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Throughout his reign Akbar adopted a number of measures in the religious sphere
that have been termed as liberal. It was the crystallization of these measures that
ultimately resulted in the adoption of a new state policy known as Sulh-i-kul or
universal peace between all religions in the last 25 years of his reign. It was these
measures and especially the new state policy that became a major controversial
factor with Akbars critics accusing him of being a heretic. However, one needs to
have a better understanding of these measures and the motivating factors behind
their adoption before drawing conclusions about their nature.
It is important to state at the outset that it is difficult to speak of a religious policy
of Akbar, as he did not conceive of it using that term and so it cannot be called his
policy per se. Instead, it should be seen as a process of evolution and can be
studied as the changing outlook of the Mughal state towards religious matters under
Akbar. Thus, the evolution of the Sulh-i-Kuhl (Universal Peace), which was to become
the state religious policy in the final 25 years of Akbars reign was not a sudden
policy but the culmination of a process that had started many years ago at the time
of Akbars accession to the throne. K.A. Nizami sees the change as nothing more
than a changing attitude towards the ulama, while S.A.A. Rizvi and Athar Ali see
it as representing a much wider change in Akbars perspective on religion and the
development of his religious ideas. I.A. Khan links the changes that were
introduced in the organisation of the Mughal government and religious policy to the
structure, composition and changes of the nobility under Akbar.
Before we go on to study this process and the various measures adopted by Akbar it
would be important to understand the context and environment under which
Akbars religious outlook was shaped. Akbars state policy in the field of religion was
determined by his Turko-Mughal traditions; the movement of Hindu-Muslim
rapprochement, spearheaded by the Bhakti saints and liberal Sufis; Akbar;s own
inquisitive nature and his abiding interest in Sufism.
His liberal outlook can be traced back to his Turko-Mongol background, which did
not involve a rigid religious tradition. Chengiz Khan, for instance, followed the policy
of yesa-i-chegaliz, i.e., the ruler treated all religions with the same respect and
saw them as more or less representing the same truth. So did Timur, so that in his
dominions and in the dominions of his successors, there was no persecution of Shias
and even Christians and Heathens found place in his government and armed forces.
Early Mughals also followed such a liberal policy. In the recently discovered Khat-iBaburi, the will of Babur, Babur advises Humayun to recognize the diversity of
Indian society and respect all local norms and traditions. Humayun also did not
follow orthodox religion, and he patronized Shias as well. In fact, Humanyun, while
in exile took refuge at the court of the ruler of Iran and appointed a shia as the tutor
for Akbar.
It was these tutors, who were to play an important role in shaping Akbars outlook
as well. Latif Qaznavi and Bairam Khan were Shias, while, Munim Khan was a Sunni
Turani. However, all of them were above sectarian prejudices. It was this spirit of

