Biography of Islam Shah the Successor of Sher Shah


When Sher Shah died in 1545, he left two sons, Adil and Jalal. The former was the elder of the two. Both the sons were away at the time of Sher Shah’s death but Jalal was the first to reach and consequently was made king by the nobles. Adil was superseded. Jalal took up the title of Islam Shah or Salim Shah and ruled up to 1553.

Islam Shah (1545-53) :

The first act of the new king was to distribute among the army two months pay in cash. All the Jagirs were resumed by the king and their holders were given cash. The Raja of Kalinjar was put to death. Islam Shah built a Serai at every half Kos between the Serais of his father. He stationed in each of those Serais two horses and some footmen to bring news every day from Bengal. Poor travellers wer given all kinds of comforts.


Provision was made for giving of alms in those Serais. No distinction was made between Hindus and Muslims. Regulations were issued for the guidance of civil and military officials and they were required to follow them strictly. He maintained strict discipline in the army which was thoroughly reorganised and made efficient.

Lands were granted for the maintenance of troops. He gave promotions to his six hundred horsemen who had served him when he was a prince. He set up an elaborate system of espionage throughout the length and breadth of the country. The result was that he received detailed reports regarding the happenings in various parts of the country.

He took prompt action against the guilty and his orders were carried out in the same spirit. He set up permanent camps in the country and stationed troops in them. The camps were the centres from which royal influence radiated. On Fridays, justice was given to all the petitioners.

It is true that Islam Shah had ability and energy but he was suspicious by nature. He could not win over the affection of the nobles who virtually worshipped his father. The result was that one by one, many Afghan nobles who were responsible for the success of Sher Shah, were disposed of and thus a beginning was made in that process which ultimately led to the downfall of the second Afghan Empier.


Adil Khan, Islam’s brother, paid a visit to the royal court and no harm was done to him as nobles like Khawas Khan, one of the lieutenants of Sher Shah, had given Adil a guarantee that no harm would be done to him. Adil was given a Jagir but he was hardly in possession of that Jagir for two months when orders were issued for his arrest. Khawas Khan protested but all was of no avail. Adil was arrested. This was one of the causes of the revolt of Khawas Khan and other nobles.

A conspiracy was hatched against Islam Shah and preparations were made in secret. There was a revolt in which Adil and many other Afghan nobles took part. The revolt was a failure as some of the details were miscarried. Khawas Khan was defeated. He ran away and spent the rest of his life as a rebel. Adil also disappeared for ever. Islam Shah punished all those who were suspected to have any hand in the conspiracy.

According to Budain, “Setting himself to slay and eradicate a party who were favourable to Adil Shah, he girded up his loins in enmity against them, and swept them one by one from the board of the world, like so many pieces in the game of draughts or chess.” Qutab Khan, Jalal Khan Sur, Zain Khan Niazi and many others were thrown into prison where they met their death in one form or the other.

Islam Shah systematically destroyed all the Afghan nobles who occupied positions of authority and prestige. Shujaat Khan had been put in charge of Malwa by Sher Shah in recognition of his services. The grievances of Islam Shah against him was that he was rich and powerful and successful in maintaining law and order. However, Shujaat Khan was a shrewd man and was able to ward off the danger by humble representations of loyalty and devotion to the king.


Haibat Khan Ziazi Azim Humayun, the Governor of the Punjab, was also not trusted by Islam Shah. He did not take pains to remove the suspicion from the mind of the king and the result was that he had to revolt. He was joined by Khawas Khan and the opposition seemed to be pretty formidable.

As ill luck would have it, differences arose between Niazi and Khawas Khan and consequently both of them were defeated and they had to run for their lives. They suffered innumerable hardships and as Islam Shah was always on the watch, they could not do him any harm. After many ups and downs, they disappeared from the scene.

There was some misunderstanding between the king and Shujaat Khan and consequently the latter revolted. When the king went in pursuit of him, the latter refused to fight on the plea that he would not draw his sword against the son of his master. This fact so much influenced Islam Shah that he restored Shujaat Khan all his previous Jagirs and dignity.

Friendly relations were established with Mirza Haider, the Ruler of Kashmir and the latter sent his envoys to the Delhi Court with presents of shawls and saffron as tokens of good-will. There is no unanimity among historians regarding the treatment meted out by Islam Shah to Kamran, the brother of Humayun, when the latter visited him. There are some who say that Kamran was treated generously. There are others who maintain that the treatment was so bad that Kamran fled in the disguise of a woman.


The Rule of Islam Shah was personal like that of his father, but he lacked all those qualities which made his father the idol of the nobles who were prepared to make all kinds of sacrifices for him. Islam Shah tried to crush the nobles one by one. He was thoroughly unpopular but he managed to rule by sheer force of character. He struck terror into the hearts of his opponents by his ruthlessness and energy. His policy was responsible for breaking the national un. among the Afghans. “The result was that on his death, the empire which he had held together in iron bonds, broke to pieces almost at once, to the great relief of most of its constituents.”

Sometimes a comparison is made between Islam Shah and Ibrahim Lodi. It is pointed out that in both cases, there was a prolonged struggle for the throne. The relations between the king and the nobles became very bitter. Both of them shook the empire to its very foundations. However, it pointed out that Islam Shah was in many ways superior to Ibrahim Lodi. Ibrahim Lodi was a very poor general. He was more arrogant and vain than an astute diplomat. He failed to suppress the revolts. He also failed to meet the attack of the Mughals.

