AKBAR THE GREAT MUSLIM LIBERAL

From,  The Soul of Indian History, by S.R.Sharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, 1969 (two chapters here in Word)

Badauni was Akbar’s unsparing critic,-because he was as conservative as his master was latitudinarian. Nevertheless, he was a linguist, and Akbar set him the task of translating the Hindu epics in Persian. He reports that Akbar allowed those who were forcibly converted to Islam or Hinduism to go back to their original faith. “No man should be interfered with (Akbar declared) on account of his religion; and every one should be allowed to change his religion if he liked.” That liberalism was born of a searching inquiry, by the emperor, about the truth in each religion. to understand which Akbar spared no pains. For this he built the Ibadat Khana at Fatehpur Sikri, where weekly discussions were held between the best and most learned representatives of Islam (Shiah, Sunni and Sufi) as well as of all other religions: Hindu, Jaina, Zoroastrian, and Christian. They made Akbar a convinced theosophist in the purest sense of the term; and like all sincere and practieal men he attempted to translate his convictions into living facts. He got the Hindu scriptures and epics rendered in Persian, he adopted Hindu forms of dress and salutation, he worshipped the fire and the sun, he revered Christ and wore the cross from his neck, and permitted the Christians to freely propagate their creed. Like Asoka and Zain-ul-Abidin, he eschewed meat from his menu declaring that he did not wish to make of his stomach a tomb of dead animals! He prohibited the slaughter , of milch cows and draught cattle, for their agrarian and economic values; he forbade sati on humane grounds, and early marriages for eugnic reasons; he segregated and taxed prositutes, and proscribed wine (except under medical prescription), on moral and social grounds; and, finally, permitted the remarriage of widow on ground of justice. He abolished the invidious and galling jiziya and pilgrim taxes, despite the enormous loss of revenue sustained by the State on that account. With marvellous sympathy and insight Tennyson makes Akbar say

“I hate the rancour of their castes and creeds,

I let them worship as they will, I reap

No revenue from the field of unbelief,

I cull from every faith and race the best

And bravest soul for counsellor and friend.”

Like Vikramaditya of old, Akbar attracted to himself the best talents in the country, from all walks of life. A more heterogenous group is difficult to imagine than the one at Akbar’s court, but he possessed the syncretic genius to harmonise their differences and get the best out of each, Badauni was the acid test : despite his deep-seated antipathy towards the Hindus, Akbar got him to translate the Hindu classics in Persian. Man Singh declined to join the Din-e-Ilahi circle, because he was frankly unappreciative “I am a Hindu,” he naively declared, . . . “besides Hinduism and Islam I know of no other religion.” Nonetheless, Man Singh rose to the highest rank open to any subject, whether Hindu or Muslim, Indian or alien. Among Akbar’s inner circle of closest personal friends were Muslims like Abul Fazl and Faizee, as well as a Brahman wit like Birbal, and an eclectic mystic like Dadu. The Jaina teacher Hiravijaya Suri and the Parsi Dastur Meherjee Rana, as well as the Jesuit Fathers Monserrate, Aquaviva, Xavier and others were honoured guests. We have no direct evidence of Akbar having ever personally met the great Tulsi Das, but both Man Singh and Khan-Khanan Abdur Rahman Khan were among the saint’s admiring disciples. Legend speaks of Akbar’s incognito visits to the woman saint of Rajasthan -Mira Bai, though that may sound more romantic than real. But Akbar has become so much a part of the national tradition that like Vikramaditya, it is difficult to compartmentalise him and sift legend from verifiable history.

