A painting of Hulagu Khan by Persian historian Rashid al-Din. Hulagu Khan rides on horseback with his mounted army, accompanied by a hunting dog and footmen. Sultan Sati Bey Khan, a descendant of the great Hulagu Khan, came to power in a time of great turmoil and civil war. (Wikimedia / Bibliothèque nationale de France).
Sultan Sati Bey Khan is another forgotten Muslim female ruler in history we would like to remember today. She was part of the Khan family of the Moslem Ilhan branch of the Mongol Empire and ruled in the 14th century.
In this chapter, Bahriye Üçok first briefly summarises Ilhan history, starting with Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan. Hulagu is well-known for having marched on Baghdad where in November 1258 he put an end to the Abbasid State.
Hulagu died in 1265 and, during the reigns of his successors, most of the Mongols who lived in today’s Iran converted to Sunni Islam. According to the author, thanks to the general Mongolian religious tolerance, also under Islamic rule women maintained their important political and social position they had had in the past. Gazan Khan also showed great indulgence towards Shiites. Under his reign, the Empire reached its peak.
After his death, in 1304, his brother and successor Hudabende Oljaytu Khan was unable to continue his works of reform. In addition he converted to Shia Islam and proceeded to take strict and harsh measures against Suuni Muslim. Of course, this plunged the country into discontent. His son and successor Ebu Said tried to shift the balance in favour of the Sunnis, but because of his youth and inexperience, his reign was noted for various intrigues.
In 1324 Ebu Said was poisoned, and the Ilhan Empire split up unto various separate kingdoms reigned by emirs. They were also faced with attack by the Golden Horde, and upon this the emirs chose Arık Boga’s great grandson Arpa Khan as ruler. Arpa Khan immediately put a stop to the dangerous raids, but when the emirs presented themselves before him, he treated them so harshly that most of them now set their hopes on the birth of a son to Ebu Said’s pregnant widow Dilşad Hatun. Thus, we see that Arpa Khan’s sovereignty was shaken at the foundations.
A short while later, Ebu Said’s uncle Ali Padishah’s ambition to obtain influence resulted in a civil war. Arpa was captured and put to death and Ali Padishah, by putting Baydu’s grandson Musa on the throne (1336) set up a rule that was in every way despotic. However this manner of administration drove Hadji Togay, the Emir of Oyrat, to call upon Prince Muhammed, a descendant of Mengü Timur, and bringing him from Tabriz he proclaimed him as Sultan.
This action of Hadji Togay’s resulted in armed conflict and in 1336 Emîr Ali Padishah, together with his followers, was put to the sword; Musa fled to Baghdad, and Muhammed established himself in Tabriz. Hasan, the grandson of Choban who had risen to the post of chief emir of the Ilhan Empire and had later been put to death, now emerged from hiding and was immediately surrounded by his father’s former followers.
Hasan, who was a trickster by nature, found somebody who closely resembled his father Timurtash, and pretending that this was indeed Timurtash, spread word that he had escaped and returned from Egypt. This sufficed to alarm Büyük Hasan, who was of the Jelâyirîs, even more than had been hoped. For this deception, he used his slave Karacher, but he was unable to keep for long the gains he had thus made. The truth was soon discovered. This Hasan is referred to as Small Hasan to distinguish him from Hasan Jelâyirî or İlkâni, known as “Hasan the Great”.
Before long, the influence of the two powerful emirs began to show itself in the Ilhan territories. The Empire became divided into two major zones of influence, one of Hasan the Great and the other of Small Hasan. While Hasan the Great placed first Toqa Timur, descended from Juchi Kasar, and then Keyhatu’s grandson Jihan Timur on the throne, Small Hasan encouraged Oljaytu Khan’s daughter, Ebu Said Khan’s sister Sati Bey to proclaim her sovereignty in 1338.
Since Sati Bey was a woman of the Khan family, as soon as Ilhan Arpa, on becoming Khan, came to Tabriz, he married her. Sati Bey was in any case no stranger to Small Hasan; after the death of Oljaytu’s daughter Dolandı Hatun, Küçük Hasan’s grandfather Emîr Choban had asked for the hand of her sister, that is to say Sati Bey, and had been accepted.
After Choban’s death, in 1335, his widow became betrothed to Arpa Khan with the object of strengthening the latter’s position. This marriage, which lasted for two years, ended when Arpa Khan was killed in battle. In 1338 Small Hasan encourage Sati Bey to lay claim to the throne. Disturbances and battles with Hasan the Great followed. But Small Hasan eventually used his tricks to replace Sati Bey and take over the power.
Sati Bey Hatun reigned for 9-12 months. Thus, the Ilhan Empire was supposedly ruled by Toga Timur and Sati Bey Hatun, even if there was a constant power struggle under the powerful emirs. History does not relate what befell Sati Bey at this period. After she had been obliged to relinquish the throne of the Khans, all her life remains in darkness.
Sati Bey Khan was not that kind of women who made a personal effort to become empress. She lived in a very turbulent time, full of disintegration and power struggles, as all other Muslim ruling dynasties we have known until now in Üçok’s book. And she tried to affirm herself in this complex stage of power, but never forced the situation like we can see in other ruling women. She reached a very high position in the State, as the Friday prayer was read in her name — an essential element characterising the Islamic political leader of a State.
In this book, the translator presents a revised English translation of the work by the Turkish feminist and Islamic expert Bahriye Üçok (1919-1990) who was murdered in 1990 by a parcel bomb. With this new publication, the translator aims to allow the rediscovery of an author whose historical studies on Muslim women governing Islamic States are in many cases fundamental for Islamic feminism today. As Dr. phil. Milena Rampoldi writes in her foreword: "Sources like those can help us clearly understand this issue from a historical and philosophical point of view. Like in the other two monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, in Islamic culture and religious history there is a predominating androcentric point of view, which excludes women from social and even more from political life, by interpreting and/or manipulating religious sources in a misogynist way, to dogmatically prove and a-historically decree and establish this exclusion, without permitting other interpretations, thus completely and/or negatively closing the hermeneutic circle". The translator's socio-political goal is to reactivate the political consciousness of Muslim women, who are called to actively participate in Islamic politics, to promote development, democracy, and welfare in the contemporary Islamic world.