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A sultan (Arabic: سلطان) is an Islamic title, with several historical meanings.


Muslim monarch ruling under the terms of shariah

The title carries moral weight and religious authority, as the ruler's role was defined in the Qur'an. The sultan however was not a religious teacher himself. In the Byzantine Empire and the traditional spheres of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, a comparable unity of church and state in the person of the ruler is termed Caesaropapism. The last Western ruler with comparable authority was Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, though formally (if not in practice) the British monarch represents a similar union of church and state, being both the head of state and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England; in practice, the Queen is merely the titular leader of church and state.

The first to carry the title of 'Sultan' was the Turkmen chief Mahmud of Ghazni (ruled 998 - 1030). Later, 'Sultan' became the usual title of rulers of Seljuk and Ottoman Turks and Ayyubid and Mamluk rulers in Egypt. The spiritual validation of the title was well illustrated by the fact that it was the shadow caliph in Cairo that bestowed the title "sultan" on Murad I, the third ruler of the Ottoman Empire in 1383. The earlier leaders had been beys.

At later stages, lesser rulers assumed the styling "sultan", as was the case for the earlier leaders of today's royal family of Morocco. Today, only the Sultan of Oman, the Sultan of Brunei, and some titular sultans in the southern Philippines, Java, and in the former Malay States which are now part of Malaysia still use the title. The sultan's domain is properly called a sultanate. A feminine form, used by Westerners, is Sultana or Sultanah; the very styling misconstrues the roles of wives of sultans. In a similar usage, the wife of a German Field-Marshal might be styled Feldmarschallin.

Among those modern hereditary rulers who wish to emphasize their secular authority under the rule of law, the term is gradually being replaced by 'king'.

Princely title

In the Ottoman dynastic system, every close relative, male and female, of the ruling Padishah (in the west also known as Great Sultan), was styled Sultan, either before or after the name, so equivalent to a western prince of the blood.

Military rank

In a number of post-caliphal states under Mongol of Turkic rule, there was a feudal type of military hierarchy, often decimal (mainly in larger empires), using princely titles (Khan, Malik, Amir) as mere rank denominations.

In the Persian empire, the rank of Sultan was roughly equivalent to a western Captain, socially in the fifth rank class, styled 'Ali Jah

Former sultans and sultanates

East Africa

Southeast Asia


Contemporary Sultans

See also: Related links

Sources and References

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