 

 

AKBAR'S RELIGIOUS DISCOURSES

(from p.353, “A Book of India” edited by B. N. Pandey, Rupa & Co. 1977)

 

When the capital was illumined by the return of the Imperial presence, the old regulations came again into operation, and the house of wisdom shone resplendent on Friday nights with the light of holy minds. On the 20th Mihr, in that place of meeting, the lamp was kindled to brighten the solitude of seclusion in the banquet of society, and the merits of the philosophers of the colleges and monasteries were put to the test of the touchstone. Sufis, doctors, preachers, lawyers, Sunnis, Shi'as, Brahmans, Jains, Buddhists, Char-baks, Christians, Jews, 7.oroastrians, and learned men of every belief, were gathered together fn the royal assembly, and were filled with delight. Each one fearlessly brought forward his assertions and arguments, and the disputations and contentions were long and heated. Every sect, in its vanity and conceit, attacked and endeavoured to refute the statements of their antagonists.

 

One night the 'Ibadat-Khana was brightened by the presence of Padre Radalf, who for intelligence and wisdom was unrivalled among Christian doctors. Several carping and bigoted men attacked him, and this afforded an opportunity for a display of the calm judgment and justice of the assembly! These men brought forward the old received assertions, and did not attempt to arrive at truth by reasoning. Their statements were torn to pieces, and they were nearly put to shame; and then they began to attack the contradictions in the Gospel; but they could not prove their assertions. With perfect calmness and earnest conviction of the truth, the Padre replied to their arguments, and then he went on to say, "If these men have such an opinion of our Rook, and if they believe the Kuran to be the true word of God, then let a furnace be lighted, and let me with the Gospel in my hand, and 'ulama with their holy book in their hands, walk into that testing place of truth, and the right will be manifest." The black-hearted mean-spirited disputants shrank from this proposal, and answered only with angry words. This prejudice and violence greatly annoyed the impartial mind of the Emperor, and, with great discrimination and enlightenment, he said: "Man's outward profession and the mere letter of Muhammadanism, without a heartfelt conviction, can avail nothing. I have forced many Brahmans, by fear of my power, to adopt the religion of my ancestors; but now that my mind leas been enlightened with the beams of truth, I have become convinced that the dark clouds of conceit and the mist of self opinion have gathered round you, and that not a step can be made in advance without the torch of proof. That course only can be beneficial which we select with clear judgment. To repeat the words of the Creed, to perform circumcision, or to lie prostrate on the ground from dread of kingly power, can avail nothing in the sight of God:

Obedience is not in prostration on the earth: Practise sincerity, for righteousness is not borne upon the brow."

 

ABUL FAZL (Akbar-Nama) translated by ELLIOT and DOWSON

 

AKBAR'S DIVINE FAITH. I582

(from p.355, “A Book of India” edited by B. N. Pandey, Rupa & Co. 1977)

 

Akbar's Divine Faith was intended to find a common ground between Islam and Hinduism.

In the year A.H. 983 the buildings of the 'ibadat-Khana were completed. The cause of their erection vas this. In the course of the last few years the Emperor had gained in succession many great and remarkable victories, and his dominion had grown in extent from day to day. Not an enemy was left m the world. He had taken a liking for the society of ascetics and the disciples of the celebrated Mu'iniyyah (God rest his soul!). He spent much time in discussing the Word of God and the sayings of the Prophet; and he devoted his attention to questions of Sufism, science, philosophy, law and other matters. He passed whole nights in meditation upon God and upon the modes of addressing him as yahu and yahadi. Reverence for the great Giver filled his heart. In order to show his gratitude for some of his blessings, he would sit many a morning alone in prayer and mortification upon the stone bench of an old cell which lap near the palace in a lonely spot. Thus engaged in meditation, he gathered the bliss of the early hours of dawn.

 

 

Having completed the building (of the 'ibadat-khana), he made a large hall in each of the four divisions of it. He also finished the construction of the tank called anuptalao. He called the building 'ibadat-khana. On Fridays after prayers he would go from the new khankah of the Shaikhu-l Islam, and hold a meeting in this building. Shaikhs, learned and pious men, and a few of his own companions and attendants, were the only people who were invited: Discussions were carried on upon all kinds of instructive and useful topics.

