Indian History Part 56 The Tughluq Dynasty Section V: Firuz Shah Tughluq – A Man of Peace


Canberra, 27 June 2017

As Muhammad Tughluq lay terminally ill, anxiety about dynastic succession was sweeping through the sultanate as Muhammad did not leave any male offspring to succeed him and no heir apparent had been nominated. Further, the Imperial Army was at that time stationed near Tattah, thousands of miles from Delhi. When Muhammad finally died, the empire was left without a ruler and the army leaderless. In this uncertainty the entire army started to march towards Delhi, almost like a rabble, leading to wild chaos and confusion. Seeing the Imperial army in a state of almost headlong retreat, the rebels besieged at Tattah started to attack them from the rear. To add to the confusion, the Mongols who had arrived to join hands with Muhammad to fight the rebel Taghi started to loot and plunder the royal camp. This state of affairs remained for a few days immediately following Muhammad Tughluq’s unhappy death.

Barani the chronicler, states that he was eye witness to Muhammad nominating his cousin Firuz Shah as his successor. However, this fact cannot be verified from any other source.

Who was Firuz Shah?

Firuz was the son of Sipah Salar Rajab, the younger brother of Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq. Rajab and Ghiyas had migrated together to India from Khorasan during Ala ud-Din Khilji’s reign and having joined royal service had steadily improved their position and status, with Ghiyas becoming the governor of Dipalpur.

While he was the governor of Dipalpur, Ghiyas ud-Din had proposed to Rana Mall, the Bhatti Rajput chieftain of Abohar (in the modern district of Hissar), that the Rana’s daughter should be given in marriage to his younger brother Rajab. Rana Mall, in characteristic Rajput haughtiness and pride, had spurned the offer. Ghiyas then adopted coercion as a tactic and subjected the people of Abohar to great hardship and misery by cutting off their supply lines.

It is stated in folklore that the princess accidentally overheard a discussion between the Rana and his mother regarding the ordeal the people were going through. In continuation, it is believed that the young princess sacrificed herself for the welfare of the people and married Rajab. Firuz was the offspring of this union. Unfortunately Rajab died when Firuz was only seven years old. He was thereafter brought up by Ghiyas ud-Din along with his own son Muhammad. Firuz shared a very close relationship with Muhammad throughout the latter’s life.

The nobles, fearing that the Mongol rampage would engulf the entire camp if not stopped immediately, appealed to Firuz to accept the throne and save the situation. Firuz, considered by all to be devoid of ambition, at first demurred stating that he was contemplating a pilgrimage to Mecca. Subsequently he yielded to the pressure from the nobles, allowing himself to be proclaimed the sultan on 23 March 1351 with the title Firuz Shah Tughluq. At this time he was 46 years old and the closest male relative of Muhammad Tughluq. As the nobles had predicted, the crowning of the new sultan had a calming effect on the army and order was quickly restored.

Challenges to Firuz’s Succession

Firuz’s   claim to the throne and accession was challenged by Muhammad’s sister Khudavand-zada on the grounds that her son, being Muhammad’s nephew, was a closer relative of the late sultan than Firuz. The claim was disallowed by the nobles who gave the reasoning that the boy was too young to rule. The second challenge was more difficult to push aside. When news of Muhammad Tughluq’s demise reached Delhi, Khvaja Jahan, a long-time associate of the late sultan who had been left as regent in Delhi during Muhammad’s absence on his military expedition, raised a child to the throne claiming him to be Muhammad’s son.

It is believed by most contemporary and modern historians that Khvaja acted with good intentions, purely to ensure that the kingdom did not disintegrate with the death of the sultan with no designated successor. It is also reported that he had been informed that Firuz Shah was either missing or dead. Moreover, Khvaja was over 80 years old and could not have been motivated by personal ambition, which could have made him susceptible to the charge of treason. Further he had shared an excellent rapport with Firuz through the years. As Firuz approached Delhi from Tattah, Khvaja readily submitted to him. Firuz, characteristically wanted to pardon him but the nobles, recent king-makers, decreed that the offence was too serious to be pardoned. The old man was executed.

