The forgotten queen of Egypt - Abdallah Ewis
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Beginning the late Ayyubid dynasty, the increased demand to build an army in Egypt made for trade routes for military slavery. Mamaleek were brought from Turkic countries to Cairo, where they were educated and trained in military arts to serve sultans, amirs, and army commanders. They were designated based on their origin and place of training, and established a kind of kinship accordingly. Their vital role in the sultanate’s affairs shaped their social and political status. For enslaved girls, however, social mobility largely reflected their roles as concubines and mothers to influential male figures.
Much of Shajar Al-Durr’s biography prior to her relationship with As-Salih Ayyub is unknown. Historians estimate her place and time of birth based on when she became part of As-Salih’s harem, and based on the designation of the mamaleek who served As-Salih. While most records state that she was purchased by As-Salih, some claim she was gifted to him. She joined As-Salih’s harem before he became sultan. She was detained with him amid hereditary conflicts, and became a mother to his son, Khalil. This likely influenced his decision to marry her.
According to some ancient historians, As-Salih relied on Shajar Al-Durr to reign over Egypt and its treasury during his military campaigns, preparing her for the 7th Crusade. One historian goes on to state that As-Salih didn’t trust his successor, Turanshah, and warned Shajar Al-Durr of his inability to reign over the sultanate.
Despite her ability to conceal the sultan’s death, and defeat the 7th Crusade, Shajar Al-Durr was faced with distrust and lack of support from leadership within the sultanate. Shajar Al-Durr wasn’t the first women to serve as sultana in the Islamic world, but her status as an enslaved women meant that the hereditary Ayyubid dynasty would come to an end; women in Islam reserve their surnames regardless of their martial status. Her inauguration would begin the mamluk dynasty, a non-hereditary dynasty where formerly enslaved people governed over Egypt.
For sources about Shajar Al-Durr in Arabic, check out these links:شجرة الدر.. أصلها وسنها وتاريخ وفاتها مجهول.. والقبقاب مؤكدحكاية شجرة الدر.. تركية الأصل حكمت مصر ثم ماتت بالقباقيب"شجر الدر" من القصر إلى القبر.. كيف أنهت "حرب الضرائر" حياة السلطانة؟
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