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Islam Aurangzeb’s Religious Policy: Its Emergence and Impact on Mughal Polity

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by Admin Singh, Sep 30, 2009.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Aurangzeb was the third son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan; his mother was Mumtaz Mahal, who is buried in the Taj Mahal. Aurangzeb showed his ability in administrative and military matters in various appointments, which gradually caused him to envy his eldest brother Dara Shikoh, the designated successor to the throne.

    In 1657 Shah Jahan became seriously ill, and the rivalry between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb turned into open confrontation. Shah Jahan recovered unexpectedly, but the struggle for succession continued. Aurangzeb placed his father under house arrest, drove one brother into death, had two other brothers executed and in 1658 declared himself emperor of the Mughal empire, assuming the name ‘Alangir (”the World Seizer”).

    Aurangzeb did not share the interest of his ancestors and relatives in the arts, drink and the good life generally but was serious-minded and religious. He inherited an empire that had flourished for nearly a century under the wise administrative and economic procedures introduced by his great-grandfather Akbar the Great. The economic boom had led to the development of artisanal activity in all villages, and the municipalities had become economically much less dependent on the central power.

    Aurangzeb tried to stem the growing independence of the different parts of his empire by returning to autocratic rule. He abandoned the policy of separation of religion and state and turned away from the policy of religious tolerance that during the previous three generations had kept Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others together in peace and common destiny. In 1675 he executed the Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur because of his refusal to convert to Islam. The Sikh rebellion that followed continued throughout Aurangzeb’s reign; relations between Sikhs and Muslims have been strained ever since.

    In 1679 Aurangzeb reintroduced the jizya, a poll tax for non-Muslims that had been abolished by Akbar the Great a century earlier. The result was a revolt of the Hindu Rajputs, supported by Aurangzeb’s third son Akbar, in 1680 – 1681. In the south of the empire the Maratha kingdom was conquered and broken up and its ruler Sambhaji executed in 1689, which started a long and exhausting guerilla campaign by the Maratha Hindu population.

    The ongoing struggles placed severe strain on the empire’s finances, and increased taxation led to several peasant revolts, often but not always under the guise of religious movements.

    At Aurangzeb’s death the empire was larger than before but severely weakened. It survived for another 150 years but was in constant religious strife. What Akbar the Great had so splendidly begun collapsed 300 years later under the colonial onslaught, because the empire’s economic progress did not lead to the political reform that would have allowed further development.

    Jizyah according to Satish Chandra:-

    Aurangzeb introduced the jaziya, but, cautions Satish Chandra, “it was not meant to be an economic pressure for forcing Hindus to convert to Islam, for its incidence was to be light.” For this assertion Satish Chandra gives two bits of proof, so to say. First, “women, children, the disabled, the indigent, that is, those whose income was less than the means of subsistence, were exempted as were those in government service.” How could even Aurangzeb have exacted a tax from those “whose income was less than the means of subsistence?” And why would he exact a discriminatory and humiliating tax from those who were in government service, that is, from those who were already serving his interests and those of the Islamic State? The second proof that Satish Chandra gives is that “in fact, only an insignificant section of Hindus changed their religion due to this tax” — but could that not have been because of the firm attachment of Hindus to their faith, because of their tenacity rather than because of the liberality of Aurangzeb?

    The jaziya was not meant either to meet “a difficult financial situation”. Its reimposition was in fact, says Satish Chandra, “both political and ideological in nature.” Political in the sense that “it was meant to rally the Muslims for the defence of the State against the Marathas and the Rajputs who were up in arms, and possibly against the Muslim States of Deccan, especially Golconda, which was in alliance with the infidels.” A parity twice-over — one, that Aurangzeb was only trying to rally the Muslims just as those opposing him had rallied the Marathas and Rajputs. And, in any case, the ones who were opposing him were “infidels”

    “Jaziya was to be collected by honest; God-fearing Muslims who were specially appointed for the purpose and its proceeds were reserved for the Ulema.” As the proceeds went to Ulama, there was a secular reason for exacting the tax — it was to be “a type of bribe for the theologians among whom there was a lot of unemployment,”

