Sultana (title)

For other uses, see Sultana (disambiguation).

Sultana or sultanah (Arabic: سلطانه sulṭānah, pronounced [səlˈtanə]) is an Islamic title and a feminine form of the word sultan. This term has been legally used for some Muslim women monarchs and sultan's consorts. Nevertheless, westerners have used the title to refer to Muslim women monarchs and sultan's women relatives who don't hold this title officially.


The term sultana is a feminine form of the word sultan (Arabic: سلطان), an Arabic abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", derived from the verbal noun سلطة sulṭah, meaning "authority" or "power". Later, sultan came to be used as the title of certain rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), albeit without claiming the overall caliphate, or to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate.


Ruling sultana

Some Muslim female monarchs chose to adopt the title of Sultana/Sultanah when they ascended to the throne.

North Africa

In the former Kingdom of Touggourt, now part of Algeria, there was one ruling sultana: Aïsha.

Southeast Asia

In Samudera Pasai Sultanate (now part of Indonesia), Sultana Seri Ratu Nihrasyiah Rawangsa Khadiyu (r. 1406-1427) became the sole ruler. In Aceh Darussalam (now part of Indonesia and Malaysia), there have been four ruling sultanas:

In Maldives, there have been five ruling sultanas:

On 5 May 2015, Hamengkubuwono X, Sultan and Governor of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, appointed his eldest daughter, Lady Nurmalita Sari (from then on Princess Mangkubumi), as heiress presumptive. If she does ascend to the throne, it is very possible she will hold the title sultana and become first the Javanese woman to do so.

Sultana consort

Sultana is also used for sultan's wives. Between 1914 and 1922, monarchs of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty used the title of Sultan of Egypt, and their wives were legally styled as sultanas.[1] Two women held the title of sultana during the short-lived Sultanate of Egypt: Melek Tourhan, the wife of Sultan Hussein Kamel, and Nazli Sabri, the wife of Sultan Fuad I. Nazli Sabri became queen (malika) following the establishment of the Kingdom of Egypt in 1922, and it is with the latter title that she is almost always associated. Melek Tourhan, on the other hand, legally retained the title of sultana even after Egypt became a kingdom, and is often referred to simply as Sultana Melek.

Sultana is also title for consort of ruler in some Malaysian states. Some consorts who hold this title are


In the west, the title of sultana is also used to refer to many female Muslim monarchs who don't hold this title officially.

In medieval Egypt, Shajar al-Durr, a former slave of Turkic origin, ascended the throne in 1250.[2] Although several sources assert that she took the title of sultana,[3] The Cambridge History of Islam disputes the claim, stating that "a feminine form, sultana, does not exist in Arabic: the title sulṭān appears on Shajar al-Durr's only extant coin."[4]

Raziya al-Din, usually referred to in history as Razia Sultana, was the Sultan of Delhi in India from 1236 to May 1240. Like some other princesses of the time, she was trained to lead armies and administer kingdoms if necessary.[5] She was the first female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate.[6] She refused to be addressed as Sultana because it meant "wife or consort of a Sultan" and would answer only to the title "Sultan."[7] Like Shajar al-Durr, Raziya was also often referred as sultana by westerners, very possible to distinguish her from male sultans.

Sultana was also often used to refer to women relatives of a sultan and other Muslim monarch or female members of Muslim dynasties, especially mothers and chief wives. In fact, many sultanates used other title for sultan's chief consort, some of which derived from non-Arabic language.

Permaisuri, a title for a chief wife of a sultan in many sultanates and Muslim kingdoms in southeast Asia, is derived from Tamil பரமேஸ்வரி (paramēsvari), from Sanskrit परमेश्वरी (parameśvarī), 'supreme lady'. This title is still used for the consort of Yang di-Pertuan Agong, monarch and head of state of Malaysia. The formal way of addressing her is Raja Permaisuri Agong.

In Brunei, official title for a chief wife of sultan is Seri Baginda Raja Isteri, derived from Sanskrit raja (राजा, equivalent with "king") and isteri (equivalent with "women" or "lady"). The official title for sultan's mother is Seri Suri Begawan Raja Isteri.

Shahbanu, title for the wife of Iran's monarch, is derived from Persian shah (شاه, equivalent with "king") and banu (بانو, translated as "lady"). Upon assuming the title in 1967, Farah Pahlavi, the third wife of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was the first shahbanu to be crowned in Iran since the Arab conquest of Iran in the 7th century. Shahbanu often translated in English as "empress".

Some Muslim monarchs also used the title malika (Arabic: ملكة), a feminine form of the word malik, for their wives. This title is still used in many Muslim kingdoms, like Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Ottoman royalty

Since 16th century, Ottoman used the title sultan for imperial princesses after their given names (e.g. Mihrimah Sultan and Hatice Sultan). They were all non-ruling royalty; in the western sense, princesses, not queens or empresses. The monarch's mother, who had more power, had the title Valide Sultan (e.g. Ayşe Hafsa Sultan). She was referred to by this title alone, without her given name. Principal consort had the title Haseki Sultan (e.g. Hürrem Sultan). Non-principal consorts had the title hatun, equivalent to lady. This usage underlines the Ottoman conception of sovereign power as family prerogative.[8] Nevertheless, westerners often translated their official title, sultan, to sultana, possibly to distinguish them from the Ottoman ruler.

See also


  1. Rizk, Yunan Labib (13–19 April 2006). "A palace wedding". Al-Ahram Weekly (790). Retrieved 2010-02-27. ... Britain granted the rulers among the family the title of sultan, a naming that was also applied to their wives.
  2. Hitti, Philip Khuri (2004) [1951]. "Chapter XLVII: Ayyūbids and Mamlūks". History of Syria: including Lebanon and Palestine (2nd ed.). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. p. 629. ISBN 978-1-59333-119-1. OCLC 61240442. Retrieved 2010-03-01.
  3. Meri, Josef W., ed. (2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Volume 2: L–Z, index. New York: Routledge. p. 730. ISBN 978-0-415-96692-4. OCLC 314792003. Retrieved 2010-03-01. ... Shajar al-Durr was proclaimed sultana (the feminine form of sultan) of the Ayyubid dominions, although this was not recognized by the Syrian Ayyubid princes.
  4. Holt, P. M.; Lambton, Ann K. S.; Lewis, Bernard, eds. (1977). The Cambridge History of Islam. Cambridge University Press. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-521-29135-4. OCLC 3549123. Retrieved 2010-03-01.
  5. Gloria Steinem (Introduction), Herstory: Women Who Changed the World, eds. Deborah G. Ohrn and Ruth Ashby, Viking, (1995) p. 34-36. ISBN 978-0670854349 Archived June 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. Table of Delhi Kings: Muazzi Slave King The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909, v. 2, p. 368..
  7. O’Brien, Derek. Derek Introduces: 100 Iconic Indians. Rupa Publications. ISBN 8129134136.
  8. Peirce, Leslie P. (1993). The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507673-7.
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