religious tolerance that was inculcated in Akbars mind at a very early age by these
Akbar himself had a restless and inquisitive mind and a general interest in religious
and spiritual matters since a very young age. It was this inquisitiveness, which was
clearly reflected in his desire to establish the Ibadat Khana. His exposure
philosophical discourses further fed his inquisitive mind and encouraged him to
initiate the process of reexamination of the important aspects of Islamic theology
and jurisprudence, which were the main topics of discussions in the early part of the
Ibadat Khana.
Finally, it was the socio-cultural environment of that period, which had a profound
impact on Akbar. The Bhakti saints like Kabir and Nanak had laid emphasis on the
one true god, who could be apprehended within their hearts by constantly dwelling
on Him and repeating His name. Like the Sufis, they also opened their doors to
people belonging to all faiths. It was, however, Akbars contacts with Sufi saints like
Shaikh Ghaus Gawalyari and his liking for the masnavis of the liberal sufi thinkers
like Rumi and Fiafiz provided him with an opportunity to become familiar with
pantheistic doctrines of fana and wahdat ul-wujud that were to shape his policies in
the future. It was the latter philosophy preached by Ibn al-Arabi, which taught that
all that is not part of divine reality is an illusion, which in turn led Akbar to believe
that either all religions were equal or all were equally illusionary.
In the first few years of Akbars reign the Mughal court was dominated by the
Orthodox Ulama and it wielded a great deal of control over the Emperor. Thus, in his
private conduct Akbar behaved like an orthodox muslim. He religiously observed his
daily prayers, cleaned the mosque with his own hands and even sent delegations to
haj. Satish Chandra has argued that his deference towards the leading orthodox
Sunni personalities prevented any overt breach with the ulama and he gave them
full and independent control over religious affairs. In this period Akbar was deeply
devoted to Makhdumul Mulk Abdullah Sultanpuri and Sudur Shaikh Abdun Nabi.
During this period as Akbar was busy consolidating his hold over the Empire and his
own position, the ulama dominated affairs. Shaikh Abdun Nabi was appointed the
sadr and according to Badauni no other sadr as ever been as powerful as Abdun
Nabi was during this period. People belonging to other sects like Shiite, Mahdawi
etc were persecuted for their belief and orthodox elements were promoted at the
Mughal court.
However, it would be wrong to assume that Akbar was completely under their
influence and was unable to bring about any significant changes in the traditional
orthodox Sunni set up. For instance, Akbar abolished the practice of enslaving
families of prisoners of war. Abul Fazl states that this enabled Akbar to make the
wildest and most rebellious factions in the farthest places of India submit to his rule.
In 1562, he abolished the pilgrim tax imposed on Hindus when they undertook
pilgrimages to their sacred and holy spots like Mathura, claiming it to be a mark of
discrimination against non-muslims as a similar tax was not imposed on the
Muslims. Moreover, he also married Raja Bhar Mals daughter Bai Haraka. Although,
this tradition of muslim rulers marrying the daughters of Hindu chiefs had been in
existence for some time, this marriage was the first of its kind as it had not been
forced upon the Rajputs but had been willingly proposed by Raja Bharmal.

Moreover, Akbar allowed his Rajput wives to continue with their religious beliefs and
practices even within the Royal palace.
However, the most important measure adopted by Akbar during this period was the
abolishment of the Jizyah or poll tax amidst strong resentment from his muslim
dignitaries. According to Aziz Ahmad, Akbars abolition of jizya was in conformity
with his general policy of liberalism and of legal equality of all citizens. I.A. Khan
sees it in the context of the political challenges and rebellions faced by Akbar from
the side of his Turani nobility. Thus Akbar had to search for new support groups and
he turned to Rajputs as possible allies. Jaziya, a tax on non-Muslims, was thus
abolished, to win them over. Abul Fazl had asserted that the removal of the Jizyah
was Akbars way of repaying the Hindus for the loyalty that they had shown him
during the early years of his reign.
However, despite his liberal policy towards the Rajputs, none except the
Kachchwahas of Amber joined the Mughal court. There were instances of Akbar
going back on his tolerant and liberal attitude towards the Hindus. One such
instance was the Chittor campaign that was undertaken in 1567. Following this,
Satish Chandra writes that Akbar, exasperated by the resistances, ordered a general
massacre in the course of which about 30, 000 people were killed. In a fathnama
issued after the victory, the battle was seen as the subjugation of infidels and
presented as a jihad and all those who died in the battle as ghazi. At the same
time, in 1569, a farman was issued to Qazi Abdul Samad, the Muhtasib of Bilgram,
to prevent idol-worship by Hindus in the region. It is also held that jaziya was reimposed in 1575. However, I.A. Khan has explained this aggressive attitude as an
attempt to appease the Muslim orthodoxy the Turani nobles, the Persians, the
Shaikhzadas and to win their support. Regarding the fathnama, he argues that too
much significance should not be attributed to it. It should be kept in mind that its
language was similar to that of numerous such documents of the medieval period.
Moreover, the war was not a religious one as can be seen from the fact that the
Kachchwahas fought on the side of the Mughals. The farman was an isolated case
and cannot be held as representative of an entire policy. The Chittor campaign had
a political and military reason behind it and should be seen within the context of the
time period during which it was undertaken. This was the period in which the
Mughals were trying to consolidate and expand their empire and Akbar was willing
to adopt military means and force to bring potential threats to the empire under his
Thus, the initial years of Akbars reign were characterized by a certain degree of
caution when it came to adopting religious measures. This was largely due to the
presence and dominance of the orthodox sunni ulama, which continued to hold
sway over the affairs of the empire and prevented Akbar from bringing about
revolutionary changes. However, some of the measures that were adopted by him
were indicative enough of his liberal attitude and the realization of the need to
conciliate and win over the non-Muslims.