Some modern historians posit that the boy placed on the throne by Khvaja was indeed Muhammad’s son. It is also claimed that Muhammad had only appointed Firuz the regent for the minor prince till such times as when the boy reached majority. Therefore there has been an attempt to paint Firuz as a usurper. This line of reasoning is incorrect for two reasons. First, it is certain that Muhammad left no male heir. This fact is corroborated by his sister claiming the throne for her son. If there was indeed a son, then this claim would never have been made.

Second, and more importantly, under Muslim law succession to the throne was never considered an ‘inherited right’. The throne belonged to the person from the extended royal family who was considered the most appropriate person in terms of his individual capability. The choice was made by a slightly diluted version of a vote within the nobility. In fact Firuz being installed as the sultan revived this principle of election to the position. This concept had gradually receded to the background with sons automatically assuming the throne at the death of their fathers, the incumbent sultans. Firuz being anointed the sultan by acclaim of the nobility established two new principles regarding accession to the throne. One, that the mother being a Hindu before marriage was not a hindrance to the son becoming the sultan. Two, it was now not necessary for the sultan to have distinguished himself in the battlefield as a soldier and a general.

Establishing Rule

Firuz continued his march to Delhi to physically claim the throne and reached the capital in August 1351. On the way, at Sirsuti, news of the death of Taghi, the rebel who had tired Muhammad Tughluq to death was received. This was immediately proclaimed as an auspicious portent for the success of Firuz’s rule, which was yet to begin. His arrival in Delhi was followed by the usual celebrations. Firuz also initiated some of the traditional acts of a new sultan such as the redistribution of offices, remission of some of the more oppressive taxes, pardoning of some criminals and the withdrawal of most of the punitive measures instituted by the earlier regime. These actions strengthened his hold on power. Firuz Shah was now the undisputed ruler of a very large kingdom.

Although personally very close to Muhammad Tughluq throughout the latter’s reign, as the sultan Firuz was a complete contrast to his predecessor. Firuz started his rule with a distinct advantage. Muhammad had entrusted one of the four divisions of the sultanate to him for administrative purposes and therefore he was well experienced in the art of governance. On accession to the throne he was well-equipped by temperament and experience to assume royal responsibilities.

‘Though Muhammad and Firuz were close to each other, they were entirely unlike each other in character, temperament and policies—Muhammad was an egomaniac, flighty and unpredictable, ever pursuing some chimerical scheme or other; in contrast, Firuz was a stable, dependable ruler, with a good sense of what was viable and necessary. While Muhammad wanted the world to adjust to him, Firuz adjusted himself to the world. And, more than anything else, Firuz was concerned with the stability of the empire and the welfare of its people, rather than with self-fulfilment. He was the right person in the right place at the right time.’

Abraham Eraly,

The Age of Wrath, p. 172.


Firuz was essentially a man of peace. He was a model ruler, admired both by the nobles and the common people. On assuming the throne he took upon himself the completion of two tasks on priority. The first was to reconcile the commoners who had been completely alienated by Muhammad Tughluq’s fanciful schemes and whimsical punishments. He instituted measures to ensure conducive conditions for the safety and security of the people, which had been sorely lacking in the last years of Muhammad’s rule. Firuz clearly felt the responsibility for the welfare of the people as resting on him at the highest level. Therefore, he attempted to be a model and true Islamic monarch, discharging the dual responsibilities of being the temporal ruler of all his subjects while being the spiritual leader and religious ruler of his Muslim subjects.

