The Caliph of Baghdad resented the Mamluk’s 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-Dur’s 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, Aybak’s 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.