A change can be seen in Akbars religious beliefs around 1573 onwards. This was a
phase of intense discussions and introspection on the part of Akbar which led to a
radical change in his religious views, and deeply affected future state politics. This
according to Badauni was due to the fact that during this period that Akbar having
consolidated his position in India had more time on his hand to devote to
discussions and introspection on issues such as the Quran and the words of the
prophet. He argues that questions of Sufism, scientific inquiries into philosophy and
law had become the orders of the day. Moreover, Akbars growing awareness of the
repercussions of the traditional orthodox Sunni dominance over his administration
compelled him to an active search for new solutions. He therefore encouraged the
emergence of a new elite group, whose spokesman was Abul Fazl. Also, from his
early childhood Akbar had held a special interest in spiritual matters and had felt
that the orthodox view of Islam was not giving him the needed answers. He also had
more time to come into closer contact with ascetics and he slowly started getting
influenced by jogis, qalandars and sanyasis. This was probably due to their
disregard of established norms of religion, a theme that can be noticed throughout
Akbars religious thought. K.A.Nizami calls this phase of Akbars reign as being one
of general apathy to Islam.
It was this attitude and realization that forms the background to the establishment
of the Ibadat Khana or the Hall of Prayers at Fatehpur Sikri in 1575. The opening up
of such a hall for religious purposes was by no means a no or revolutionary step.
The Muslims, like Jews and Christians, had always indulged in public arguments on
points of theology to satisfy intellect curiosity and to prove the superiority of their
faith over other religions. This was a practice that was encouraged by the Delhi
Sultans as well, who had convened assemblies consisting of scholars of varied
opinions to settle disputed matters. Akbar too, having a keen interest in religious
and intellectual discussion, hoped to educate himself and satisy his soul through
these discussions.
At first, the Ibadat Khana debates were open only to Muslims. Only Sufi saints,
ulama, learned men and a few of the Emperors companions and attendants were
admitted. The participants were divided into four groups: nobles; saiyids; sufis; and
ulama and learned men. The Emperor went from group to group and conversed with
each of the groups. However, the most lively discussion was in the group of
theologians. The discussions that took place in the Ibadat Khana were by no means
original or startling and had been discussed since the beginning of Islam. Till the
time the Sunni orthodoxy dominated the court the discussions centered around
dominant Islamic topics like Muhammads night journey to heaven, miracles of the
prophets, truth regarding the demons, angels and other supernatural beings and
the verses of the Quran and their possible interpretations. The Ulama adopted a
very rigid line during these discussions and did not go beyond quoting Ghazali. On
most occasions, however, the discussions would be reduced to bickering and faultfinding among the ulama with main issue of discussion being relegated to the
By 1577, the continued bickering and quarrellings of the ulama disillusioned the
Emperor and exposed the duplicity of the orthodoxy. While Akbar had stated again
and again that his sole objective through this assembly was to ascertain the truth
and discover the reality, the ulama had other intentions. They wanted to establish