 

Every Sabbath evening he invited saiyids, shaikhs, doctors and nobles. But ill-feeling arose in the company about the seats and order of precedence, so His Majesty ordered that the nobles should sit on the east side, the saiyids on the west, the 'ulama on the south, and the shaikhs on the north. His Majesty would go from time to time to these various parties, and converse with them and ascertain their thoughts. Quantities of perfume were used, and large sums of money were distributed as rewards of merit and ability among the worthy people who obtained an entry through the favour of the Emperor's attendants. Many fine books which had belonged to 'Itimad Khan Gujarati, and had been acquired in the conquest of Gujarat, were placed in the royal library, but were subsequently brought out and distributed by the Emperor among learned and pious men. Among the rest he gave me a book called Anwaru-l mashkut.

 

One night the vein of the neck of the 'ulama of the age swelled up, and a great outcry and tumult arose. This annoyed His Majesty, and he said to me (Badauni), "In future report anyone of the assembled wham you find speaking improperly, and I will have him turned out." I said gently to Asaf Khan, "According to this, a good many would be expelled." His Majesty asked what I had said. When I told him, he was much amused, and repeated my saying to those who were near him.

His Majesty used frequently to go to the 'ibadat-khana, and converse with the 'ulama and the shaikhs, especially on Sabbath evenings, and would sometimes pass the whole night there. The discussions always turned upon religion, upon its principles, and upon its divarications. The learned doctors used to exercise the sword of their tongues upon each other, and showed great pugnacity and animosity, till the various sects at length took to calling each other infidels and perverts:

 

Innovators and schismatics artfully started their doubts and sophistries, making right appear to be wrong, and wrong to be right. And so His Majesty, who had an excellent understanding, and sought after the truth, but was surrounded by low irreligious persons, to whom he gave his confidence, was plunged into scepticism. Doubt accumulated upon doubt, and the object of his search was lost. The ramparts of the law and of the true faith were broken down; and, in the course of five or six years, not one trace of Islam was left in him. The state of affairs was changed.

There were many reasons for this. But as "small things are suggestive of great ones, and fear betrays the culprit," I will only mention a few. Learned men of various kinds and from every country, and professors of many different religions and creeds, assembled at his Court, and were admitted to converse with him. Night and day people did nothing but inquire and investigate. Profound points of science, the subtleties of revelation, the curiosities of history, the wonders of nature, of which large volume, could only give a summary abstract, were ever spoken of. His Majesty collected the opinions of everyone, especially of such as were not Muhammadans, retaining whatever he approved of, and rejecting everything which was against his disposition, and ran counter to his wishes. From his earliest childhood to his manhood, and from his manhood to old age, His Majesty has passed through the most diverse phases, and through all sorts of religious practices and sectarian beliefs, and has collected everything which people can find in books, with a talent of selection peculiar to him, and a spirit of inquiry opposed to every (Islamitic) principle. Thus a faith, based on some elementary principles, traced itself on the mirror of his heart, and, as the result of all the influences which were brought to bear on His Majesty, there grew, gradually as the outline on a stone, the conviction in his heart that there were sensible men in all religions, and abstemious thinkers, and men endowed with miraculous powers, among all nations. If some true knowledge was thus everywhere to be found, why should truth be confined to one religion, or to a creed like Islam, which was comparatively new, and scarcely a thousand years old? Why should one sect assert what another denies, and why should one claim a preference without having superiority conferred on itself?

 

Moreover, Samanis and Brahmans managed to get frequent private interviews with His Majesty. As they surpass other learned men in their treatises on morals, and on physical and religious sciences, and reach a high degree in their knowledge of the future, in spiritual power and human :perfection, they brought roofs, based on reason and testimony, for the, truth of their own, and the fallacies of other religions, and inculcated their doctrines so firmly, and so skilfully represented things , as quite self-evident which require consideration, that no man, by expressing his doubts, could now raise a doubt in His Majesty, even if mountains were to crumble to dust, or the heavens were to tear asunder.