In doing so, he reasserted the principles of a theocratic system of government, which in turn became the foundation for all future Muslim governments in India. In continuation of this theocratic base of the government, he pronounced a ban on Hindus as well as on other ‘heretics’, which included even breakaway Islamic sects. [Most historians have made sweeping statements regarding religious freedom and moved on. The fact is that by declaring a ban on Hindus and equating them to ‘heretics’, Firuz Shah instituted the first step in ensuring the second-class citizenship that Hindus suffered in their birth place for the next five centuries. This fact and the role of Firuz in perpetuating the oppression of the Hindus has been glossed over in most narratives regarding Firuz’s rule.]

The second task that the new sultan took on was to improve the state of the sultanate from the decrepit condition that he inherited it. Firuz was not a dreamer by any stretch of imagination. He had a clear idea of the needs of the country and understood the requirement to institute proper, long-term reforms. In doing the calculations to secure the kingdom he accepted the need to recover breakaway provinces in order to make the sultanate great again. However, he was not a confident commander of troops in the battlefield. Therefore, he restricted his military expeditions to half-hearted attempts at bringing Bengal and Sind, two outlying provinces, into the fold of the sultanate. Both these campaigns were only partially successful and is described in detail in the next chapter. In a pragmatic manner, he left Rajasthan and the Deccan alone, realising that expeditions to either of these regions would be far too complex, both militarily and administratively, for him to undertake with any success. Therefore, Firuz concentrated on improving the economic prosperity of the country and in ensuring that the administration functioned effectively.

Towards achieving these objectives, he appointed capable ministers to run the administration. He was singularly lucky in having Malik-i-Maqbul, a Brahman from Telangana who had converted to Islam and an able administrator, as his prime minister. Maqbul proved to be a capable support for Firuz, serving the sultan for his entire lifetime, his son becoming the prime minister after his death.


Originally named Kunnu, Khan-i-Jahan Maqbul as he came to be known to history, was a Brahman and a favourite of the king of Telangana. During Muhammad Tughluq’s rule, Kunnu was part of the royal retinue accompanying the king of Telangana on his journey to Delhi. The king died before reaching completing the journey and the body was transported to Delhi. On reaching Delhi, Kunnu converted to Islam in the presence of Muhammad Tughluq, adopted the name of Maqbul, and entered the service of the sultan. It is reported in some Muslim chronicles that he was illiterate. This is a biased and derogatory assessment, since being a Brahman he would not have been illiterate, but highly educated. The accusation of being illiterate is possibly purely on the basis of the probability of his not knowing Persian, which was the language of the Delhi court.

Maqbul was very wise and also an able administrator who rose rapidly in Muhammad’s service and was granted the fief of Multan before long. Firuz appointed him wazir (prime minister), which proved to be an inspired decision. The sultan trusted him implicitly, leaving him in charge of the entire empire when he went on long-term, distant expeditions. Maqbul died in 1370, and his son Juna Shah—born while Maqbul was the governor of Multan—was confirmed in his office, with the titles of the father being bestowed on him.

A very early indication of the religious direction that the Firuz administration would take was provided by an action initiated by the new sultan. After reaching Delhi, one of his earliest acts was to atone for the ‘sins’ of Muhammad Tughluq, his predecessor. He presented gifts to the heirs of the people who had been killed and/or mutilated by Muhammad, especially if the reason for such action had been specious. He then secured written statements from the next-of-kin that they were satisfied with the actions taken by the sultan. These ‘written deeds of pardon’, attested by witnesses to ensure their veracity, was placed in a locked box and interred within Muhammad Tughluq’s tomb so that God would pardon him for his misdeeds on earth. The religious rigidity of the sultan is clearly evident in these actions.

Revenue Policy

Both the financial situation and the revenue administration were in chaotic conditions when Firuz took over the kingdom. The general population had suffered a great deal under the mal-administration of Muhammad. Firuz started his rule by first writing-off all the loans that his predecessor had given to his subjects. He then increased the salaries of government officials to exterminate corruption that had become endemic during Muhammad’s rule and ordered an end to the coercion of the people that was standard practice by junior officials in collecting taxes.