their superiority over the others, and tried to compel their opponents into
submission. Most of times this would create a situation wherein the ulama would
lose it completely and be on the verge of getting violent with each other. This forced
Baduni to call it an Iyatdat Khana, meaning a place of worthless people. Slowly,
special efforts were made to increase the presence of distinguished Sufis with the
activities of the Ibadat Khana. Before long the debates were opened to Shias as
well. This widened the scope of discussions within the assembly. However, the
uncompromising attitude of the shiites convinced the Emperor that they were as
narrowminded and fanatical as their Sunni counterparts.
It was a mystical experience in 1578 that changed the nature of the Ibadat Khana
discussions. The religious discussions were now opened to Hindus of all sects, Jains,
Christians and Zorastrians. This further widened the scope of discussion and
exposed Akbar to new beliefs and customs. For instance, the presence of Parsi
priests stimulated his interest in the fire worship of the ancient Iranian Emperors
and he was soon convinced that fire was one of the signs of the Almighty. The entry
of so many different factions, however apparently led to further confusion. A
modern historian, R.P. Tripathi, says, "Instead of bringing credit, the Ibadat Khana
brought growing discredit." Akbar himself became convinced of the futility of these
debates, and closed finally the Ibadat Khana in 1582.
Thus, while people like Badauni may have called the Ibadat Khana experiment to be
a failure the discussions had important consequences. The first phase of the
discussion exposed the ignorance of the ulama. The results of the discussion were
disastrous for those who continued to cling on to the antiquated interpretations of
Islamic theology. The second round of discussions produced a more positive result. It
convinced Akbar, according to Badauni, of the fact that all religions had elements of
truth and that all of them led to the same supreme reality. The discussions in the
Ibadat Khana revolutionized Akbars thinking. This played an important role in the
development of Akbars own religious ideas and led to the evolution of the concept
of sulh-i-kul or peace between all religions. The debates convinced him that not a
single step should be taken without strong reason. The only profitable creed was
the one that wisdom approved. Thus, these discussions helped in paving the way for
the rise of a new liberal, tolerant state.
Inspite of the exposure of their bigotry, factionalism and narrow-mindness during
the Ibadat Khana discussions the ulama did not see the need to abandon their
personal rivalries and traditional orthodox thinking. It was this attitude, which had
led to their eventual downfall and the introduction of the Mazharnama. The
immediate background to the Mahzar was a division among the ulama caused due
to the nature of punishment to be given, according to the shariya to a Brahman
from Mathura, who had abused the Prophet and Islam. Akbar had left the decision to
Shaikh Abdun Nabi thinking that he would make the right decision. However, he
ordered the execution of the Brahman, which completely shocked the Emperor.
Moreover, it was also discovered that Shaikh Abdun Nabi had ordered the execution
of a number of Afghans and Shiite on the basis of their different belief systems.
These incidents and other charges of corruption and hoarding of wealth against the
ulama made Akbar realize the need for certain measures to control the ulama.

Moreover, he realized that in a country where men of varied sects and religious
groups lived a working administrative machinery could not be achieved without
making the religious laws flexible and their interpretation liberal. At this time Shaikh
Mubarak told Akbar to make a claim to the ijtihad and demand from the orthodoxy a
Thus, in 1579 the Mazharnama was issued and signed by the leading theologians of
the time; some of them. Badauni tells us that, except for Shaikh Mubarak, all the
members of the ulama had to be coerced into signed it. The word Mahzar indicates
a document that is publicly attested. According to this document, which was in the
form of a petition, the ulama gave Akbar the right to adopt any position in case of a
conflict among the orthodoxy, and that position would be held as superior.
In the mahzar it was declared, that Akbar was the sultan of Islam and other
attributes of the khalifa were bestowed upon the Emperor. Secondly,citing Quran
and some Hadis that a just and wise ruler like Akbar not only had the right to claim
the allegiance of everyone, but that his position was higher than a mujtahid
(interpreter of holy laws) in the eyes of God. Shaikh Mubarak calls him the inam-iadil or the inam of the age. It was also written that Akbar himself could issue any
degree which did not go against the nas i.e. explicit decree of Quran, and the hadis
and is calculated to benefit humanity at large. Any opposition to such a degree
passed by His Majesty would involve divine displeasures in this world and the
It is worth noting that the Mahzar has been reproduced by Badauni and not by Abul
Fazl, probably since it had little in common with the concept of universal kingship
propounded by Abul Fazl. In the Mahzar, the kings title as head of all orthodox
Muslims (Amir-ul-Munim and Badshah-i-Islam) depends on the sanction of the
ulema. However, according to Abul Fazls theory, kingship is recognized as a divine
attribute, commutated by God to kings without the assistance of anyone. He refers
to Akbar as insane-i-kamil, or the perfect man, above all religious and sectarian
differences. .
There has been a great deal of debate over the implications and meaning of the
Mahzar. V.A. Smith translated the Mahzar as an infallibility decree, influenced by
the Papacy. This also established his control over the ulema, since he had a final say
in choosing among the various opinions. However, the document is in the form of a
prayer/petition, not a command. Also, Akbar did not claim to be a khalifa, who could
interpret laws. In fact it is clear that his was a role where he could choose between
different interpretations, or between rulings given by earlier law givers, bearing in
mind political exigencies and needs of government. S.M. Ikram and S.A. Rashid, two
Pakistani historians say that ...studied carefully and dispassionately, it appears to
be a major constructive effort, fully in conformity with the Islamic Law and providing
a basis for the adjustment of temporal government and the Shariat." However, the
authors go on to say. "But the limitations laid down in the Declaration of 1579 were
not observed by Akbar, and in practice it became an excuse for the exercise of
unrestrained autocracy.

