Orthodox Religious Thought
According to Ain-i-Akbari the emperor discouraged people from becoming his disciples, but the person whom he accepted for initiation approached him with his turban in his hand and put his head on the emperor’s feet. This was to express that the novice had “cast aside conceit, selfishness—the root of so many evils.” The emperor then stretched out his hand, raised up the disciple and replaced the turban on his head. … The novice was given a token containing the ruler’s symbolic motto Allah-u-Akbar (God is Great). When the disciples met each other, one would say, “Allah-u-Akbar” and the other responded, “Jall-u-Jallaluhu.”
“The motives of His Majesty in allowing this mode of salutation,” Abul Fazl wrote, “is to remind men to think of the origin of their existence and to keep the Deity in their fresh, lively and grateful remembrance.” The disciples were to endeavor to abstain from flesh and not to make use of the same vessels as butchers, fishermen, and bird catchers. Each disciple was to give a party on the anniversary of his birthday and to bestow alms. The dinners customarily given after a man’s death were to be given by a disciple during his lifetime.
Akbar adopted and prescribed for his disciples and even others many practices which were borrowed from alien creeds, but precedents for this may be found in the lives of many Sufi saints who continue to be considered Muslims in spite of wide departures from traditional Islam.
But while Akbar did not claim to be a prophet or to establish a new religion, Islam lost its privileged position and many of his practices and regulations differed widely from the normal Muslim practices. It is not surprising that by many Muslims he was, and is regarded as having gone outside the pale of Islam.
Writing of the proclamation of 1579, Abul Fazl very ably summed up the popular misconceptions concerning Akbar, noting that he was accused by the “ill-informed and the unfair” of claiming divinity, or at least prophethood, of being anti-Muslim, a Shia, and partial to Hinduism.
While Abul Fazl answered these criticisms, he admitted that Akbar’s policy and some of his regulations facilitated the task of his enemies. Possibly Akbar sincerely believed that the powers conferred on him by the ulama in 1579 authorized him to initiate his regulations, and the court flatterers pandered to this belief by citing precedents in Islamic history. That they caused serious misgivings and resentment among orthodox Sunni Muslims was to be expected.
An aspect of Akbar’s religious policy that began several years after the acrimonious debates of the House of Worship was on a different footing. His attempt to set himself up as a jagat guru, the spiritual leader of the people, was a political mistake.
Akbar’s Hindu well-wishers like Raja Bhagwan Das and Raja Man Singh left him in no doubt about their dislike of his religious innovations. The only prominent Hindu who became his disciple was Birbal, regarded by succeeding generations as the court jester. Muslims were greatly offended.
Akbar’s failure was also due to forces operating outside the court. At this time a great Hindu religious revival was sweeping the country. It commenced in Bengal, but under Chaitanya’s successors, Mathura became the great center of resurgent Hinduism.
With such developments in the country, possibly with the support of his Hindu officers, Akbar’s efforts at religious syncretion were doomed to failure. In fact, as we shall see, the new aggressive attitude of the Hindu revivalists and the offense which the emperor’s religious innovations gave to the Muslims led to a reaction which was to destroy even the existing basis of harmony.
Unorthodox Religious Thought
At the beginning of Akbar’s reign (1556–1605) Khwaja ‘Abd al Shahid, who had earlier visited Babur’s court, arrived anew from Samarqand. Akbar received him ‘with respect and kindness’ and granted him the pargana of Chamari in Punjab.
Sharaf al-Din soon rose in eminence in the Mughal court through the influence of Maham Ananga and Adham Khan, important figures of the early years of Akbar’s reign. He received the high rank of amir, and was given jagirs in Ajmer and Nagor. During the 5th year of his reign, the Emperor gave him his half-sister Bakhshi Banu Begam in marriage. In the 7th year he was deputed to capture the fort
The Naqshbandis at this stage were hence held ‘in great esteem’, to the extent that Mulla Mubarak, whom Badauni portrays as a man opportunistically inclined doing what was most rewarding at a given moment, ‘adapted himself to their rule’.
Shah Jahan was more radical in his thinking than his father and grandfather. Upon his accession, he adopted new policies which reversed Akbar’s treatment of non-Muslims. In 1633, his sixth year, Shah Jahan began to impose his interpretation of Sharia provisions against construction or repair of churches and temples and subsequently ordered the demolitions of newly built Hindu temples.
He celebrated Islamic festivals with great pomp and grandeur and with an enthusiasm unfamiliar to his predecessors. Long-dormant royal interest in the Holy Cities was also revived during his reign.
The Sarwari Qadri order was founded by Sultan Bahu which branched out of the Qadiriyyah order. Hence, it follows the same approach of the order but unlike most Sufi orders, it does not follow a specific dress code, seclusion, or other lengthy exercises. Its mainstream philosophy is related directly to the heart and contemplating on the name of Allah, i.e., the word allāh as written on own heart.
Aurangzeb tried to stem the growing independence of the different parts of his empire by returning to autocratic rule. He abandoned the policy of separation of religion and state and turned away from the policy of religious tolerance that during the previous three generations had kept Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others together in peace and common destiny.
In 1675 he executed the Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur because of his refusal to convert to Islam. The Sikh rebellion that followed continued throughout Aurangzeb’s reign; relations between Sikhs and Muslims have been strained ever since.