He also reinstituted the ‘jagir’ system, which had been abolished by Ala ud-Din Khilji as being damaging to the overall well-being of the State. In fact Firuz went to the other extreme and insisted on paying the officials through land grants alone, perpetuating a system that invariably led to the harassment of the common people in an indirect manner. To further facilitate the jagir system, Firuz divided the whole empire into fiefs and districts. It is a paradox that the sultan who was intent of lifting the misery of the common farmer started to appoint the highest bidders to the positions of Tax Collectors, who would then extort the cultivators and peasants as much as they wanted.

There is no doubt that some of the measures instituted to reform the revenue policy were retrograde steps. However, Firuz had a rough estimate of the public revenue of the kingdom calculated based on the productivity of each land holding, not on the area as had been previous practice. This was done through guess work, reinforced by local information and past records and tempered with the experience of the revenue department. The entire exercise was carried out over a period of six years by an experienced administrator, Khwaja Hisam ud-Din, who travelled the entire kingdom to carry out the assessments. This initiative was a great reformatory achievement.

Taxation Strategy

Firuz abolished as many as 24 vexatious taxes that were instituted by Muhammad and his predecessors. Further, he reduced the land revenue demands from the State, and in yet another indication of the increasing influence of religion on the State, brought all taxes in line with the Qur’anic Law. Accordingly, the people were required to pay only the basic four taxes decreed by it—Kharaj, the land tax; Khams, one-fifth of the booty captured in war by individual soldiers; Jizya, to be paid by all non-Muslims; and Zakat, two percent of the income of Muslims.

Firuz also introduced an irrigation tax, charged on all farmers who used waters from the State canals for irrigating their cultivable lands. The introduction of this new tax was done only after due consultation with the Ulema, since that was the procedure decreed by Muslim Law. These measures had a salutary effect on the development of trade and agriculture, ensuring that the common use commodities became readily available at a steady price. Further, judicious tax application and collection ensured that the State was never in deficit financing. In fact there was sufficient surplus available in the royal treasury for the sultan to indulge in charity and indulge in his passion to build works of public utility.

For the first time since the Jizya was introduced in India, Firuz imposed this tax payable by all non-Muslims, on the Brahmans who had so far been exempt from doing so. Further, this tax was enforced rigidly and rigorously, much to the chagrin of the majority population of the kingdom who were Hindus.

Irrigation and Other Developmental Works

With the financial aspects of the State having been brought on an even keel, Firuz turned his attention to one of his passions—building works. The major works were oriented towards ensuring availability of water for the population and also for agricultural purposes through the building of canals. Water scarcity in Delhi has been reported by contemporary chroniclers and it is reliably known that water was sold at exorbitant prices in the capital. In order to alleviate this situation Firuz built a number of canals. Obviously this initiative was tinged with a commercial aspect also, since an irrigation tax was levied for the use of the canal water.

Five major canals that facilitated agriculture were built under his orders. The most important one was the 150-miles long canal that connected the waters of the River Yamuna to Hissar. The other four were—a 96 miles long canal that connected the Rivers Sutlej and Ghagra; one that connected Hansi to the rivers across the Mandvi hills; another that brought waters of the River Ghagra to the newly established township of Firozabad; and a canal that brought the waters of the River Yamuna into the same township. Firuz also had a number of reservoirs, dams and wells built to ensure that water was readily available to all throughout the year. These canals greatly improved agriculture with the roll-on effect of increasing the revenue for the kingdom.

Historians are unanimous in acknowledging Firuz Shah as a great builder of public works. Firuz’s indulgence in building works is interesting because earlier sultans had not indulged in building activities other than to construct their own mausoleums and make additions to their palaces. The reason is that the earlier sultans were busy putting down rebellions from their own kin and fighting off hostile Hindu kings, which left no time or resources to indulge in public utility works or even contemplate such activities. Firuz was the first king to enjoy a relatively long period of peace with no large scale wars to be fought. This was as much a result of Firuz’s own decision not to indulge in expansionist activities as the gradual settling down of the political sphere because of the reluctant acceptance of the reality of a Muslim king ruling in and around Delhi by the agitating Hindu kings. This relative peace, combined with astute financial management, gave Firuz the opportunity to indulge in his passion for building.

