Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom: The Sultanahs of Aceh, 1641−1699

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By Sher Banu A.L. Khan

The Islamic kingdom of Aceh was ruled by queens for half of the 17th century. Was female rule an aberration? Unnatural? A violation of nature, comparable to hens instead of roosters crowing at dawn? Indigenous texts and European sources offer different evaluations. Drawing on both sets of sources, this book shows that female rule was legitimised both by Islam and adat (indigenous customary laws), and provides original insights on the Sultanah’s leadership, their relations with male elites, and their encounters with European envoys who visited their court. The book challenges received views on kingship in the Malay world and the response of indigenous polities to east-west encounters in Southeast Asia’s Age of Commerce.


"We have waited too long for a book such as this. It explores the extraordinary phenomenon of a preference for queens in the golden age of Islamic Aceh. Countering the dominant nationalist, feminist and Islamic scholarship, all of which find uncongenial the striking phenomenon of a preference for queens in early modern Asian Islam, Banu has utilized rich primary sources to reveal a queenship that was truly Islamic, effective and benign. This book is a revelation. Read it."
Anthony Reid, The Australian National University

"Sher Banu’s superb study based on a host of newly discovered contemporary source materials throws new light on a hotly discussed topic among historians of Southeast Asian statecraft in Early Modern time."
Leonard Blusse, Leiden University

"The author is to be congratulated on a book that makes a significant contribution both to the history of Southeast Asia and to comparative studies on women in early modern Asia."
Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya, University of Hawai‘i 


Sher Banu A.L. Khan is an assistant professor at the Malay Studies Department, National University of Singapore.


Publication Year: 2017
336 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-981-4722-20-9, Paperback
3 b/w illustrations, 1 map

NUS Press