According to some scholars like Smith, Akbar was trying to free himself of allegiance
to the Ottoman Khalifa by presenting himself as the Khalifa to whom the Indian
Muslims should owe allegiance. But Satish Chandra contradicts this, saying that the
Ottoman Khalifa had never demanded their allegiance in the first place. Smith
further says that Akbar was placing himself in the context of the 3 important states
in Central Asia and wanted to show himself as superior to these. This has been
critiqued by Buckler and M.N. Raychaudhuri. Both have analyzed the Mahzar in the
international context. They argue that Akbar was trying to fix his position in the
Muslim world and free himself from the political and judicial control the Shias of
Iran. This is based on the interpretation of the terms mujtahid and nawab. The
former is seen as referring to Shia scholars, while the latter is taken to mean the
deputy, perhaps of the Safavid ruler of Persia. Thus, by calling himself inam-i-adil,
he was freeing himself from the control of Persia. However, there is no concrete
evidence of the Mughal state being under any kind of control of Persia. The word
nawab had a different meaning in the Persian tradition and was a high-sounding
title to refer to the Mughal rulers.
I.H. Qureshi is critical of Akbar and his ideological outlook, blaming him for starting
the decline of the Mughals. He calls the Mahzar a dishonest document. He further
argues that Akbar was not qualified enough to decide which opinion ought to prevail
as he was illiterate. He said the purpose of the Mahzar was to instigate the
differences among the ulama and then posing as the arbitrator to help his own
cause. He goes on to say that eventually it resulted in the decline of Islam since the
orthodoxy lost its dominant position. However, there have been criticisms of this
point as well. It has been widely accepted that the ulema were already a divided
class and hence the Mazhar could not have been intended to achieve this final
division. Also the Mahzar was not absolute and did not curtail the legitimate powers
of the ulama but only stopped the indiscriminate use of authority by them. Finally,
the question of the Emperors interference only arose when there was serious
dispute on controversial issues when there was a need to get an authoritative
opinion from the mujtahids. Thus, it could not have led to an unnecessary increase
in the power of the Emperor.
I.A. Khan says that the full significance of the Mahzar can be appreciated only if it is
viewed against the background of Akbars general attitude of promoting and
befriending the Indian Muslims. It coincides with a series of other measures by
which Akbar strove to show that he respected religions other than Islam as well and
wasnt willing to accept the orthodox interpretation of the sharia, unless it appealed
to reason. S.R. Sharma and A.L. Srivastava argue that the Mahzar was aimed at
replacing the sharia. However, this cannot be accepted. It is a simplistic view that
overlooks the complexities of the situation.
Nurul Hasan discusses the significance of the Mahzar at 3 levels. Firstly, at the
international level, Hasan says that the document was important keeping in mind
that all the medieval political traditions. While the Uzbeks and the Ottomans took up

the Sunni cause, the Persians identified with the Shia faith. But by the Mahzar,
Akbar was freeing the Mughal state from being identified with anyone specific
ideology. Secondly, at a political level, it was important in dealing with the
orthodoxy and checking the influence of the powerful groups in the nobility. It
placed the state above the ulema. Also helped control corruption in the madad-imaash grants. And finally, Its imperial significance lay in the fact that at a time
when a composite state was evolving, it allowed the state to take decisions not
according to the orthodoxy but the political demands of the time. It relieved Akbar
from the responsibility of consulting the state before taking a political decision. This
attempt to delink from Islamic orthodoxy was important at a time when the state
was pursuing an alliance with the Rajputs.
The real significance of the Mahzar, it seems, was that it was the first effective
declaration of the principles (of sulh kul) which he (Akbar) had decided to
implement firmly, according to Rizvi. He further goes on to say that the Mahzar
was designed to bring all matters affecting the life and wellbeing of his subjects,
both Hindus and Muslims, directly under the Emperors name. This sought to
remove the possibility of playing with the interests of the people in the name of
orthodoxy or Islam. Even Jahangir asserted that it was during the reign of his father
that people belonging to different sects and religions had freedom in the Mughal
dominions to practice their religion and this was something that didnt exist
anywhere else in the world. Moreover, the Mazhar reiterated the importance of
justice and that it was the foremost political virtue and necessity. It stated that the
orders passed by the Emperor should be based on Quranic injunctions and
calculated to do good to the people. It was meant to remind the ulama that the
state machinery was meant to do good to people. Finally, the mazhar succeeded in
curbing the power of the orthodox ulama. After this, there is decline in their position
and they cease to play an important role in the court. Peter Hardy states that the
mazhar in the long run was not very significant but it was the environment that it
had created, which was far more important. It had put an end to the bigots and
orthodox elements in the Mughal ruling elite, thereby, allowing the free
development of the generous spirit which Akbar wished to encourage.
Once the mazhar had been signed it was evident that Akbar would chart his own
course and a final breach between the ulama and Akbar seemed inevitable.
Moreover, by 1579 the two leading figures Abdullah Sultanpuri and Shaikh Abdun
Nabi were permanently banished to the Mecca. In 1580, there was a major rebellion
by the Turanis. Scholars like Smith believe that it was a reaction against the
religious policies of Akbar. However, Rizvi believes that the rebellion was because of
dissatisfaction brewing over strict enforcement of laws about branding of horses by
mansabdars, reduction of their allowances and the revenue reforms, and not
because of any religious factors. The factor that compelled the ulama to spearhead
the rebellion was not because of the mazhar or the banishment of the leading
ulama but the reduction of their own madad-I maash grants. It was infact the
participation of the ulama in this rebellion, which gave the Emperor an excuse to
permanently crush the disloyal section of the ulama. The break with the ulama also