Some contemporary reporting state that Firuz ‘built’ or ‘founded’ 300 towns. This is obviously an exaggeration, even if villages that had been abandoned earlier and were repopulated after the success of the irrigation projects and at the direct encouragement by the sultan for agriculture are counted as new towns. However, it can be assumed that he founded the towns of Firuzabad, Fatehbad, Hissar, Firozpur and Jaunpur, even though some of them did exist as small places earlier. Firuz improved them considerably and encouraged their repopulation. He laid out many gardens and reclaimed large areas of wasteland for agriculture. Firuz initiated a scheme for the preservation of ancient monuments, removing some of King Asoka’s (Asoka the Great of the ancient Maurya dynasty) monoliths to his new city Firuzabad (modern Firoz Shah Kotla) near Delhi. The building works were centrally controlled with each building plan being scrutinised at the sultan’s finance office, only after which money was allocated for construction. Firuz’s zeal for building and construction was such that later-day European historians have compared him favourably as surpassing the building activities undertaken by the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Patronage for Learning

Firuz was an accomplished scholar and also a great patron of learning. He established a large number of madrasas—schools and colleges that provided education in line with religious teachings—where the teachers were paid liberal salaries and the students given stipends by the State. [These madrasas concentrated on the broad education of the students within the laid down limits of the Qur’anic Law and also religious teachings, unlike the madrasas of today in the same region that teach only an extremist interpretation of Islam and nothing else—more like factories with production lines churning out extremist functionaries.]

The sultan endowed learned men lavishly and encouraged the study and writing of history. The famous historian Zia ud-Din Barani and Shams-i-Siraj Afif, who wrote the book Tarikh-i-Firozshahi, were the principle chroniclers of the regime. The sultan also wrote his autobiography, Fatuhat-i-Firozshahi. After the conquest of Nagarkot, a large library fell into the hands of the sultan and he had some of the Sanskrit works translated into Persian. The famous contemporary scholar, Maulana Jalal ud-Din Rumi lectured on theology and Islamic jurisprudence in various colleges around Delhi during Firuz’s reign.

The focus on religion-based education and its State sponsorship had unfortunate, and perhaps unforeseen, consequences for the future development of religious intolerance in the sub-continent. Essentially Muslim scholars were specifically encouraged to devote themselves to theological studies, gradually to the exclusion of other areas of learning. The outcome was the development of a narrow and blinkered vision of orthodox Islamic practices and positions that became the dominant religious force. In turn, this nurtured and entrenched religious fanaticism, vitiating an already poisonous environment.

The Slave System

Over the two centuries since the Delhi sultanate was first established, the Slave System that was prevalent in the early years had fallen in to disuse and become redundant. This could have been the result of two long-term activities: one, the number of Turkish ‘slaves’ being brought into the sub-continent had started to decline; and two, the gradual Indianisation of the ruling class through intermarriages and the rise of local converts to Islam into the administration and their eventual inclusion into the nobility. However, Firuz was very fond of the slave system and imported slaves from all parts of the empire to Delhi. They were put to the service of the State and paid by the royal treasury in accordance with individual education and experience.

At the height of Firuz’s rule, the slaves numbered around 180,000 and a separate department had been set up to manage the service of the slaves. The institution grew to a dangerous level and percolated all aspects of the administration. The pervasiveness of the system contributed in later years to the disintegration of the empire.

The Army

Firuz Shah lacked military skills and was not gifted with a warrior spirit, both of which were imperative characteristics for success in a medieval king. Further, may be because of his ineptitude in the battlefield, he did not display any energy or enthusiasm for military campaigns. Even when military campaigns had to be mounted for the security of the empire, he permitted extreme religious scruples to interfere with the robust prosecution of these campaigns, even the ones that were going in his favour. Therefore, it is not surprising that he permitted the ‘standing army’ of Ala ud-Din to be dispersed, reorganising the royal army on a feudal basis. The standing army, loyal only to the sultan, had been the backbone of the Khilji Empire as well as the mainstay of Muhammad Tughluq’s power. It now became dispersed.