    Aurangzeb’s Administration: -

    Aurangzeb ruled for almost 50 years. During his long reign, the Mughal Empire reached territorial climax. Aurangzeb proved to be a hardworking ruler and never spared himself or his subordinates in the task of government. He was a stirct disciplinarism who did not spare his own sons, during his reign he introduced few administrative changes. According to histories, Aurangzeb brought changes in administration. Those were that the senior Hindu officers in the finance ministry were retained and even promoted, although in Banaras and some other places and Brahmans were harassed, and Hindu temples were also demolished by orthodox mobs. Aurangzeb stopped this desecration, but, in accordance with Islamic Sharia rules no new temples would be elected. A high proved mansabdar was appointed as censor of morals (muhtasib) to prevent drinking and to make Muslim changes to Quranic Laws.

    There were many changes regarding festival’s celebration also. Like celebration of Iranian Naw festival, which falls on the day the sun enters Aries was banned The “Kalima”, or the confession of faith, was no longer stamped on coins, to prevent the holy words from being defiled by unbelievers or heretics. These reforms in no way undermined Hindu political and economic interests. Aurangzeb also used to send gift to holy men of Mecca-Madina & those were suppose to be distributed among poor or needy but to Aurangzeb’s disappointment the funds were misused. In other words some historiams used different way of describing Aurangzeb’s reign. They divided his reign into two phases. First phase was from 1658-1679 and second was from 1679 to his death 1707. And these were divided again into severed sub-phases. Other Historians defines economy measures, tax, Hindu temples etc in the reign of Aurangzeb. There were many ceremonies, which were used to perform, were also stopped like the practices of the Emperor putting a Tika or saffrom paste on the forehead of a new raja was stopped. Practices, which were considered against Islamic spirit, were banned. Public displays of Holi and Muharram procession were also stopped. The courtiers were also asked not to wear silk gowns or gowns of mixed silk and cottons.


    There were taxs. Basically there were many taxs and we are told that Khalisa areas alone, rahdari had yielded 25 lakhs of rupees a year. Another tax was pandari or ground rent for stalls in the bazar in the capital and others towns. Another vexation tax, which was abolished in 1666, was the octroi duty on Tobacco.

    Economy Measures:-

    According to the history of Aurangzeb, in thirteenth years, it was reported that expenses had exceeded income during the preceding twelve years. Some of the measures of economy adopted by Aurangzeb were the retrenchment of many items in the expenditure of the Emperor, the princes and Begums. It seems that Aurangzeb was keen to promote trade among Muslim who depended almost exclusively on the state support. In 1665, he reduced the duty on import of goods by Muslim traders from 5% to 2 ½% and two years later abolished it altogether. But he had to reimpose it when he found Muslim traders were abusing it by presenting goods of Hindu traders as theirs. So ultimately it was kept 2½% for the Muslims. Many temples were being destructed by him also.

    So this was Aurangzeb’s way of administrating the Mughal.

    Aurangzeb’s Religious Policy: -

    According to historians Aurangzeb reversed Akbar’s Policy of religious toleration. He basically used those policies which were already introduced by his predecessor but those were not that strong so again Aurangzeb during his reign again used those policies and one of them in Religious policy.

    Aurangzeb’s religious policy was largely based on his analysis of the first half of Aurangzeb’s reign, which in his opinion was climaxed by the reinposition of Jizyah (poll tax). The other orthodox measures of Aurangzeb were insidious attempts on his part to establish an Islamic state in India which in effect implied conversion of the entire population to Islam and the extinction of every form a dissent. The religion policy of Mughal was largely the reflection of the personal religious views etc. It was a very narrow and orthodoxy kind of policy taken by Aurangzeb. He put ban on the practice, which were considered as against Islamic spirit. And many ceremonies and festivals were banned that time. Many temples were also destroyed that time. It was earlier found that long standing temple should not be demolished but no new temples allowed to be built. But later on it was found that many temples were demolished. And this was so because Aurangzeb started fearing for his political existence because there were some temple where both Hindu & Muslim used to go and learn teachings and Aurangzeb thinking that these kind of practice may hamper therefore, there should be stopped so demolishment took place. There was also tax, which was imposed on non-Muslims like Jizyah.