On the other hand, Islam Shah had a uniform success against the nobles. He also filled the Mughals with so much of awe and fear that they came to him either as supplicants or felt shy of approaching his frontier. With the single exception of Khawas Khan, Islam Shah was able to suppress all the rebels and conspirators.

There is one defect of character of Islam Shah which cannot be ignored. He was hasty in his conduct. When aroused to anger he could go to extreme lengths. When once offended, he was not gracious or forgiving. He was generally vindictive and revengeful and could inflict even the penalty of death on mere suspicion.


About Islam Shah Dr. R. P. Tripathi says that “He was a worthy successor to his father. A good student of literature and a patron of men of letters, he distinguished himself in literary circles by his wit, humour, apt quotations from classics and appreciation of fine composition. At times, he composed extempore verses. He had studied canon law and theology and took an intelligent part in discussion on those subjects. His private life was well regulated. His manners were pleasant, polished and refined. He had distinguished himself as a good soldier and an able commander even as a prince.

When he became a king, he added substantially to his reputation as a leader of inspiring courage, bravery and sound judgment. As a ruler, he was God-fearing a protector of his subjects, a hard task-master and a vigilant, energetic and firm administrator. However, he was also haughty, suspicious, revengeful, ruthless and at times ferocious and cruel. His treatment of Niyazi women was outrageous, shameful and barbarous. The result was that he was feared but not loved.

In handling the Afghans, he showed great firmness. He was bent on knocking out of their heads arrogance, pride and tribal chauvinism. He persecuted relentlessly and punished or destroyed any one who dared to defy him. He broke their power, prevented them from encroaching on royal prerogatives and deprived the trocps of dancing girls and buffoons by whom they were usually surrounded.

The policy of Islam Shah might have worked well by clearing the ground for organising the Afghan nobility on a new basis and creating a new bond between the sovereign and the nobility. The success of such a policy depended on its continuity for a fairly long-time.

Unfortunately, Islam Shah died prematurely and his successors were worthless. His task was not only left half-finished but produced undesirable results by destroying the morale and weakening the sense of honour of the Afghans which Sher Shah had revived. However, during the life-time of Islam Shah, discipline was maintained at a high level. His orders were implicitly obeyed.

Islam Shah was endowed with high imagination. He tried to give uniformity to the law and the legal procedure in the Empire. He followed broadly the administrative and agrarian policies of his father. He tried improve upon them. He built more Serais and added to their amenities. He decentralised arrangements for free kitchens. He distributed maintenance grants and stipends on a wider and larger scale. He tired to discourage the Jagir system as far as possible under the circumstances.

Sher Shah had made in Muqadams responsible for the crimes committed within their jurisdiction. The officials of the Government appointed to maintain law and order were not required to take their share in making good the losses or damages. Islam Shah removed the grievance of the Muqadams and made the officials share responsibility and penalty with them. Islam Shah maintained the efficiency of the army not only by continuing the policy of his father but also by introducing some new reforms.

He remodelled the cavalry by fixing regular grades in the service. The troops were divided into units of 50, 200, 250 and 500. The army was organised into larger divisions of 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. Islam Shah also strengthened the artillery. He also added to the defence of the Empire by building 5 more fortresses, viz., Shergarh, Islamgrah, Rashidgarh, Firozgarh, and Mankot. Islam Shah not only maintained the Empire of his father but also added to it. But for the danger from the Mongols, he might have extended still further the frontiers of his empire. Dr. Tripathi observes that if Islam Shah had been alive, it is doubtful if Humayun would have dared to reconquer his lost empire. [8]

The view of Professor Kalikaranjan Qanungo is that Islam Shah ruled of Afghans with an iron hand but nourished the peasantry and merchant-folk as tenderly as his father. His Government was more of a Kaghazi Raj or bureaucratic red-tapism than that of his father. The Afghans found their lot miserable in comparison with the affluence of the Hindu clerks who dominated the civil administration. If Sher Shah had discovered Todar Mai, Islam Shah discovered Hemu who became the pillar of fortune of the disintegrating Sur regime after the death of Islam Shah. Like his father, Islam Shah always kept religion and politics apart.

In private life, he was an orthodox and as reverential to tradition of Islam as his father. His Cheif Sadr and Shaikh-UI- Islam was Maulana Abdullah Sultanpuri. But he never allowed him to advise him on the affairs of the State or to act against the learned men of unorthodox views on his own initiative. In issuing his administrative regulations, he never consulted the Ulema or paused to think whether these were sanctioned by the Shariyat. Expediency and equity were the only criteria of their legality.

Beneath the stormy surface of Islam Shah, all was quiet and progress, peace and prosperity throughout the empire. His rule was as severe and salutary as that of his father, his attention to detail as close and his industry as untiring. He did not show any originality like Muhammad Tughluq by interfering with the wise regulations of his predecessors. The reign of Islam Shah is historically a continuation and a useful commentary upon the five years’ rule of Sher Shah.

If there had been no Sher Shah to overshadow the achievements of his son, Islam Shah would have passed into history as a very remarkable ruler. If Sher Shah had found himself in a similar situation as Islam Shah for establishing his authority, he would not have escaped much of the odium of cruelty, ingratitude and treachery, which medieval chronicles associate with the character of Islam Shah.

On the other hand, if there had been no Islam Shah, Sher Shah’s genius would have been rated as a shooting spark of wonderous brilliance, but not as the unerring Ursa Minor (the Lesser Bear) in the political sky of India to guide rulers and statesmen for centuries after him and all the glories of Sher Shah’s reign would have appeared as only the crimson glow of sunset producing the illusion of a false dawn.

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