The regular army was replaced by forces supplied by the nobles and therefore, their loyalty to the sultan could never be fully assured. The sultan relied on a group of personal body guards for his own security and since the loyalty of the regular forces had become questionable, these body guards wielded enormous power. The payment system for the soldiers also underwent a change and a system of transferable assignment of revenue was instituted. This led to a professional-class purchasing these revenue assignments in Delhi and then selling them to soldiers in the faraway districts at a higher price. This unwitting reorganisation led to the weakening of the army for three allied reasons.

First, the buying and selling of revenue assignments became so entrenched, almost like a business enterprise, which led to complete abuse of the system and the ensuing deterioration in overall discipline of the force. Second, it led to old and retiring soldiers being replaced automatically by their sons, sons-in-law and, in some extreme case, even by slaves. This led, gradually, to service in the army becoming hereditary, a process that did not take into account individual merit, capability or even fitness to serve. The general negative impact on the overall capability of the force is easy to envisage. Third, only about 80-90,000 cavalry was stationed in Delhi with the rest of the imperial army being supplied, when needed, by the nobles from far-flung areas based on a quota system.

The end result of these changes to the force structure of the army was that the military, which had been the bastion of Khilji power and even that of Muhammad Tughluq, did not function as an instrument of force of the empire anymore.

A Religious Policy of Bigotry

Firuz was brought to the throne by a group of prominent nobles with the overt support of the Ulema, the clergy who ruled the mosques. He was ever mindful of this. Firuz Shah was a practising orthodox Sunni Muslim and by temperament attracted to religion. He embodied all that an orthodox Muslim in medieval times stood for, being an epitome of the follower of an infant religion that had been propagated by the sword across Asia and southern Europe. Firuz had both the virtues and the vices that came with the practice of orthodoxy in Islam. First, he was intolerant of any religious practice other than that of the orthodox Islamic traditions as envisaged by the Sunni persuasion. Flowing from this rigid belief he insisted on strict enforcement of Sunni Islamic prescriptions and prohibited all others as ‘un-Islamic’ practices. This was carried forward to the minutest detail. For example, the display of portraits, which was a custom that was in vogue since the earliest days of the sultanate was forbidden even in the palace.

Firuz Shah started his reign with a slight religious disadvantage since his mother had been a Hindu prior to her marriage and conversion to Islam. It is highly likely that he felt the need to be seen as being an ultra-orthodox Muslim to ensure that there was no criticism of his actions in relation to Islamic traditions. He needed to demonstrate his adherence to the Islamic faith much more than would have been the case had his mother been a Turkish noble lady. Whatever the complex reasoning in his mind, Firuz laid the foundation for the sultanate to be turned into a theocracy with the Ulema becoming an integral and important part of the ruling coterie.

He instituted a policy that ensured that the lost prestige of the Ulema was re-established without any doubt—a policy that was in direct contradiction of the ones that were followed by Ala ud-Din Khilji and his own cousin Muhammad Tughluq. In his own mind Firuz Shah had a black and white division of mankind—Muslims and non-Muslims—that influenced and determined all his decisions and actions. He considered only followers of Islam as his subjects and of concern to the State. Therefore, it must be kept in mind that when contemporary chroniclers praise his concern for the welfare of his subjects, they mean the sultan’s anxiety to ensure the well-being of the Muslims in his regime and not the Hindus who were still the majority of the population under his rule.

Firuz sought and accepted the advice of the Ulema even in political and secular matters of State. The Ulema were orthodox to the core and biased to the extreme with a narrow parochial outlook. Under their influence, Firuz willingly assumed the mantle of ‘champion of the faith’. This automatically meant putting in force three initiatives—oppression of non-believers, repression of Hinduism and stamping out idolatry. The policy of separation of the State and religion, which Muhammad Tughluq had strenuously enforced at considerable expense to his personal popularity, had been put aside in one fell sweep by his successor.

