Akbar (Makers of the Muslim World)
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It was probably devotion to Khwaja Muin-ud-din that was responsible for Akbar's interest in Shaikh Salim Chishti, a contemporary saint who lived at the site of what was to become Akbar's capital at Fathpur Sikri. It was there that he built the Ibadat Khana, the House [] of Worship, which he set apart for religious discussions. Every Friday after the congregational prayers, scholars, dervishes, theologians, and courtiers interested in religious affairs would assemble in the Ibadat Khana and discuss religious subjects in the royal presence.
The assemblies in the Ibadat Khana had been arranged by Akbar out of sincere religious zeal, but ultimately they were to drive him away from orthodoxy. This was partly the fault of those who attended the gatherings.
At the very first session there were disputes on the question of precedence, and when these were resolved, a battle of wits started among the participants. Each tried to display his own scholarship and reveal the ignorance of the others. Questions were asked to belittle rivals, and soon the gatherings degenerated into religious squabbles. The two great theologians of the court, Makhdum-ul-Mulk and Shaikh Abdul Nabi, arrayed on opposite sides, attacked each other so mercilessly that Akbar lost confidence in both of them.
His disillusionment extended to the orthodoxy they represented. He used his position for two main purposes: to persecute the unorthodox and to accumulate fabulous wealth. Badauni says that when he died, thirty million rupees in cash were found in his house, and several boxes containing gold blocks were buried in a false tomb.
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Shaikh Abdul Nabi, although not personally accused of graft, is said to have had corrupt subordinates. He was a strict puritan, and his hostility toward music was one of the grounds on which his rival attacked him in the discussions in the House of Worship. The petty recriminations of the ulama disgusted the emperor, but probably a deeper cause for his break with them was an issue that is comparable in some ways to the conflict between the church and the state in medieval Europe.
The interpretation and application of Islamic law, which was the law of the state, was the responsibility of the ulama. Over against this, and certain to come in conflict with it, was Akbar's concentration of all ultimate authority in himself. Furthermore, with Akbar's organization of the empire on new lines, problems were arising which the old theologians were unable to comprehend, much less settle in a way acceptable to the emperor.
A complaint was lodged before the emperor by the qazi of Mathura that a rich Brahman in his vicinity had forcibly taken possession of building material collected for the construction of a mosque and had used it for building a temple. The Brahman languished in prison for a long time. Ultimately Akbar left the matter to Shaikh Abdul Nabi, who had the offender executed.
Finding Tolerance in Akbar, the Philosopher-King | HuffPost
This led to an outcry, with many courtiers like Abul Fazl expressing the view that although an offense had been committed, the extreme penalty of execution was not necessary. They based their opinion on a decree of the founder of the Hanafi school of Islamic law. Abdul Nabi's action was also severely criticized by the Hindu courtiers and by Akbar's Rajput wives. Akbar was troubled not only by this incident but by the general legal position which gave so much power to the ulama that he was at their mercy on such vital issues. He explained his difficulties to Shaikh Mubarik, the father of Faizi and Abul Fazl, who had come to the court on business.
The shaikh, who was liberal minded and independent in his views, had suffered at the hands of Makhdum-ul-Mulk. He stated that according to Islamic law, if there was a difference of opinion between the jurists, the Muslim ruler had the authority and the right to choose any one view, his choice being decisive. He drew up a brief but important document, the arguments of which were supported by quotations from the Holy Quran and traditions of the Prophet. It read as follows:.
Further, we declare that should His Majesty think it fit to issue a new order, we and the nation shall likewise be bound by it, provided always that such order be not only in accordance with some verse of the Quran, but also of real benefit to the nation; and further, that any opposition on the part of his subjects to such an order passed by His Majesty shall involve damnation in the world to come, and loss of property and religious privileges in this life.
This document has been written with honest intentions, for the glory of God and the propagation of Islam, and is signed by us, the principal ulama and lawyers, in the month of Rajab of the year nine hundred and eight-seven. The document has been referred to as the "Infallibility Decree of ," with the implication that it gave to Akbar unlimited powers in both the spiritual and temporal spheres.