    Jizyah: -

    It was that tax which was reimposed by Aurangzeb on the non-muslims. Aurangzeb considered reimpostion of Jizyah, but postponed the matter due to “certain political exigencies”. That it was reimpossed twenty-two years after Aurangzeb’s accession to the throne is clear indication that its institution was on account of political considerations. Jizyah was used to be collected by honest God-fearing Muslims, who were especially appointed for this purpose. Because of this tax many got converted and enjoyed benefits but many did not left their religion and were being harassed. There were exception in this tax was that the women, children and the person who can not earn even for his own livelihood will be taken into consideration. So basically Jizyah was not an Income Tax but was a kind of property tax, which is imposed only in non-Muslim. These many let Islam grow.

    Policy’s Impact: -

    There been several bad impacts of Aurangzeb’s policies. Some historians had said that Aurangzeb’s policies made Mughal very weak. Earlier there was no respect left for Islam and its adherents; mosques were without splendor, while idol-temples flourished; the requisites of canonical practice remained closed under bolts, while the gates of irreligious practices were flung open. That time Aurangzeb was the defender of the truth faith, converts to Islam were made much of. Many temples were given order of destruction and instead mosques built. But now because of this religious policy Mughal State had failed to yield the expected dividends. Now Aurangzeb faced difficult task of bringing under Imperial control the extensive country extending up to Jinji , populated by Hindu population and simultaneoudy he had to deal with Marathas. And situation became so worst that there seem like Aurangzeb need to make some modification in his policy. His attitude towards Hindu temples also varied from time to time according to circumstance that is political exigencies. And his attitude towards Marathas also varied. But policy was not changed. During that time many festivals & ceremonies banned and all practice, which is found against Islamic spirit, were also banned. Jizyah’s impact was also very bad. Altogether, Jizyah came into picture because of religious policy. This tax was for non-Muslims. And basic impact of this Jizyah was that people got converted into Islamic religion so as to escape from Jizyah and enjoy profits of being Islamic.

    But many people who were not Islamic were treated badly. Many people used to close their shops and observe hartals against the measure. But even though Jizyah had not led to any large conversion. And in this Jizyah there started lot of corruption. Aurangzeb’s religious policy led to series of contractions, which he found hard to resolve.

    Conclusion: -

    After reading or researching it can said that Aurangzeb was very orthodox regarding his religious policy but indeed was a hardworking personality and he was of such kind that he did not even allow his officers to be spare. But even Aurangzeb got only disappointment. Reason can be that he was very orthodox regarding religious policies and also Jizyah. Religious policy was basically concern with Islamic spirits. And Jizyah was there because of this Religious policy, People who do not belonged to Islamic religion or who were non-Muslim were charged with this Jizyah tax. To conclude Aurangzeb;s religious policy we will have to went through a numbers of phases. Through Aurangzeb’s policy he brought system under tremendous pressure especially by his religious policy and also political policies. Aurangzeb’s religious policy should be seen in a wider context. Aurangzeb was orthodox in his outlook and tried to remain within the framework of Islamic law. But this law was development outside India in a vastly dissimilar situation, and could hardly be applied rigidly to India. His failure to respect the susceptibilities of his non-Muslim subjects can be seen on many occasions. And his re-imposition of Jizyah did not help him to rally the Muslims to his side or generate a greater sense of loyalty towards a state based on Islamic Law. So overall his policies had weakened his administration. And religious policy played very important role in his reign. Aurangzeb died in 1707 and after his death’s Mughal became weaker then before. And it stood nearly for some 100 years and then lost, as there were many problems regarding religion also but alone religion was not the reason but there were many reasons behind.


    1. Jadunath Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb, Condition of the people in Aurangzeb Reign, Volume 5 (Calcutta 1924)

    2. M. Athar Ali, Mughal India-Studies in Polity, Ideas, Society & Culture, Oxford Publishing (2006).

    3. S.A.A.Rizvi, The wonder that was India,

    4. Essays on Medieval Indian History
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