Sultan Hatîdje, Sultan Meryem, Sultan Fatma Dâyîn In the Sultanate of the Maldives
All of us know the wonderful archipelago of the Maldives, situated 400 miles to the south-west of Sri Lanka. Here too, female rulers reigned in Muslim history.
In her book, Bahriye Üçok gives us a general overview of the history of the Maldives. Although, according to the historian Zambaur, Muhammed el-Âdil was the first ruler of the islands to embrace Islam (548-1153-4), Ibn Battuta, the famous Moroccan traveller, relates that a widely known legend gives the honor of being the first Muslim sultan to Ahmed Shenurâze.
Because the people of the Maldives had been converted to Islam through the efforts of a Berber, called Abu’1-Barakât, they adopted the rites of the Maliki to which Abu’l Barakât belonged. His tomb is still venerated in the capital of the Maldives, Malé.
The islands, which were divided into thirteen provinces in the Middle Ages, were administered by governors who also acted as cadi. Besides a grand vizier who acted in the name of the sultan, there was also a chief cadi called “fendiyar kalu” who had an absolute authority in the field of legal decisions. As had been traditional since Ahmed Shenurâze’s time, the chief cadi received the revenues of three islands.
In the 19th century, also female rulers governed the Islands. Hatidje binti Djelâlüddîn Ömer (her local name was Rehendîkabadikilâce) did not succeed her father immediately after his death. Her brother Shihabüddîn, though a minor, succeeded to the throne before her, and Abdullah bin Hadramî was appointed as his vizier. When Shihabüddîn grew up he appointed his slave Ali Kelekî in Hadramî’s place; but the new vizier, upon realizing the immoral character of the sultan, had him deposed and beheaded.
All three eligible members for the throne in the dynasty were women, but this was not considered an impediment. First Shihabüddîn’s sister Hatidje succeeded to the throne in 748/1347-8 by popular request. Her husband Djemalüddîn was appointed vizier. Still all proclamations were made in Hatidje’s name.
Sultan Hatidje and her husband the vizier received their visitors in a suite called “Dâr.” The visitor, with at least two costumes as gifts under his arms, first greeted Sultan Hatidje and put one of the costumes before her, and then did the same with her husband. Sultan Hatidje’s royal guard, numbering a thousand native soldiers and foreign mercenaries, came to the Dâr every day to perform obeisance to her.
In commerce on the islands the shells of a sea animal were used, but the queen’s guards were paid in quantities of rice.
Sultan Hatidje received all her visitors, male or female, bare headed. In any case, in the XIV century, Maldivian women were dressed in a sarong that covered only the lower half of their bodies, the upper part was completely naked as was usual under the climatic conditions of the equator. Ibn Battuta, who was cadi of the islands for eighteen months, confesses that, in spite of all his efforts, he could not succeed in making the women wear something to cover the upper part of their bodies, though a few women, probably the sultan among them, wore a light sleeveless blouse.
Sultan Hatidje, who succeeded to the throne in 748/1347-8, died in 781/1379-80 after a reign of 33 years. She was followed by her sister Meryem binti Djelâlüddîn Ömer (native name Melike Radafati Kambadikilace), and her husband Muhammed ibni Muhammed Djemalüddîn became her vizier. Sultan Meryem reigned until 785/1383, when she was succeeded by her daughter Fatma Dâyin Kambadikilace binti Muhammed, who must have got married three or four years after her accession, because Abdullah, her husband, was appointed vizier only in 789. Sultan Fatma’s reign came to an end in 790/1388, and with it 42 years of uninterrupted rule by three woman sovereigns.
Though Ibn Battuta talks of them as sisters, according to the historian Zambaur, Fatma is Meryem’s daughter, which sounds convincing when we consider the date of Fatma’s marriage. We regret to state that our research has failed to unearth any more information about these women.
The fourth woman sovereign in the Maldives, actually on Malicut in the north of the Maldives, reigned in the early 17th-century. Unfortunately, Pyrard, who conversed with her, does not give her name. Nevertheless, the book of François Pyrard, who visited the Maldives almost two centuries after Ibn Battuta and stayed there for a long period, reflects the startling changes that have taken place in the Maldives in the meantime. By the early XVII century, Muslim Maldivian women considered bare breasts the greatest shame possible. They went out, preferably in the evening, never without a veil in daytime, and uncovered their heads only in the presence of the queen or the princesses.
Such observations make it clear that the Muslim “purdah,” unobserved during the reign of Sultan Hatidje Binti Ömer, made its influence felt thoroughly later owing to various factors.
Many researchers think that, like in other regions of the Muslim world like Aceh in Indonesia, Bhopal in India and on the Comoro Islands, also on the Maldives there was a strong matriarchal tradition which was maintained during Muslim rule, and that therefore one Muslim female ruler followed the other.
Even now, women play an essential role in the society of the Maldives. Half of the students at the university are women. Women are also well represented in the government of the Maldives.
This entry is based on “Female Sovereigns in Islamic States.” You can find it on Amazon here.
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