Her story
Shajar al-Dur was of Armenian origin, and grew up in the harem of the Caliph of Baghdad. She was presented as a gift to the ruler Al-Malik as-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub of Egypt, and became his favorite wife. Shajar al-Dur was renowned for her beauty and intelligence, but her fame was attained after the death of her husband in 1249, during the Seventh Crusade against Egypt, led by the French King Louis IX. To maintain control and stability among her troops, Shajar al-Dur averted a crisis by concealing the sultan's death and assuming control of the sultanate until the sultan's son returned from Syria. The unlikable new sultan soon alienated the Mamluk slave soldiers, and in the spring of 1250 a group of Mamluks assassinated Turanshah and proclaimed Shajar al-Dur as their Sultana.

The Caliph of Baghdad resented the Mamlukís choice of a woman as their leader so he sent the Mamluk officer Izz al-Din Aybak to rule Egypt in her place. Aybak was already married and had a son, but he left his family to marry Shajar al-Dur. Together, they initiated the first Mamluk Dynasty of Egypt and Syria, a dynasty that would resist the Mongols, expel the European Crusaders, and remain the most powerful political force in the Middle East until the reign of the Ottomans.

Aybak and Shajar al-Durís partnership was a powerful one but fraught with insecurity and suspicion. In 1257, she discovered that Aybak was plotting against her. In her usual cool manner, Shajar al-Dur acted swiftly and decisively, murdering Aybak in his bathtub. This prompted his first wife and son to seek revenge against the Sultana. At their orders, Aybakís concubines beat her to death with wooden clogs and threw her corpse into the moat of the Cairo Citadel.

Despite her violent end, hers is undeniably the story of a woman of epic stature. In many ways, she embodies what many of us, as women, aspire to in beauty, achievement, and endurance.