In his autobiography Firuz confirms that he used many methods to convert non-believers to Islam. There is ample proof that he offered financial rewards, gift of jagirs, investiture of titles, and the lure of state employment to convert non-believers to Islam. On the other hand he also resorted to heavy handed measure to demonstrate the power of Islam such as killing of Brahmans, desecrating and destroying temples and breaking up of idols, all of which gradually became common practices. Firuz adopted a two-pronged policy towards the persecution of Hindus. He resorted to the direct oppression of the religious leadership, for example the imposition of the Jizya tax on the Brahmans, who had been exempt till then. The second prong of the policy was more insidious. Firuz enticed the lower castes in the Hindu religion to convert by bestowing favours on them and the promise of equal treatment with all others. [This part of the policy resonates with the practices of Christian missionaries in later times in the sub-continent.] It is noted that the administration was particularly harsh in their dealings with the Tantric sect.

The complete orthodoxy and influence of the Ulema can be understood by the fact that even Shia Muslims were considered heretics by the administration. They were punished and their religious books openly burned. In an extreme display of intolerance, even the peace-loving Sufi practitioners were also persecuted. Firuz forced religious practices into the social fabric of the kingdom, shutting down cults that existed even within the Islamic traditions. In order to ensure that he was considered the rightful heir to the throne, he consciously paid tribute to the nominal Khalifa (Caliph) in Egypt and received endorsement and robes of honour in return. He also declared himself a deputy of the Khalifa. This was the first time that a sultan had taken such an action in the history of the Delhi sultanate.

Attempts have been made in modern writings to show Firuz Shah as having been a tolerant monarch, who treated the Hindus in a kind and gentle manner. This is an incorrect assessment belied by facts as it took place during his reign. Firuz’s own writing in his autobiography states the dual purpose of his invasion of Jajnagar (modern Orissa), which is detailed in the next chapter, as ‘massacring the unbelievers and demolishing their temples.’ The book goes on to provide further details of the vigour and relentless severity with which these objectives were pursued by the sultan and his army. It is very obvious that Firuz Shah looked upon his empire as purely a Muslim State where the State benefits would be available only to Muslim subjects. The Hindus, who remained the majority even at this time, were not considered citizens and were treated as non-existent in the broader scheme of policies and other welfare initiatives. No amount of ‘explanations’ by later-day historians can erase the fact that Firuz established and pursued a bigoted religious policy.


Firuz Shah came to the throne of Delhi by default, succeeding his mis-guided cousin Muhammad Tughluq. However, he managed to establish a semblance of stability and bring the turbulence left by the late sultan under control. Being a ‘man of peace’, as he has been described by a number of erudite historians, he did not attempt to improve the territorial holdings of the sultanate. However, an analysis, tempered with great hindsight, reveals that this abhorrence towards military campaigns was more the result of his lack of military skills and warring spirits, not because of a lack of understanding regarding the need to fight and win military campaigns to cement his rule or even for the lack of ambition.

The establishment of a decidedly theocratic State within the sub-continent, for the first time, must be attributed to Firuz Shah—whether as a compliment or as a derogatory achievement. Even this dubious distinction has attracted the attention of modern historians who continually make attempts at trying to project Muslim rulers of the sub-continent as having been the epitomes of tolerance and just rule. These assertions only tend to further entrench the belief of the vile nature of some of these invaders and rulers who cloaked heir avarice for treasure and wealth under the guise of sanctimonious religiosity. However, that was the general character of rulers of the medieval period, especially the ones of the Islamic faith. It is not surprising that Firuz Shah was not the ‘man of peace’ that he is made out to be, but squarely belonged to the ranks of these intolerant and blood-thirsty sultans.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2017]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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