Jahangir’s Religious Policies and Ideologies

Sansar LochanHistory of IndiaLeave a Comment

Modern scholars hold different views on the nature of religious policies of the Mughal emperors after Akbar. The 17th century saw the rule of Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb. All these emperors had a different approach towards the empire and towards the continuance and rejection of Akbar’s established religious policies.

Religious policy of Jahangir

Jahangir, as an emperor had fought his way with his son Khusrao, to become Akbar’s heir. Scholars today, consider him a conservative and traditional emperor, communal in his outlook when compared with Akbar, whereas some opine that the religious and intellectual-cum-military elites supported Jahangir’s accession to power because of his promise to change Akbar’s policies. Modern scholars such as Jadunath Sarkar hold different opinions on the Mughal state, referring to it variously as a “police state”, a “culture state”, or a state “limited, materialistic and sordid in its aims”. Mughal period has attracted more scholarly attention than any other period in Indian history. Jahangir however has aroused little scholarly interest and remained under the shadow of his father. Therefore, primary texts such as Muhammad Sharif Mu‘tamad Khan’s Iqbal Namah-i-Jahangiri and Khawaja Kamgar Husaini’s Ma’asir-I Jahangiri are instrumental in implementing the political philosophy of the Mughals and in enhancing their composite culture. The rational of writing the Ma’asir, according to Kamgar, was that being an offspring of an imperial official (khanazad) and a witness to most of the events in the court, he felt obliged to fill in the gaps in the historical narration of the memoirs of Jahangir especially his early life, which he didn’t record. Kamgar’s narration of Jahangir’s rule is pragmatic, reflecting the thinking of a historian. On the other hand, Tuzuk-I Jahangiri, the emperor’s autobiography reflects the royal ideology and the emperor’s views on various political, religious and social issues. Jahangir held pragmatic views on the functions of rulership. He did not claim to be the protector of Islam, nor did he promise to implement Shari’ah through his office. Muhammad Baqir Najm-i Sani, the author of Mau‘izah-i Jahangiri, did not refer to the legitimacy of Jahangir’s claim to the throne on the basis of his being custodian of Islam. These kinds of remarks imply that the attitude of the writers, including Jahangir, towards the institution of rulership was not anti-Islam but a pragmatic and modified version of the classical Islamic doctrine of political power. However, the jurist Khaqani stated unequivocally that it was imperative for the ruler to use his power for the propagation of Islam, integration of the community of the Leader of Humanity i.e. Prophet Muhammad, and elimination of the enemies of the Faith. He also mentioned that through his policies, Jahangir endeavored to implement the sanctions and prohibitions of Islamic law and to solidify the Shari’ah. The theorists of Jahangir’s period propounded the Perso-Islamic concept of justice.

Propagation of Islam?

However, from the memoirs of Emperor Jahangir, it appears that the propagation of Islam and the implementation of the Shari’ah were not the primary aims of his government. It was only in the judicial department of the entire central structure of the Mughal administration where the Mughal rulers followed the Islamic juristic laws. In civil cases, Islamic law applied to Muslims. Criminal law was the same for Muslims and Hindus. In matters of marriage and inheritance both communities had their own laws. Jahangir issued after his accession, one ordinance which prohibited the distilling and sale of wine. However, Jahangir did not invoke the injunctions of the Shari’ah as his motivating force. Long before Jahangir’s period, justice rather than right religion became an accepted norm in Sunni political thought. In the review of the ruling institutions, none of the writers considered religion as the cornerstone of state policies. The Mughal ruler had to depend on the support of a linguistically, religiously, and ethnically diverse nobility for the success of his policies. The presence of Iranians and Shi’as in the administration is a recognized fact. We also know of many Hindus who rose to prominent positions.


The contribution of the ulema in shaping and formulating the state policies is recognized as meager. Khaqani attributes Jahangir’s thorough training and education as the reasons for the minimal role of the religious elite. The emperor himself was able to resolve the knottiest issues and problems of the state. The function of the erudite and highly knowledgeable ulama and righteous and pious individuals, according to Khaqani, was limited to spreading religious learning, and they were part of the polity only to satisfy the religious learning, and they were part of the polity only to satisfy the religious learning, and they were part of the polity only to satisfy the religious inquisitiveness of the Jahangir. Although the judiciary and hisbah were the departments held and controlled by the ulema in Jahangir’s administration, they were not the policy makers and had to follow the state policies. Jahangir maintained the tradition of showing reverence to the ulema and the sufis to discuss religious issues. However, in describing these meetings, the emperor does not indicate anywhere that he sought their advice in state matters. In general, the ulema never regained their prestigious position in the administration lost during Akbar’s reign. Jahangir also did not approve of the religious activism of Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi. Jahangir also traveled through his empire, following the traditions of his predecessors of visiting the tombs of former rulers and saints. This policy suggests a genuine desire on the emperor’s part to seek the blessings of the deceased and to maintain good public relations.

Some scholars interpreted Jahangir’s execution of Nur-Allah Shushtari, a noted Shi’a theologian, as an act of bigotry. One commonly accepted view is that Nur-Allah was executed because of his practice of taqiyah- concealed his Shi’ah faith and acted as a Sunni. Thus, Jahangir maybe took action against Sirhindi and Shushtari not out of bigotry but to curb religious activism and possible sectarian strife. Another issue that should receive attention is the inter-relationship of the crown and the Hindus. Guru Arjun, the fifth guru of the Sikh community was executed on Jahangir’s orders, not because of his faith and position in the community, but because of his alliance with Khusrau. In retrospect, this might have contributed to the growth, self-consciousness, and separatism of the Sikh community, but it can also be ascertained that Jahangir’s actions were not prompted by communal considerations. The primary sources attest that he did not harass or persecute Arjun’s followers. Instances as Jahangir’s frequent encounters with Gosain Jadrup, a Hindu hermit, bear witness to a non-communal attitude and liberal policies. It was at Jadrup’s suggestion that in 1619 Jahangir ordered a change in the weight measures ‘sir’ throughout his empire. A ‘sir’ was to become equal to 36 dams rather than 30 and this happened because Jadrup quoted the Vedas as having mentioned 36 dams per ‘sir’. From the narrative of the Tuzuk, it is apparent that this relationship was not inspired by political or any ulterior motives. Rather, it was the result of a genuine veneration for the learning and spirituality of Jadrup and transcended all communal and religious barriers.

Conversion of Hindus to Islam

The conversion of Hindus to Islam is another popular theme in the accounts of Islamic rule in India. By reviewing rulings, such as prohibiting the Hindus to marry Muslim women, we may assume that he was conscious of his responsibilities as a Muslim head of the state. Jahangir also maintained the Islamic nature of the judicial system. However, there was no policy of prosetylization. On the contrary, he issued an order in 1611 to provincial governors that there ought not to be any forcible conversions in the areas under their jurisdictions. Nevertheless, Jahangir did not let his personal beliefs dictate his state policies. He had no qualms about the legitimacy of his rule, nor did he feel the need to appease the ulema. In the ordinance that dealt with the construction of public works including mosques, which Jahangir issued after his accession, he did not encourage the desecration of Hindu temples or obstruct their construction or repairs. The concept of secularism is inadequate to define the form of government in 17th century India.  

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