkish nobles seized the throne in Delhi. Razia and Altuniya, decided to marry, combine forces and march on Delhi. As always, she was at the head of her army, with an arrow to the chest, she died on the battlefield, trying to reclaim her throne.
Would Razia have had her throne challenged so many times if she was not a woman? Razia, was well aware she was a woman playing a mans game. Although, she enjoyed the support of the military and people, she never won over the scholars and nobles. Scholars in Delhi were aghast at seeing a woman before them in the mosque, holding court with men, singing, dancing, and in wielding unlimited power. Many scholars looked at Sufism and philosophy as unIslamic, and here was a woman ushering in these ideologies into a Sunni Muslim empire. It is clear that the scholars and nobles would rather fail under a man than succeed under a woman, which is exactly what happened. The following years were, chaotic.
1325 and 1326, were extremely progressive years in two different regions of the world. Sundiata established an empire, that would last until the 1600s, collapsing under the weight of civil war and international demand for slaves. Razia took her four year reign as Sultana and ushered in an age of religious and racial tolerance, as she took power from the more conservative nobles and scholars. The coronations of Sundiata and Razia were monumental moments in Muslim history. Razia’s death on the battlefield has been lost in history, especially when speaking on women in Islam, her name should be spoken every time.
Sundiata and Razia, have much in common; both had their rightful throne usurped and both had to fight to recover it. Sundiata, had the benefit of being a man and a united force. There was no way that the Kingdom of Kaniaga could continue their dominance over an army united under Sundiata. Sundiata had the military, people, and the scholars on his side before the Battle of Kirina. The various kingdoms saw more benefit in a united empire under a strong ruler who would allow them to live freely than one kingdom terrorizing them.
Razia, was not so lucky, mainly because she was a woman. Her right to rule was questioned before she reached the throne. She had to break gender norms, in order to assert her right to the throne. By doing this, she upset the scholars and nobles whose influence she tried to dampen. Although her rule was constantly challenged, she never wavered on her progressive reforms of religious tolerance, even when Hindu princes challenged her. What is unique to her situation, is that she had to use marriage in order to reclaim power. It seems, she avoided marriage all together, for as long as she could. She was not forced to marry before she ascended to the throne, and ruled as sole ruler. Her imprisonment and the capture of Delhi, was the only reason she saw marriage as a possibility and reality.