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Akbar vs. Aurangzeb - Part 1 of 6: An Introduction (A 6 Part Series)

Upon entry to India under Arab rule, Muslims had been both culturally and religiously segregated from the rest of Indian society. The bulk of Muslim settlers were Turks, Arabs and Persians. As proselytization expanded and Islam began to sway more indigenous Indians to convert, different outlooks on Islam began to appear. These were the result of the influence of the Sufi ideologies being imported to the Indian subcontinent. With the esoteric nature of Hinduism and likewise nature of Sufism, it was only a matter of time before one started influencing the other.

Soon a heterodox approach to Islam arose that removed categorization of religions and religious traditions. New and existing Sufi orders began taking a kindness to the Hindu influence on Islam in India. Syncretistic movements propped up in the fringes of the Indian subcontinent where Islam had yet to appear in any noticeable capacity, and thus began the approach to adjoin together two spiritual outlooks. This ultimately became a quandary for the general Indian populace during the next monarchic reign of the Mughals as both orthodox Ulemic views and mystical Sufi syncretistic views had reached two drastically different extremes. These extreme differences could be highlighted by the examination of two Mughal reigns that symbolized the struggle between these parallel approaches, that of Akbar (1542 – 1605) and that of Aurangzeb (1618 – 1707).

Each approach had its ultimate stance on the progression of Islam in India and its role on Indian society, and tried to influence policies that were in accordance to their teachings. The Mughal Sultans, who had their own religious convictions, were usually in agreement with one movement over the other. This usually exhibited itself in their policy- and decision-making, which usually leaned heavily in the direction of one movement over the other.

Akbar's religious convictions were in sync with the syncretistic Sufi orders, and usually were so at the expense of the Ulema, which he tried his best to suppress. In contrast to Akbar, Aurangzeb was a staunch advocate of the singularity of Islam and decreed policy that was reflective of his own convictions; policies which were in sync with the Orthodox Ulema. While the main base of support during Mughal reign was the Indian Muslim population, their policy would affect all of India, and consequently, their reigns can be categorized as secular, since the decisions they made were usually a reflection of the struggle between syncretistic Sufis and orthodox Ulema. Ultimately, their reigns were impacted by the struggle between these two factions.
Throughout this series, I will examine the policies of Akbar and Aurangzeb in relation to the influence on their courts by the Sharia-minded orthodox Ulema and the syncretistic Sufis, and the effects of those policies on the general populace, both Muslim and Hindu. A detailed look will be given to the influence of the Naqshbandiyya and Nuqtavi Sufi orders. I will also examine the syncretistic Din-ilahi (Religion of God), founded by Akbar, and will discuss whether it was a new religion or new Sufi order, and the effects this movement had on the successive Mughal Sultans, especially Aurangzeb. A brief look will also be given to the policies of temple destruction by both Akbar and Aurangzeb, their policies on taxation, and the roles of Sufis and the Ulema in such policies. Finally, I will discuss the impact of these movements on Indian society, through the reigns of Akbar and Aurangzeb.

Part | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

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