needs to be seen in terms of the broadening of the base of the political structure
where indigenous elements were increasingly becoming a vital part of the state
machinery. In such a situation, the Mughal state could no longer afford to follow
orthodox policies.
According to Rizvi, it was the crystallization of Akbars ideological beliefs and the
culmination of the measures taken by him in the past 20 years of his reign that
resulted in a new state policy in the last 25 years of his reign. The defeat of the
ulama as seen above was one such factor that helped Akbar in adopting these
principles. The central feature of this policy was the strong commitment to the
principles of Sulh-i-Kul or universal peace and harmony between all religions. This
was the key message that he wished to communicate. According to Athar Ali, Akbar
not only tolerated men of all faiths but Shias as well and prohibited Shia-Sunni
conflict, which he argues was the chief feature of the last 25 years of his reign. It is
during this period that many scholars have alleged that Akbar evolved his own
religion called Din-i-Ilahi or Tauhid-i-Ilahi, which was meant to absorb all religions.
However, the character of Tauhid-i-Ilahi has been debated; whether it was a religion
or not. Badauni and others have accused Akbar of starting his own religion in which
he himself was the leader. Once again, some modern scholars see the elaborate
initiation rituals as reflective of his desire to set up a new religion. However, this
could not have been possible because a religion is a set of beliefs, which develop
over time in an organized manner and among a number of people. Akbars new
religion, on the other hand, had no formal structure. Moreover, the Tauhid-i-Ilahi
did not have any priesthood, rituals or beliefs, and no books. In fact, there is no
clear date about when it was established. Prof. S.R. Sharma also states that Akbar
himself did not aim at establishing any new religion. It seems thus that this was
merely Akbars personal faith, which he welcomed people to join in.
At this point it would be important to understand the personal faith and belief of
Akbar, which shaped his new religion. The crux of Akbar's religious beliefs was his
faith in uncompromising monotheism or Tauhid-i-Ilahi, based largely on the Islamic
philosopher, Ibn-i-Arabi. Tauhid in this case can mean unity of God and the idea
may be interpreted as divine monotheism. Apart from the belief in monotheism,
Akbar also adopted a different approach to the worship of god that was independent
of orthodox Hinduism or Islam. He was inspired by Sufism that stated that God was
formless and could n be grasped in any form except by the greatest efforts of the
mind i.e. meditation. Thus, he rejected the idol worship of Hindus and the prayer
rituals of the Muslims. Moreover, he believed that man was responsible to god for
his every act and thus for him as an emperor the dispensing of justice and
administering the world was the real mode of worship. Abul Fazl also states that
Akbars belief in god was heavily influenced by pantheism and it is for this reason
that he gave respect to light (nur), which led to spiritual elevation on the one hand
and was reflected in the sun and fire. Finally, he condemned taqlid or imitation,

