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Were Muslim Rulers Brute, Fanatic and Intolerant?

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj


(The writer can be reached at and

Certain historians working on projects to malign medieval Muslim rulers have selectively highlighted the acts of brutality against conspirators.

Muslim rulers of medie-val India were primarily empe-rors as did the rulers of their or previous ages.

They were autocrats in keeping with the political traditions then. Any threat or challenge to their seat of power was dealt with a strong arm. So they were unkind to their enemies, brute against the rebels and warriors against the rival powers. If the challenge came from within the royal family or clan, the response was in no way different. They did not spare their parents, siblings or even offspring when they came in between them and their power. All rebels and challengers were crushed mercilessly.

But when it came to wooing the people after having established their power, they adopted all strategies of carrot and stick, inducement and allurement and punishment and retribution. But certain historians working on projects to malign medieval Muslim rulers have selectively highlighted the acts of brutality against conspirators or military action against rival kingdoms. For instance, much is said about killing of three brothers by Aurangzeb, namely Dara Shikoh, Shuja and Murad. But seen in the perspective of power struggle those days, such acts were not unique in case of Aurangzeb alone. Mauryan emperor Ashok, glorified for his rule, grabbed the throne after killing 99 of his brothers. He ordered burning alive all the 500 women of his harem, because some of them dubbed him ugly. He even ordered killing of 500 Brahmins opposed to Buddhism.1 Such mayhems were not exclusive to Aurangzeb or Ashok. History is replete with instances where emperors sought assassination of challengers to their throne and annihilation of rivals and their kingdoms. But in matters of day to day administration, these very emperors could be seen as perfect epitomes of grace, decency, compassion, piety and absolutely normal behaviour. They had mastered the strategies to woo masses with a finesse that equalled their ferocity in the warfare. Baburís will provides a little help in giving us insight into the methodology the founder of the Mughal empire employed in India.

Baburís will

It says : My son take not of the following: Do not harbour religious prejudice in your heart. You should dispense justice while taking note of the peopleís religious sensitivities, and rites. Avoid slaughtering cows in order that you could gain a place in the heart of natives. This will take you nearer to the people.

Do not demolish or damage places of worship of any faith and dispense full justice to all to ensure peace in the country. Islam can better be preached by the sword of love and affection, rather than the sword of tyranny and persecution. Avoid the differences between the shias and sunnis. Look at the various characteristics of your people just as characteristics of various seasons.2


Akbar was prominent in making bridges with non-Muslims. He scrapped jizyah, and jatra tax. He gave high positions to Bhagwan Das and Raja Man Singh, both kings of Rajasthan.

Alauddin honoured Jain munis

Alauddin Khilji is today dubbed a ruler highly biased against Hindus. But instances to the contrary are aplenty. He used to honour the Hindu divines. He invited the Jain Muni from Karnataka Mahasen in his court and conferred honour on him. He had provided free access to Digambar Jain community leader Poornachandra of Delhi and Ramchandra Suri.3

Case against Tughlaq

A Hindu leader filed a petition in the chief qaziís court against Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq for murdering his brother without any reason. Qazi ordered the Sultan to present himself in the Court. Mohammad bin tughlaq sent word that he would be standing in the dock and there should be no favour or special treatment be shown for him in the court. The Sultan persuaded the plaintiff to accept Qisas and was thus acquitted. 4

Piety had nothing to do with power

Maligning of Muslims necessitates that rulers are shown to be rigid followers of Islam. If Muslims rulers were to be rigid about the rituals of Islam, some of them could have performed Hajj. None did. Because it involved at least eight months of travelling outside their capital. They could not risk their seat. In fact, when they wanted to get rid off some officer, they forcibly sent him to Hajj by seeing him off Surat port which served as the gateway to Makkah from India then. Emperor Akbar thus exiled Bairam who was his foster motherís husband and his attalik (mentor or tutor) and advisor, to Makkah during early years of his rule.

In contrast, spiritual father of Sikhism and social reformer, Guru Nanak performed Hajj and built a Gurdwara in Baghdad while returning, which exists even today. All that means that piety guided their individual behaviour as well as the statecraft till it helped the State project a benign image of itself. But when a threat was perceived to the State, it took a back seat.

Jehangir killed Guru Arjan Dev

It is true that Emperor Jehangir ordered execution of the fourth Sikh guru Arjan Dev. The instance is presented in evidence of Mughal rulerís intolerance. Though he did not consider Arjan Dev a spiritual leader, he never interfered with his missionary activities. But he ordered his execution when the Emperorís son Khusrow revolted against Jehangir and went to Arjan Dev for his blessing near the bank of Bias river. Even Historian Jadunath Sarkar who is quite biased against Mughal emperors, has considered it a political act, not a communally motivated act.4

Jehangir imprisoned Mujaddid Alf Sani

Emperors did not discriminate between Hindus and Muslims if they felt threatened from any quarter. Jehangir imprisoned Shaikh Ibrahim Baba Afghani in the fort of Chunar (near Allahabad) and Mujaddad Alf Sani in the fort of Gwalior because the people were increasingly flocking to them for guidance. He saw a new pole of power emerging which he took as a challenge to his rule. However, he later released Alf Sani and conferred honours on him and included him in his courtiers.

