Arabic: sultān

The crest of the Ottoman sultan. Belonging to the tomb of Süleyman 1 (the Magnificent), IstanbulTurkey.

Title used by monarchs in Muslim countries.

The title was one of indirect religious meaning, as the sultan was supposed to have both moral and spiritual authority as defined by the Koran. Yet, the sultan was no religious leader — he was more a secular leader who ruled in accordance with Islam.

The first to carry the title was the Turkmen chief Mahmud of Gazna (ruled 998- 1030). Later both the Seljuqs, Mamlukes and Ottomans called their leaders sultans.

The religious element of the title was well illustrated by the fact that it was the shadow caliph in Cairo that bestowed the title “sultan” on the fourth leader of the Ottomans (the earlier leaders had been beys).

At later stages, even smaller rulers took the name “sultan”, as was the case for the earlier leaders of today’s royal family of Morocco.

Today, of the monarchs of North Africa and the Middle East only the leader of Oman uses the title “sultan”; Qaboos ibn Said.


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