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Islamic Society ( 28 Feb 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Past Present: Mughals and the Religious Movements

By Mubarak Ali

February 26, 2012

Akbar (1556-1605) laid down the foundations of an empire after conquering and occupying territories of local Indian rulers. He introduced many reforms which consolidated the Mughal rule. His rule was based on three elements. First, he inducted Hindus in the state structure and integrated them socially and culturally on equal basis. Secondly, he welcomed the Iranians to his court who were excellent administrators and literary people. Thirdly, he Indianised the Mughal culture by adopting Indian customs, traditional festivals and celebrations.

These efforts brought Muslims and Hindus together. His attempt to establish a house of worship and allow followers of different faiths to come and discuss religious issues there not only helped to spread knowledge of various religions but also created religious tolerance.

Akbar’s religious policy was supported by the majority who felt comfortable and secure under its umbrella. However, there were some elements, though not very powerful and influential, who opposed it. Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi was one who was concerned by the process of integration between Hindus and Muslims and by the adoption of Hindu cultural practices; this line of action was, in his view, a threat to Muslim identity and he criticised the culture policy of the Mughal rule.

For example, earlier on, Babur (1500-1530), in his testament, advised Humayun to not slaughter cows as it would be against the Hindu religion. Ahmad Sirhindi, (d. 1624) on the other hand, pleaded that sacrificing cows was an important element of Shariah.

Akbar abolished the jaziya or tax on Hindus in order to bring them to the fold as Mughal subjects on an equal footing with Muslims. Sirhindi, opposing this move, proposed that Hindus pay jaziya because it was a sign of their humiliation and subordination.

Mughal emperors invited Iranians who were Shia, and never interfered in their beliefs. Ahmad Sirhindi fiercely opposed Shias and their influence. Mughals promoted the integration of Hindus and Muslims while Sirhindi condemned this trend and in one of his letters protested that Rahim and Ram were not one and the same. He tried to convince the Mughal nobility to promote Islamic teachings at the royal court but he was not successful in his endeavours.

Akbar’s personality was so strong that Sirhindi remained in oblivion. During the time of Jahangir, he was summoned to the court because one of his letters infuriated the orthodox Ulema and Muslims in general. In this letter he recounted a dream in which he appeared in the presence of Almighty God; he claimed that he went so close to God that the great friends of the Holy Prophet remained behind. Jahangir sentenced him to prison and he was incarcerated at Gwalior Fort as punishment.

The interpretation of history changed during the communal politics of the 1920s. Akbar and Ahmad Sirhindi emerged as two important figures who had opposed each other. Akbar was condemned as secular and irreligious because he had patronised all faiths and consequently weakened the Muslim community of India. As he encouraged the policy of integration, he was said to have polluted the purity of Islam.

On these bases some Muslim historians blamed him for the decline of Muslim power in India. This scenario was based on Ahmad Sirhindi, who was resurrected from historical oblivion and presented as the champion of Islam who saved the faith in India. His orthodox views, his zeal to revive the purity of religion and his uncompromising attitude towards Hindus and Shias were appreciated by some Muslim groups. In Pakistan history textbooks he is a hero and by default Akbar a villain of sorts.

During the later Mughal period Shah Waliullah (d.1762) emerged as an important force who made efforts to unite the Muslim community by acting to eliminate differences of jurisprudence and sectarian disputes between Shias and Sunnis. He also made attempts to convince Muslims to abandon Hindu practices and customs. Seeing that Mughal emperors of his time were too weak to arrest the growing power of the Marhattas, he invited Ahmad Shah Abdali to invade India.

Like Ahmad Sirhindi, he was also not well known in his own time. His influence was confined to his students and to a section of the nobles. He was also brought to light during the communal politics and presented as a reformer and revolutionary to inspire the Muslim community to fight for their identity and survival. Ubaidullah Sindhi’s book Shah Walliuallh ki siyasi tehreek or the ‘Political movement of Shah Walliullah’, presents him as an important leader whose teachings could be implemented in modern time to reform Muslim society.

We have inherited two trends. One is the Mughul heritage which is liberal, secular, enlightened, religiously tolerant, multicultural and multi-ethnic. The other is from the religious movement which is culturally, socially and religiously rigid and thus intolerant. Now it is up to us to choose which one we want to adhere to, because Pakistan, despite the state’s advocacy of an official ideology, remains a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society.

Source: The Dawn, Karachi