Jehangir married Rajput princesses

Jehangir married a number of Rajput women. First of such wives was Manbai, sister of Raja Mansingh. Second was Jagat Gusain, daughter of Raja Uday Singh. Another was Karamsi, daughter of Raja Keshavdas Rathore. Lahore Raja Darya Labhasí daughter, daughter of Jaisalmer Raval Bhim, and daughter of Jagat Singh who was son of Raja Mansingh. These matrimonies were aimed at cultivating political alliances. However it will be quite fair to accept that while Rajput wives in Mughal household were quite common, there are hardly any evidences of Mughal princesses being married outside the Mughal households. Jehangir also built a temple in his palace which was meant for his Rajput mother, Rajput wife and their friends.

Rajput-Muslim clash

Jehangir used to keep Rajputs in good humour. In one of his armyís expeditions to South, his commander Mahabat Khan was leading the army comprising leading Rajput chieftains and Syed chieftains. Among Rajputs, Raja Gridhar was a leading chieftain while Syed Kabeer was a leading figure among Sadath chieftains. On some petty issue, a rift came about between Rajputs and Sadaths. It snowballed into a full scale skirmish in which 26 Rajput chieftains and four Sadath leaders were killed. Raja Gridhar lost his sons. Mahabat Khan perceived the gravity of the situation and immediately went to condole the death of Raja Gridhar. This greatly defused the situation. Jehangir ordered the arrest of Syed Kabeer. He was executed in qisas for the sons of Raja Gridhar.6

Attending Hindu discourses

Jehangir used to go to the Hindu sanyasis and attend their discourses (Haqeeqat and Maarafat). He mentions his meeting with Chadroop near Ujjain. He climbed a very difficult ascent to reach his small cave and spent some hours with him to exchange views on philosophy and mentioned this in his Tazuk e Jahangiri. Chadroop was a real mendicant who had completely renounced the world and its pleasures. Later Chadroop shifted to Mathura and when Jehangir learnt about it, he visited him several times. It so happened that when people knew about Chadroopís proximity with the emperor, they began to approach him for several recommenda-tions.

Once Hakim Beg, co-brother of Jehangir (Noor Jehanís sisterís husband) was appointed at Mathura. He did not like Chadroop. So he ill-treated the mendicant. When Jehangir learnt about it, he dismissed Hakim Beg and seized his jagir and withdrew his titles.

Jehangir imprisoned his son

Imperial policies of favour or punishment revolved round the question of power. It is evident from how Jehangir loved his Rajput wife and punished his son. Jehangirís most beloved wife was Manbai, daughter of Raja Bhagwandas. When she entered the royal harem, she took the name ĎShah Begumí. She bore prince Khusrow and princess Sultan Begum. Khusrow wanted to directly inherit the throne of Akbar and therefore raised the banner of revolt. This very seriously hurt Shah Begum who was wife of Jehangir for 30 years. She consumed a big quantity of opium and died while Jehangir was on a hunting expedition. When Jehangir learnt about it, he did not eat for four days. When Khusrow was defeated, he was condemned to lifelong imprisonment, though not a very severe captivity.

No rechristening

Today we have this spectacle of changing the names of town and cities. There are demands for renaming Allahabad as Prayag and Ahmedabad as Karnavati. But Aurangzeb forbade his military commander Ameer Hassan from rechristening the Fort of Brahampuri in Deccan as ĎIslampurií. He reprimanded his qazis when they decreed that Hindu prisoners from conquest of Satara (now in Maharashtra) to be converted to Islam and Muslim prisoners to be incarcerated for three years. Following conquest of Golconda Fort and the surrender of Qutb Shahi sultanate, Aurangzeb received a complaint from a Brahmin family that the Shivalinga image from their house had been stolen. The complainant woman said that her husband was not eating since then and was on the verge of death. She suspected the hand of some Muslim families. Aurangzeb ordered his officials to search and restore the image and in the event of failure, to subject the entire village to punitive action. The image was found and the culprits were punished.

Notes and references

1-Om Prakash Prasad, Aurangzeb, Ek Nai Drishti, Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library, 1994, p. 10-11

2-Titus, Indian Islam, a copy of this will is preserved in State Library of Bhopal

3- K. M. Panicker, A Survey of India

4- Safarnama-e-Ibne Batuta, page 137-38

5- History of Aurangzeb, vol. 3, page 306-9

6- Tazk e Jehangiri, page 383

7- Maasir al Umraa, page 67



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