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There were certain basic principles of the religious policy of Akbar. As a statesman, he realised that if he wanted his state to rest on a firm footing he should make himself the king not only of the Muslims who formed only a minority of the population in the country, but should enlist the sympathy and goodwill of all the sections of the people, particularly the Hindus, who formed the bulk of the population of the country.
In consonance with that policy, Akbar adopted a policy of universal religious toleration. He showed an equal amount of respect for all the religions in the country. He developed a belief that there was truth in every religion. Being a man of tolerant spirit, he placed no obstacles in the way of anybody worshipping God in any form and in any style whatsoever according to his belief.
Akbar did not believe in the predominance of priesthood as a guide to salvation. He believed in his own internal conscience as a guide. In his reign, all the people enjoyed perfect liberty of conscience and public worship. In pursuance of his policy of Sulh-i-Kul, Akbar abolished the pilgrim tax charged from the Hindus by his predecessors. He abolished the Jizya which was charged only from the Hindus. He allowed people to build their own churches and temples.
He removed all invidious distinctions of caste and creed existing between the Hindus and Muslims. He treated the Hindus on a footing of equality with the Muslims. He gave those jobs and places of honour and respect.
"The result of his policy of religious toleration was that he endeared himself to the Hindus who became his loyal and faithful supporters in all matters of the state. They were in the forefront to help him in conquering the whole of Northern India and a part of the Deccan.
The Rajputs were used by Akbar to suppress the Uzbegs and other rebellious officers. The Rajputs were famous for their martial and fighting qualities and Akbar made full use of them to build up a great empire. They became a bulwark of the Mughal Empire and were always ready to serve the Empire through thick and thin. The Hindus and Rajputs contributed not a little towards the great achievements of Akbar.
Many reasons are given which persuaded Akbar to adopt his religious policy. The adoption of his religious policy was partly due to political reasons and partly to his non-sectarian views which he had developed from the very beginning of his career.
As regards the political reasons, like a true statesman, Akbar had early realised that to be secure on the throne and to secure the Mughal Rule in India from ruin, it was in the fitness of things that he won over to his side the Hindus who formed the majority of the population in India. He also realised that a lasting empire in an allien land can be possible only with the actual support and active co-operation of both the Hindus and Muslims.
He was also of the view that an empire can endure long only when it is broad-based upon the support and goodwill of the governed. He had history before him and he knew the reasons for the failure of the Muslim Dynasties of the Delhi Sultanat.
He felt that India could not always be held at the point of the sword and it was impossible for him any longer to show no respect for the feelings, traditions and aspirations of the people over whom he was to rule. Therefore, he discarded the old attitude of the Sultans of Delhi towards the Hindus. It was due to this political consideration that: he adopted a policy of toleration towards all and equal treatment of all.
Another political reason was the existence of numerous difficulties and dangers with which he was surrounded in his early years. Akbar realised at an early age that his Muslim Officials and followers, foreign mercenaries as they were, acted principally for their own ends and could not be absolutely depended upon. His own followers and relatives had raised the standard of revolt against him and he had to face heavy odds and enemies.
There was lawlessness and chaos in the country and he wanted safe and loyal supporters to evolve order in the country. The Afghan Chiefs were predominant in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and they were in rebellion. They were determined to turn out the Mughals from India. Even the Governor of Kabul was hostile towards Akbar.
On account of these conditions, the position of Akbar in India was shaky. Therefore he was in need of persons who could be depended upon. Hence he adopted a conciliatory and tolerant policy towards the Hindus to secure their active support and cooperation in the accomplishment of the complicated task of conquering and consolidating his empire in India.
Another cause of his policy of religious toleration was the influence which certain factors had on him. Those factors made him liberal and tolerant. Akbar was a sincere seeker after truth.
Abul Fazal tells us that "The Emperor's spacious heart was grieved to see narrow creeds preaching hatred against each other." Akbar often asked, "Have the religions and worldly tendencies no common ground?" As a religious man, Akbar realised that true religion is above caste and creed.
His religious bent of mind made him a man of broad principles and placed him above sectarian narrowness and racial and communal distinctions. Akbar being a great experimenter of religions, he felt that there was truth in every religion and the followers of any religion could attain salvation, if they acted upon its principles honestly. Of all the Muslim rulers of India, Akbar was the most liberal exponent of religious toleration and equal treatment of his subjects.
Historians have made a critical and analytical study of the factors which influenced Akbar to adopt a new policy towards the Hindus. The view of Badaoni is that it was due to Akbar's company with Abul Fazal and Faizi, the two sons of Shaikh Mubarak that he adopted a tolerant policy towards the Hindus and began to treat them with partiality, causing a grievous hurt to Islam.
The view of Badaoni is not correct because long before Akbar came into contact with Abul Fazal or Faizi, he had already undertaken very important measures in connection with his policy towards the Hindus. He had already abolished the pilgrim tax in 1563 and the Jizya in 1564. Faizi entered the service of Akbar in 1567 and Abul Fazal in 1574. However, they really influenced the views of Akbar after they came into contact with him.
Some historians attribute his policy of religious toleration to the liberal influences of his parents. Humayun was a Mughal Sunni, his mother Hamida Banu Begum was a Persian Shia and both of them were not fanatics and held liberal views. Though orthodox in his religious views, Humayun had to conform outwardly to the principles of Shiaism. Babur also was not a Sunni fanatic. This liberal hereditary atmosphere, if not to the greatest extent, influenced Akbar to a great extent. He imperceptibly realised the value of toleration towards his subjects.
