Akbar’s religious policy of harmony, reconciliation, and synthesis among all the religions did not develop all of a sudden.
Between 1556 and 1562, Akbar remained a staunch Sunni Muslim. He practiced the tenets of Islam as a devout Muslim—prayed five times a day, kept fast in the holy month of Ramazan and honored the Ulemas of Islam.
He never hesitated to punish the opponents of Islam. However, gradually his views changed after 1562.
According to Dr. Tara Chand, his religion was the product of the synthetic effect of the Vedanta and Sufism of the age. Akbar was deeply interested in religion and philosophy and listened very carefully not only to the arguments of the Sufi and Shia divines but also the scholars of other religions also.
He watched the good men professing different creeds and ‘Sule Kul’ i.e. reconciliation seemed to him the only solution of developing harmony and friendship among followers of different faiths. In fact some scholars equate ‘Din-i-Ilahi’ with ‘Sule-Kul’.
Akbar’s ‘Sule-Kul’ or his policy of reconciliation and liberalism in religious matters was greatly influenced by his Hindu mother, his guardian and tutor Bairam Khan and Abdul Latif respectively, his contact with philosophers and scholars like Sheikh Mubark and his sons Faizi and Abdul Fazal, his contact with Rajputs, his contact with other religions and his political ambition to expand and strengthen his empire with the cooperation of all religions.
Ibadat Khana (House of Worship):
With the help of Shaikh Mubark and his sons Faizi and Abdul Fazal, Akbar collected a big library of books on history, religion, philosophy and sciences. These were read out and explained to him by Faizi. The result was that Akbar’s views on religion became very liberal and he wanted to go deep in religious matters. For this he thought of providing a meeting ground.
In 1575, Akbar established Ibadat Khana at Fatehpur Sikri for the purpose of conducting religious discussions and debates for a better understanding of deep truth in religion. Akbar himself took part in these discussions. In the beginning, Mullahs only participated.
Akbar addressed the following words to those assembled for discussion: “My sole object, O. Mullahs is to ascertain truth, to find out and disclose the principles of genuine religion and to trace it to the divine origin.”
In due course, exponents of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Christianity began to be invited. All the scholars were given due respect. However with the passage of time, Akbar found that the debates in the Ibadat Khana were not helpful in leading to better understanding between different religions, rather they created bitterness. Hence in 1582, he discontinued the debates.
Development of Akbar’s religious views and measures taken (in the chronological order):
Akbar stopped the practice of converting the prisoners of war to Islam (1562)
He abolished the pilgrimage tax (1563)
He abolished Jizya — a tax levied on Hindus (1564) He established the Ibadat Khana or House of Worship (1575)
He issued Infallibility Decree (1579)
He founded a new religion called Din-i-Ilahi (1581)
He forbade the killing of animals on certain days (1583)
Infallibility Decree (1579):
Akbar was in favour of weakening the powers of the Ulemas/Mullahs. He wanted to combine in himself both political and spiritual powers. According to the Decree, Akbar became the supreme arbiter in civil and religious affairs. This declaration was signed by leading divines. Akbar himself began to read the Khutba (earlier read by the Imam of the Mosque) from the pulpit of a Fatehpuri Mosque.
‘Din-i-Ilahi’ or ‘Tauhld-Ilahi’:
After acquainted himself thoroughly with the principles and practises of different religions through listening to the debates and discussions of religious philosophers and scholars and watching their lives, Akbar founded a new religion in 1581 which included the virtues of other religions and he named it Din-i-Ilahi. Akbar tried to emphasise the ‘Sule Kul’ i.e. peace and harmony among religions.
Important principles of Din-i-Ilahi:
Some of the important principles of Din-i-Ilahi were:
1. God is great. He is One.
2. Akbar is His apostle or representative.
3. Every adherent of this faith should be willing to give away property, life, religion and honour to the emperor.
4. Every member should take an oath of doing good to everybody.
5. No member should have blind faith.
6. The followers of this faith should not approve of child marriage as well as old marriage.
7. All should show respect to all religions.
8. Whenever the followers of this faith meet, one should say: Allah- hu-Akbar (God is great) and in reply the other should say Jalla-Jallah – hu (God is beautiful and merciful).
9. As far as possible, the followers of this religion should not eat meat.
10. The followers should not sleep with minor girls.
11. Every member should arrange a feast at his birth day and give charity.
Membership of the Din-i-Ilahi:
The number of the followers of the Din-i-Ilahi was not large. Probably it was a few thousands only. Among the nobles, only eighteen are said to have accepted this faith. Shaikh Mubark, his two sons Faizi and Abul Fazl and Raja Birbal embraced the new faith. Akbar did not force anyone to accept Din-i-Ilahi. It was sad and unfortunate that the new faith died with Akbar’s death.
Evaluation of Din-i-Ilahi:
Critics of Din-i-Ilahi: Monuments of Akbar’s folly. Budauni regards the founding of Din-i-Ilahi as an un-Islamic act. Dr. Smith writes, “The whole scheme was the outcome of ridiculous vanity, monstrous growth of unrestrained autocracy – a monument of Akbar’s folly, not of his wisdom.” He further calls it “a silly invention”.
Admirers of Din-i-Ilahi:
According to S R. Sharma, Din-i-Ilahi was the crowning expression of Akbar’s nationalism. Dr. Ishwari Prasad regards it very rational containing good points of all religions. Havell thinks that with the new faith Akbar won an imperishable name in Indian history.
Lane-poole has justly observed, “The broad minded sympathy which inspired such a vision of catholicity left a lasting impression upon a land of warring creeds and tribes and for a brief while created a nation where before there had been only factions”.
According to S.M. Zaffar, “The wisdom of Akbar’s assumption of the prophetic role may be called in question but the noble ideal that prompted it deserves high praise and not condemnation. To achieve the aim of unification of India and consolidation of Mughal Empire, it was necessary first to conquer and then to command sincere devotion from all and sundry by granting them the freedom of worship and the liberty of conscience. Therefore, Akbar gave up such a religious code-in essence a political document—as would commend itself to the whole population”.
The Divine Faith had far-reaching consequences. It totally changed the character of Muslim rule in India. Malleson has also felt, “Akbar’s foremost aim was the union of Hindustan under one head which was difficult to achieve had he persecuted all non-Islamic religions. To accomplish such a union it was necessary, first to conquer, Secondly, to respect all consciences, and all methods of worshipping Almighty”.