 

Hence His Majesty cast aside the Islamitic revelations regarding resurrection, the Dap of Judgment, and the details connected with it, as also all ordinances based on the tradition of our Prophet. He listened to every abuse which the courtiers heaped on our glorious and pure faith, which can be so easily followed; and eagerly seizing such opportunities, he showed, in words and gestures, his satisfaction at the treatment which his original religion received at their hands.

In A.H. 986 the missionaries of Europe, who are called P'adris, and whose chief Pontiff, called Papa (Pope), promulgates his interpretations for the use of the people, and who issues mandates that even kings dare not disobey, brought their Gospel to the King's notice, advanced proofs of the Trinity, and affirmed the truth and spread abroad the knowledge of the religion of Jesus. The King ordered Prince Murad to learn a few lessons from the Gospel, and to treat it with all due respect, and Shaikh Abu-l Fazl was directed to translate it. Instead of the inceptive "Bismillah," the following ejaculation was enjoined: "In nomine Jesu Christi," that is, "Oh! thou whose name is merciful and bountiful." Shaikh Faizi added to this, "Praise be to God! there is no one like thee - thou art he!" The attributes of the abhorred Anti-Christ were ascribed to our holy Prophet by these lying impostors.

The accursed Birbal tried to persuade the King, that since the sun gives light to all, and ripens all grain, fruits and products of the earth, and supports the life of mankind, that luminary should be the object of worship and veneration; that the face should be turned towards the rising, not towards the setting, sun; that man should venerate fire, water, scones and trees, and all natural objects, even down to cows and their dung; that he should adopt the frontal mark and the Brahmimcal cord. Several wise men at Court confirmed what he said, by representing that the sun was the chief light of the world, and the benefactor of its inhabitants, that it was a friend to kings, and that kings established periods and eras in conformity with its motion. This was the cause of the worship paid to the sun on the Nau-roz Jalah, and of his being induced to adopt that festival for the celebration of his accession to the throne. Every day he used to put on clothes of that particular colour which accords with that of the regent-planet of the day. He began also, at midnight and at early dawn, to mutter the spells, which the Hindus taught him, for the purpose of subduing the sun to his wishes. He prohibited the slaughter of cows, and the eating of their flesh, because the Hindus devoutly worship them, and esteem their dung as pure. The reason was also assigned, that physicians have represented their flesh to be productive of sundry kinds of sickness, and to be difficult of digestion.

 

In this year (A.H 986), in order to verify the circumstances of the case (of the man who heard without ears), an order was issued that several suckling infants should he kept in a secluded place far from habitations, where they should not hear a word spoken. Well-disciplined nurses were to be placed over them, who were to refrain from giving them any instruction in speaking, so as to test the accuracy of the tradition which says, "Every one that is born is born with an inclination to religion," by ascertaining what religion and sect these infants would incline to, and above all what creed they would repeat. To carry out this order, about twenty sucklings were taken from their mothers for a consideration in money, and were placed in an empty house, which got the name of Dumb-house. After three or four years the children all came out dumb, excepting some who died there - thus justifying the name which had been given to the house.

 

Ten or twelve years after the commencement of these changes, matters came to such a pitch that wretches like Mirza Jani, chief of Tatta, and other apostates, wrote their declarations to the following effect  "I, so and so, son of so and so,  have willingly and cheerfully renounced the false and pretended religion of Islam, which I have received from my ancestors, and have joined the Divine Faith (Dan-i Ilahi) of Shah Akbar, and have assented to its fourfold rule of sincerity -- (the readiness to) sacrifice wealth and life, honour and religion." These writings - there could be no more effectual letters of damnation - were handed in to the Mujtahad of the new creed (Abu-l Fazl).

 

His Majesty gave his religious system the name of Tauhad-i Ilahi, Divine Monotheism.

 

BADAUNI (1542-1615) Tarikh-i Badauni (The author was hostile to Akbar) translated by ELLIOT and DOWS0N

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