Akbar's training was also responsible to a great extent in following a liberal policy. His tutor and patron, Bairam Khan, was a Shia by faith and hence Akbar did not develop the fanaticism of the Sunnis. Another tutor of Akbar, Abdul Lateef, was also a man of liberal views.
The result was that Akbar developed liberal ideas and was free from the effects and extreme fanaticism of the Sunnis. Akbar was liberal from his childhood. Abdul Lateef taught Akbar the principles of Sudh-i-Kul which Akbar never forgot. Thus the environmental influences also made Akbar a liberal in his religious views.
The view of Prof. S.R. Sharma is that "The religious upheavals of his times also influenced the religious views of Akbar towards liberalism. The leaders of the Bhakti Movement and the Sufi Saints preached against religious formalities and meaningless ritualism. They advocated the cause of unity of Godhead and universal brotherhood. In that way, strict orthodoxy was on the decline and that influenced Akbar. It appears that Akbar was influenced in his religious views, by the new religious movements in operation in his own time."
The view of Stanley Lane-Poole is that "Akbar was very much interested in experimentation and innovations. That encouraged him to adopt a new policy of toleration towards his subjects. Akbar had come to the conclusion that all religions were man-made and there should be no prejudice against any religion. The inquisitive nature of Akbar and his analytical mind did not allow him to accept the orthodox Sunni view that only Islam was the best religion and all other religions were bad and hence worthy of persecution.
With all the depth of his mind, Akbar studied the problem of religion and ultimately came to the conclusion that the principles of love, affection and toleration were the real essence of a true religion and they could establish universal peace in the world where the followers of different religions were fighting against one another."
The marriages of Akbar with Rajput princesses also influenced his religious policy and he became liberal and tolerant towards his subjects. Akbar allowed his Hindu wives to worship God and idols in the royal palaces. In this way, Akbar was surrounded in his own palaces by Hindu
Influence which finished completely the natural hatred of a Muslim Emperor against the Hindu religious rites and practices. Another factor was the association of Akbar with the leaders of the various faiths who had been invited for discussion at the Ibadatkhana. The Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, and Parsees put their viewpoints before Akbar and that influenced his mind.
Akbar was disgusted with the lack of learning and a high character among the Muslim Maulvis or Scholars. He was disgusted to find that "the one thing which was declared by one Maulvi to be Haram (prohibited), was declared by another Maulvi to be Halal (acceptable). During their discussions, the theologians frequently lost their temper in the presence of Akbar which adversely affected him.
Akbar also found that the great Maulvis like Abd-un-Nabi, Makhdum- ul-Mulk, Haji Ibrahim Sarhandi and Qazi Jala-ud-Din etc. who considered themselves as the greatest religious leaders, were themselves guilty of one or the other of heinous crimes.
Akbar was not prepared to work under their leadership and guidance and adopted a new policy which he considered to be right. He was convinced that it was only by the pursuit of a new policy that "honour would be rendered to God, peace would be given to the people and security to the empire."'
However bigoted persons among the Muslims were opposed to the policy of religious toleration of Akbar. Their view was that failure to persecute other faiths was tantamount to the neglect of Islam. Akbar instituted an enquiry into the conduct and character of the Qazis and the Ulema and all those who were found unworthy were deprived of their grants or their offices. That caused further discontent. Akbar had placed restrictions on the use of meat on certain days in the year and that was regarded as an encroachment on the principles of Islam.
Badaoni took great pains to collect the anti-Islamic measures of Akbar and while doing so he was guilty of great distortion, misrepresentation and at times baseless lies. According to Badaoni, Muta marriage was declared legal in 1575 and the royal seal bore the expression Allah-o-Akbar. In 1578-79, Sijda was permitted in the court and signatures on the Mahzar were secured under duress.
In 1580, permission was granted to shave the beard. In 1581-82, hostile Mullahs and Shaikhs were deported to Kandhar where they were exchanged for colts. Akbar promulgated the Din-i-Ilahi and thereby became Prophet and God. Akbar domesticated dogs and pigs and permitted the use of silken clothes which were embroidered. Akbar destroyed copies of the Quran and placed restrictions on the teaching of Arabic.
In 1583-84, Akbar converted mosques into stables and permitted gambling and the lending of money on interest which was prohibited by the Shariat. Under the influence of the Hindus, Akbar prohibited the slaughter of cows. He started Sun worship and adopted Hindu practices and festivals.
Akbar allowed the Christians to build churches. He had the Bible translated into Persian and he kept the portraits of Christ and Mary on his person. Akbar prohibited Haj and he forbade the use of Ahmad and Mohammad in the names of the Muslims.
Scholars point out that many of the statements of Badaoni were distorted and wholly incorrect. Akbar remained a Muslim to the end of his life. He retained the word Mohammad as a part of his name. He raised a structure over the footmark of the Prophet and called it Qadam Rasul._He punished all those who were found corrupt, immoral or rebellious. That cannot be called anti- Islamic. The view of Badaoni himself was that Muta marriage was legal.
There is no definite evidence that the Ulema did not sign the Mahzar in all good faith. Akbar neither neglected Arabic nor showed disrespect to the Quran or the mosques. He took action only against those Mullahs who were spreading disaffection against him. Unscrupulous people had incorporated in the Quran passages which served their purpose. It is these garbled copies of the Quran which were destroyed.
It is the mosques used by the bad people which were abandoned and fell in a state of ruin. To the end of his life, Akbar maintained his faith in Allah. He showed reverence to Muslim saints and their tombs. He gave facilities to the Haj pilgrims. He maintained an Ecclesiastical Department which was manned by Muslim theologians. It is only the narrow-minded and bigoted Muslims who were opposed to him and his policy of religious toleration.