arguing that if taqlid was desirable then all prophets would have merely followed old
customs and not brought about new laws. Thus, Akbar believed in aql or reason as
opposed to naql or imitation. He subject even Islam to rational thinking. It is for this
reason that after 1580 Islam in Akbars court came to be divided into- the taqlidi by
the orthodox and the ijtihadi (based on truth or reasoning) followed by the
unorthodox. However, this was not restricted only to Islam. He believed that all
religions of that time were based on taqlid and this was obscuring people from
realizing the basic truth, which according to him existed in every religion. Moreover,
he believed that it was this suppression of reasoning and the complete dependence
on taqlid that was preventing the spirit of Sulh-I Kul from emerging in India up to
now. It is for this reason that he did not identify himself with any one religion though
he tried to show respect for all of them.
A number of reasons have been put forth for the evolution of this religion. Abul Fazl
links the concept of Tauhid-i-Ilahi with the concept of Akbar being the spiritual guide
of the people. According to him, the purpose of Tauhid-i-Ilahi was to find a common
ground between din (religion) and duniya (worldly affairs)- the two things that
people turn to. According to Fazl whenever anyone mustered the courage to express
their worldly thoughts it could lead to a major backlash and it was to prevent such a
situation that there was a need for a spiritual leader. The fact that Akbar was the
best versed in the affairs of the state made him the best man to be head or a
spiritual guide. Nizami suggests that Akbar wanted to use religion for his political
advantage. As the empire expanded, it now included people of different faiths. So
Akbar thought it necessary to broaden the base of the empire. To achieve this, he
tried to establish a composite governing class and a state that would not
discriminate on the basis of religion. Rizvi and Richards also see it as an effective
means to assimilate a heterogeneous nobility, especially the Rajputs.
One of the chief features of Din-i-Ilahi were the four degrees of faith, which are often
confused with Din-i-Ilahi itself. This was first discussed by Badauni. These degrees
consisted in the readiness to sacrifice to the Emperor property, life, honour and
religion. Whoever had sacrificed these things possessed the four degrees. Fazl tells
us that Akbar believed that the Rajputs, on account of their loyalty and bravery,
already possessed these four degrees as did the Hindu women due to their practice
of Sati. However, it seems that Akbar was very selective in choosing those who
qualified for the four degrees of devotion. Thus, Blochman, who has translated the
Ain into English has compiled a list of only 18 nobles who qualified for these degrees
and were thus incorporated into the divine faith. Contrary to popular belief these
degrees did not have a religious significance but were motivated by political fators.
Rizvi states that there was a growing scarcity of officials of high integrity and
uprightness who could effectively handle the political and military needs of the
expanding empire. In this situation, the four degrees of Faith provided the
ideological force, which sought to unify the new Mughal elite around the Mughal

Another feature of this new policy was the practice of enrolling disciples. Abul Fazl
describes the initiation ceremony. The novice was expected to place his head at the
feet of the Emperor, which was symbolic of the fact that the novice had cast aside
conceit and selfishness. It is interesting to note that Akbar started this policy only
after the rebellion of 1581. According to Satish Chandra, it was in a situation like
this that Akbar wanted the absence of sectarian and religious strife in the country
and complete loyalty towards him on the part of the nobility. J.F. Richards has
argued that discipleship was the most effective way to assimilate a heterogeneous
body of nobles and bind them to the throne.
After from the discipleship the practice of Jharokha Darshan was also introduced.
He stood on the balcony at sunrise and presented himself to the ordinary people.
This was done to present the king as semi-divine. The practical implication of this
measure was immense as it made the Mughal throne an object of both love and
adoration. Thus, it can be seen that these features of Din-i Ilahi were motivated by
political factors and did not have much religious significance.
The character of Din-i-Ilahi has raised questions about the impact that Akbar had on
Islam because of his new state policy. A number of contemporary and modern
scholars have, on the basis of Din-i-Ilahi, suggested that Akbar deviated from the
path of Islam. Badauni due to his inherent biases has presented Akbar as a heretic
who abandoned Islam, suppressed Islamic rituals and persecuted the ulema. He
argued that Akbar rejected inspiration, prophethood, the miracles of the prophet
and of the saints and even the Sharia and due to this in course of time not a trace
of Islam was left in his mind. Jesuit missionaries at Akbars court too appear
confused about his Sulh-i-Kul policy. Monserrate asserts that it was not clear what
religion he follows and his actions made it clear that he was not a practicing Muslim.
Another muslim theologian of Jahangirs time wrote that it was only with Jahangirs
accession to the throne that Islam was revived in India as under Akbar the Muslim
prayer was heard by no one and the mosques, madrassas and khanqas had been
abodes of beasts and birds. Similarly, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi asserts that while
other religions were allowed to practice their rights muslims were prevented from
doing so.
Some modern scholars like Qureshi also believe that this period was the darkest
hour for Islam, as it opened the doors for entry of all kinds of extraneous elements,
thereby, endangering the basic muslim identity. Thus, while Qureshi believes that
Akbar did not ask his subjects to abjure from Islam but only its orthodox form and
nor did he abandon Islam himself, the Islam being followed by him was a parody of
its original form and this lead to the demoralization of the people. This view has
been echoed even by S.M.Ikram and S.A.Rashid. They argue that while Akbar may
not have aspired to start a new religion that he could head, Islam lost its
prominence and many of Akbars practices and regulations differed widely from the
normal Muslim practices. Thus, they believe that on the basis of these arguments it

