Large numbers of outsiders were integrated into premodern Islamic society through the institution of slavery. Many were boys of non-Muslim parents drafted into the army, and some rose to become powerful political figures; in Egypt, after the death of Ayyubid sultan al-Salih (r. 1240–49), they formed a dynasty known as the Mamluks. For slave concubines, the route to power was different: Shajar al-Durr, the concubine of al-Salih, gained enormous status when she gave birth to his son and later governed as regent in her son’s name, converting to Islam after her husband’s death and then reigning as sultan in her own right. She emerges as a figure both unique and typical of the pathways to assimilation and mobility.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5
Pages (from-to)41-55
Number of pages15
JournalThe Medieval Globe
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Middle Ages
  • Civilization, Medieval


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