Religious Policy of Aurangzeb and Ideologies

Sansar LochanHistory of India1 Comment

Aurangzeb as a ruler has attracted a lot of attention due to his policies of administration in the empire especially religious policies. S.R. Sharma not only calls Aurangzeb a puritan, but assumes that ‘Muslim theology triumphed’ with his attainment. The author goes on to list the various acts of domination or prejudice perpetuated by Aurangzeb during his supremacy of 50 years. A careful study of Sarkar’s writings recommend that his assessment was mainly based on his analysis of the first half of Aurangzeb’s reign which in his opinion, climaxed by the re-imposition of jizyah and his attempt to annex Marwar and subdue Mewar.


According to Sarkar, these and other orthodox measures of Aurangzeb were an insidious attempt to establish an Islamic state in India. It has been argued that all the acts of Aurangzeb in pursuance of his so-called religious policy were motivated solely by his strict adherence to the shari’ah. At the outset, he remained basically within the framework of the religious policy set out by Shahjahan. A slow change began in 1666. Aurangzeb’s religious policy went through a number of phases:

  • The phase of growing rigidity, which began in 1666, and included the re-imposition of jizya in 1679, has been highlighted by Sarkar.
  • This phase began to be modified around 1685, when Aurangzeb had began to despair of detaching the Deccani states from their alliance with the Marathas and continued up tp the conquest of Bijapur and Golkonda in 1687.
  • The final phase continued from 1687 up to Aurangzeb’s death in 1707.

Phase of the re-imposition of jizya

The phase of the re-imposition of jizya was a period of growing political and economic difficulties for Aurangzeb, with internal unrest of Jats, Satnamis and Sikhs; political oppression of Afghans and Marathas; climaxed by rebellion on the part of the old, established allies, the Rathors of Marwar; and foreign threat i.e. Iran. Aurangzeb reacted to these threats by emphasizing Islam as the only bond of unity in the highly segmented ruling class. He perhaps hoped that by this means he would be able to defeat the Marathas and their growing power in alliance with the Muslim rulers of the Deccan. The re-imposition of jizya has been represented as marking the culmination of the spirit of religious bigotry which led to the alienation of the Rajputs, Marathas and the Hindus and hastened the disintegration of the empire. But in order, to understand this measure, it is also necessary to understand the political, economic and religious trends of the court and the empire. The official view as to why Aurangzeb re-imposed the jizya was that he was keen to promote the faith and laws of Islam. He wanted to overthrow the practice of the infidels. The ulama also forced him into this by urging that the laying of the jizyah upon the opponents of Islam was compulsory according shari’ah. The contemporary European travelers suggest a different explanation of the measure. According to them jizya was collected with utmost severity with the object of not only replenishing Aurangzeb’s treasury but also to convert the poorer sections of the Hindu population into Mohammedans. According to Manucci, Aurangzeb imposed jizya for two reasons: first, because by this time his treasuries had begun to shrink owing to the expenditure on his campaigns; secondly, to force Hindus to become Mohammedans. This argument has however, been contested with the counter-argument that Hindus had stubbornly clung to their faith despite the prevalence of Muslim rule in the subcontinent for over 400 years. Though jizya was a regressive tax, and bore heavily on the poor than the rich, there is no proof of any large scale conversions during his reign on account of this measure. Had any such developments taken place, they would have been recorded.

During his 13th year of reign, Aurangzeb found that expenses had exceeded income during the preceding 12 years. The continuous wars in the Deccan and frontier wars in other areas did not secure any large territorial gains or monetary compensation, and strained the royal treasury; thereby leading to the imposition of jizya. The proceeds from the jizya were to be lodged in a separate treasury, called the khazanah-i-jizya and were earmarked for charitable purposes. For the theologians, the imposition of jizya was a badge of the inferior and dependent status of the Hindus and a means of asserting the position of the Muslims as the ruling class, and thereby also asserting the superior status of the ulema, the upholders of the true faith, in the state. However Aurangzeb took the decision of re-imposition of jizya after 22 years of his accession possibly because he wanted to maintain the alliance with the Rajputs and also hoped to reach an accord with the Marathas. Therefore, the imposition of jizya coincided with the outbreak of the Rathor war but did not imply abandonment of Akbar’s policy of allying with the Rajputs and other elements. The re-imposition of jizya by Aurangzeb in 1679 has also been viewed in the context of the acute unemployment among the theological classes. Recent research has established that the number of Hindus in the various echelons of the nobility did not decline, but actually increased after 1679. It is significant that shortly after Aurangzeb’s death; the lead in abolishing the jizya was taken by Asad Khan and Zulfiqar Khan, two of the premier nobles of Aurangzeb. 

Second Phase

During the second phase, Aurangzeb was inclined to believe that he could drive a wedge between the Deccani rulers and the Marathas by appealing to the religious sentiments of the former, and holding out various material inducements to their employees. Thus, Aurangzeb impressed upon the foremost nobles of Bijapur, that his actions were directed against Sambhaji. Further it was promised that any lands conquered by them from Sambhaji would be granted to them in jagir and their army would be subsidized by the Mughals. However, the appeal to religion failed. Sikandar Adil Shah refused to break his alliance with the Marathas. Even the theological elements in the emperor’s camp were not impressed by Aurangzeb’s religious propaganda. For instance, Qazi Shaikh-ul-Islam, the sadr of the Imperial Army refused to give a fatwa that war against Muslim kings i.e. the heretical Deccani rulers was lawful. This failure caused Aurangzeb to call for a modification of his earlier religious policy. Aurangzeb’s attitude towards temples varied according to time and circumstances. In 1683, when he visited the caves of Ellora, he noted that images with life like forms have been carved and did not try to destroy them. However, when the Maratha resistance stiffened after 1698, he wrote darkly to Zulfiqar Ali Khan that ‘the demolition of a temple is possible at any time, as it cannot walk away from its place’.

Final Phase

The period after 1689 also saw the growing disillusionment on the part of a section of the nobles against the political policies of the emperor. The policy of laying primary importance on Islam and the Holy Law began to give way to a more pragmatic approach after Aurangzeb reached the Deccan and after the fall of Bijapur and Golconda and, the capture and execution of Sambhaji. The main necessity of Aurangzeb now was to subdue and win over the large number of Hindu rajas, zamindars operating in the area.


Aurangzeb’s relation with the ulema is also of importance. A modern scholar has argued that the efforts of Sirhindi and his successors could not erode the popularity of the Sufi saints who emphasized pantheism. In fact Aurangzeb himself was more inclined towards pantheism. Though orthodox in his beliefs, Aurangzeb regularly visited the sufis and went to the graves of well-known saints.


Thus, if Aurangzeb’s objective had been to effect the forcible conversions of the Hindus, he might have attempted it in the newly conquered territories in the Deccan. But there is no evidence of any such attempt. Occasional cases of conversion did take place but they were among the small zamindars or petty state employees. Such converts either expected confirmation or grant of zamindari or preferential treatment for official posts. In his advice to posterity, Aurangzeb’s sense of self-righteousness remains. He was of the view that kingship was a gift of God. He constantly tried to portray his own actions and policies as being in accordance with the actions of his predecessors, thereby seeking legitimization.

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