This is an erroneous reading, for the king's authority was confined to measures which were "in accordance with some verse of the Quran" and were of "real benefit for the nation.
But the limitations laid down in the declaration of were not observed by Akbar, and in practice it became an excuse for the exercise of unrestrained autocracy. Soon the gatherings of the Ibadat Khana were exposed to new and more hostile influences. Before long, in addition to the Muslim scholars, Hindu pandits, Parsi mobeds and Jain sadhus began to attend the gatherings. They expressed their own points of view, and the emperor, ever open to new ideas, was attracted by some of their practices.
A more serious complication arose when the emperor invited Jesuits from Goa to the discussions. They did not confine themselves to the exposition of their own beliefs, but reviled Islam and the Prophet in unrestrained language. When the news of these discussions and the new decrees promulgated by the emperor became known, there was serious disaffection among the Muslims. The first to criticize the new developments was Mullah Muhammad Yazdi, the Shia qazi of Jaunpur, who declared in that the emperor had ceased to be a Muslim and the people should rise against him.
Akbar sent for Mullah Muhammad Yazdi and Muiz-ul-Mulk, the chief qazi of Bengal, and had them put to death by drowning. His punitive action against others did not prevent open rebellion from breaking out in Akbar's enemies did not confine themselves to sporadic outbursts and regional risings, but made a serious attempt to dethrone him and place his brother Mirza Muhammad Hakim, ruler of Kabul, on the throne.
Akbar's brilliant diwan, Khawaja Shah Mansur, was executed for alleged conspiracy with Mirza Hakim, who got as far as Lahore, but being no match for Akbar, was driven back to Kabul. The historian Vincent Smith, in his biographical study of Akbar, declares that the emperor, after he had returned from his successful expedition against the rebels, called a formal council to promulgate [] his new religion the Din-i-Ilahi.
The Jesuits apparently had not heard of any such proclamation. In fact, Father Monserrate, who accompanied Akbar to Kabul and back, thought that the emperor had grown more cautious in the expression of his views. On the return journey Akbar performed prayers in the customary Muslim manner in a mosque near Khyber, was reluctant to have religious discussions with the Jesuits, and during one debate in which Muslim spokesmen appeared likely to lose, Akbar took their side and brought his own knowledge into play.
Hindu writers, on the other hand, have generally held that although he followed a tolerant policy, he lived and died a Muslim. Muslim historians are about equally divided on the question.
source These conflicting judgments partly reflect the inevitable differences that result from assessing a complex personality, but they are due also to conflicting contemporary accounts and, in no small degree, to erroneous translations of the relevant Persian texts. The foundation for the misunderstanding of Akbar's religious history was laid by Blochmann in the introduction to his translation of Abul Fazl's Ain-i-Akbari ; here he set the pattern for relying on Badauni, Akbar's enemy, rather than Abul Fazl, his friend, for studying Akbar's religious history. The crucial question about Akbar's religious activity is whether he established a new religion or a new spiritual order.
Badauni's account is clearly intended to give the impression that Akbar no longer respected Islam and, indeed, actively persecuted it. He translated the expression ain-i-iradat gazinan , which correctly means "rules for the royal disciples," as the "principles of divine faith," and gives the subsection the heading, "ordinances of the divine faith," although there is no such heading in the original text.
The sharp difference between the viewpoints of Abul Fazl and Badauni is obvious, but our study of the subject has revealed a surprisingly large area of common ground between them, and if the present divergence of opinion about Akbar's religion is to be resolved, more attention will have to be given to what is common ground between these two principal sources of our information. It appears that modern historians, fascinated by the wit and sarcasm of Badauni, have paid scant attention to Abul Fazl's informative sections on Akbar's religion contained in his Akbar-Nama and Ain-i-Akbari.
Akbar's regulations which were not of an ephemeral or tentative character have been preserved in the voluminous Ain-i-Akbar i, and it would be illogical to suppose that important royal orders, which were to be given general currency in the empire, would have been omitted. Since the Ain 's accounts of Akbar's religious innovations and of the practices of the royal disciples contain much that would shock an orthodox Muslim, there is no reason to suppose that regulations for the Din-i-Ilahi would not have been included.
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