Historians and thinkers have given conflicting views regarding the religious policy followed by the Mughal rulers.
The matter has been made so complex, that it is not possible to sift facts.
However one may try to be objective, one’s vision still remains coloured according to one’s prejudiced approach on account of the influence exercised by vested interests.
Religious policy of Babur:
The following instances indicate that Babur was not liberal in his religious outlook:
(1) He declared the battle against Rana Sanga of Mewar as Jihad’ and assumed the title of Ghazi after his victory at Khanwa in 1527.
(2) Babur again fought a ‘holy war’ against Medini Rai of Chanderi.
(3) The present Ram Janmabhoomi—Babri Masjid controversy which has done great damage to the Hindu-Muslim relations is the outcome of Babur’s legacy. It is said that by the command of the emperor Babur, his governor Baqi Tashqandi built a mosque at Ayodhya by destroying an ancient temple which also marked the birth place of Rama whom the Hindus consider him as an incarnation of God.
(a) He discriminated against the Hindu traders when he abolished some duties for all Muslim traders. Some of the historians think that all these acts were done on political considerations and not on religious considerations. Babur had to infuse a new spirit among his soldiers when he realised that they had to face stiff opposition from the brave Rajput’s.
Religious policy of Humayun:
Humayun was not a bitter persecutor of the Hindus but he never attacked a Muslim ruler when he was engaged in a fight with any Rajput ruler at the same time. Humayun wanted to crush the power of Bahadur Shah of Gujarat who had annexed Malwa also. Humayun found an opportunity to overpower Bahadur Shah when he was engaged in war with Mewar. But Humayun did not attack him as his enemy being a Muslim ruler was fighting against Non-Muslims.
Akbar’s Religious Policy:
Akbar is known for his liberal ideas and liberal religious policy. He adopted a policy of mutual understanding and reconciliation among followers of different faiths and equality of all religions. He tried to harmonize the relations. He founded a new religion known as ‘Din-i-Ilahi’ based on the common points of all religions. Of course, in this endeavor he was not successful.
Akbar followed the policy of religious toleration on account of the following major considerations:
1. Influence of the age over Akbar:
In the words of Dr. H.N. Sinha: “The sixteenth century is a century of religious revival in the history of the world. The grand currents of the reformation compare favourably with the staging up of a new life in India. India experienced an awakening that quickened her progress and virtualized her national life.
The dominant note of this awakening was love and liberalism—love that united man to God and therefore to his brother man and liberalism, born of this love that levelled down the barrier of caste and creed, and took its stand on the bedrock of human existence and essence of all religions—Universal Brotherhood. With glorious ideals it inspired the Hindus and Muslim alike, and they forgot for a time the trivialities of their creed. To the Muslim as to the Hindu, it heralded the dawn of a new era, to the Muslim with the birth of the promised Mahdi, to the Hindu with the realization of the all-absorbing love of God.” The Bhakti cult and the Sufis preached religious toleration.
2. Strength and prosperity of an empire depends upon unity of its people:
Dr. V.A. Smith explained the aim of his religious policy in his own words thus: “For an empire ruled by one head, it was a bad thing to have the members divided among themselves, at variance one with the other…We ought, therefore, to bring them all into one, but in such fashion that they should be one and with the great advantage of not losing what is good in any one religion, while gaining whatever is better in another. In that way honour would be rendered to God, peace would be given to the people and security to the empire.”
3. Truth in every religion.
4. Influence of several personalities.
Main steps taken for religious harmony:
1. Equal treatment with subjects of all faiths.
2. Abolition of ‘Jazia’ and other taxes imposed on the Hindus.
3. Matrimonial alliances with Hindu families.
4. Employment of Hindus at higher posts.
5. Freedom of worship to all.
6. Founding a new religion based on the common points of all religions.
Impact of Akbar’s policy:
1. Empire became strong.
2. An environment of good will was developed.
3. Social reforms took place.
4. Cultural unity emerged.
5. Akbar got the credit of being a national king.
Dr. S.R. Sharma has explained the impact of his policy in these words “Among the rulers of India he occupies a very high place…among other things—his having attempted to bring Hindus and Muslims together with some success…It is worth remembering that at a time when Europe was plunged into strife of warring sects, when Roman Catholics were burning Protestants at the stake, and Protestants were executing Roman Catholics, Akbar guaranteed peace not only to ‘warring sects’ but to different religions.
In the modern age, he was the first and almost the greatest experimenter in the field of religious toleration if the scope of his toleration, the races to which it was applied, and the contemporary conditions be taken into account.”
Religious policy of Jahangir:
The Hindus were not burdened with extra taxes but there are examples which point out that his treatment with the Hindus was not fair.
(i) Jahangir punished Hindus of Rajuri in the state of Kashmir because they used to marry Muslim girls.
(ii) Jahangir got a cow killed after his conquest of the Kangra fort.
(iii) Jahangir threw away the idol of god Varaha at Ajmer into a pond,
(iv) Jahangir closed Christian churches when he was at war with the Portuguese.
(v) The most important action of his fanaticism was that he executed the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun Dev.
(vi) He ordered the expulsion of all Jains from Gujarat as he suspected that they helped Khusru against Jahangir.
On the other side, he opened higher services for Non-Muslims. In the words of Dr. R.P. Tripathi, “He made practically no difference between the Hindus and the Mohammadans or the Christian subjects.”
Religious policy of Shah Jahan:
1. According to Khafi Khan, Shah Jahan, issued an order prohibiting employment of Hindus in services.
2. He established a separate department for securing conversion to Islam.
3. Temples in Banaras, Allahabad, Gujarat and Kashmir were broken during his reign.
4. He ordered that those Hindus who embraced Islam would get their share from the property of their father immediately.
5. The war captives were converted to Islam.
6. Culprits who accepted Islam were left free. Christians were persecuted after the capture of Hughly.
According to S.R. Sharma, “He embarked on a campaign of complete destruction of the new temples of the Hindus.”
Religious policy of Aurangzeb:
Aurangzeb completely reversed the religious policy of Akbar. He followed a policy of persecuting people of all faiths other than Sunnis.
1. He established a separate department for the destruction of temples. All important temples of north India including the Vishwanath Temple of Banaras, Keshav Dev Temple at Mathura etc. were destroyed during his period.
2. Mosques were raised the sites of temples.
3. Images of Hindu gods and goddesses were broken and used for the construction of mosques.
4. Several taxes including ‘Jazia’ were imposed on the Hindus.
5. Hindus in large number were turned out of services and especially of the revenue department.
6. Various kinds of temptations were offered to Hindus to embrace Islam.
7. Restrictions were imposed on the celebration of Hindu festivals and fairs.
8. The execution of the 9th Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur on his refusal to embrace Islam is the most glaring example of the bigotry of Aurangzeb.
9. During his reign, two sons of the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh were buried alive.
Consequences of the religious policy of Aurangzeb:
In the words of Pringle Kennedy, “What Akbar had gained…he (Aurangzeb) lost.” Dr. Surjit ManSingh in Historical Dictionary of India’ (1998) has observed, “Some modern historians ascribe to Aurangzeb the intention of ruling India as an Islamic country and depict the Maratha rebellion by Shivaji as an early stage of Hindu nationalism. Some go further in tracing the seeds of partition in 1947 to him. Far fetched though such judgements may be, it is certain that Aurangzeb died in his own words, “forlorn and destitute” and soon after that his empire disintegrated.”