would be no surprise if the people of that time thought that Akbar had gone outside
the pale of Islam.
However, a number of modern historians have rejected these view points. Athar Ali
writes that the accusations were all from the bitter ulema, who were complaining
against the curbs put on their revenue grants and political ambitions rather than
because of any anti-Islamic policies. However it cannot be denied that he moved
away from the orthodox form of the religion. Central to this were the policies of sulhi-kul and wahdat-ul-wajud, which in essence denoted his break from the ulama.
However, at the same time Athar Ali states that there were instances of Mosque
construction even in the later years of Akbars reign, no evidence of persecution of
people who preached their religion openly and even the cow slaughter did not
amount to suppression of any Islamic ritual. It was just meant to respect the
sentiments of the majority community of India. Thus, it seemed unlikely that Akbar
completely abjured from Islam. According to Rizvi, Din-i-Ilahi was neither a religious
nor a mystical order. It was just an attempt made by the Emperor to prevent the
Sunni orthodoxy from using the state to serve their own interests at the cost of
other communities. It is only for this reason that he deviated from the earlier
practices of Islam that had become symbolic of orthodoxy. He goes on to say that
the Sunnis were aggrieved not because the Hindus were tolerated but because they
had been elevated from a status of being obedient to Islam to equal partners in
the kingdom. It was this that prompted them to denounce Akbars measures and
call him a heretic. Satish Chandra also agrees with this view point and believes that
it the ulama was agitating not because of the loss of an Islamic identity but Islams
primacy and with that their own position of primacy in the state. I.A.Khan argues
that Akbars desire to apply the principles of Sulh-I Kul may have forced him to part
company with the rigid and orthodox elements of Islam that continued to be a
hindrance to his vision.
In conclusion it would be correct to say that Akbars religious measures including
Din-i-Ilahi were influenced by his own liberal attitude as well as by the existing
political situation in the country. It is for this reason that many modern scholars
prefer to look upon these measures as political devices since Akbar never tried to
force his own personal religious beliefs on anyone. It was the need to integrate the
variant and divergent interests existing in the Empire that compelled Akbar to adopt
a number of liberal measures and eventually evolve a set of mutually consistent
religious ideas derived from a multiplicity of sources but processed by a
considerable reason and his own personal beliefs. The set of ideas that evolved in
the latter half of his reign is known as Sulh-i-Kul and it was the application of these
principles that lead to incorporation of various faiths, sects and ideas into a once
Muslim predominated polity. It was the emergence of this integrated ruling class
based on the principles of liberalism, justice and equal treatment to all faiths that
was the biggest success of his measures and which were completely misunderstood
by the orthodox elements of that time.


S.A.Rizvi- Religious and Intellectual History of the Muslims

Satish Chandra- Medieval India; Volume II

Irfan Habib(Ed.)- Akbar and His Age: Chapter 7, Akbars Personality Traits and
World Outlook- I.A.Khan

I.A.Khan- The Nobility Under Akbar and the Development of His Religious
Policy, 1560-80

M. Athar Ali- Sulh-I Kul and the Religious Ideas of Akbar

S. Nurul Hasan- The Mahzar of Akbars Reign

S.A.Rizvi- Dimensions of Sulh-I Kul in Akbars Reign and the Sufi theory of
Perfect Man

Aziz Ahmad- Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment