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Akbars Religious Policy and His Relation with the Ulemas Mahlua

Two aspect of Akbars religious policy need to be determined: his state policy and his own personal ideas and belief. Akbars state policy in the field of religion was in a large measure determined by the Turko-Mughal tradition. The Hindu-Muslim rapproachement spearheaded by the Bhakti saints and liberal Sufis influenced as also Akbars deep interest in Sufism. Almost immediately after assuming the charge of the government Akbar demonstrated his broadmindedness when in 1563 he remitted the pilgrim tax which amounted to crores on the Hindus at Mathura and other sacred places. Earlier he had forbidden the enslavement of the wives and childrens of rebellious villagers. Although was under the influence of the orthodox Ulemas his state policy not only reflected the liberal traditions of his predecessors but was a clear recognition of the need to conciliate and win over the Hindus. It was in this context that in 1564 steps were taken to abolish Jizyah much against the chatter on the part of the ignorant Ulemas. Meanwhile, Akbar still scrupulously observed daily prayers and even cleaned the mosques with his own hands. Although Akbar persued a broad liberal religious stare policy this was the time when the Orthodox Ulemas ruled the roost at the court. With the consolidation of the Empire everyday Akbar came into nearer contact with ascetics and disciples of the Muinniyah sectQuestions of Sufism and scientific enquiries into philosophy and law were the order the day. This was the background to the building of the Ibadat Khana or Hall of Prayers in Fatehpur Sikri in 1575. It was a large rectangular building built around the cell of a Sufi saint Shaikh Abdulah Niyazi who had migrated to Gujarat. On all sides there were spacious galleries. It close to the Imperial Palace so that Akbar could come and go as he pleased. It was also not far from the Anup Talao which had been built recently. At first, the debates were opened only to the Muslims. After completing all the state business each Thursday night Akbar would retire to the Ibadat Khana. At first only the Sufis, learned men, Ulemas and few of the Emperors favourite and personal attendants were allowed. They were divided into four sections.

The most lively discussion would be among the theologians. Although Akbar had exhorted the assembly that his sole object was to determine the truth and discover the reality, the Ulemas had other objectives; they wanted to establish their superiority over others. However, after a mystical experience Akbar opened the door of debates to other religions- Christians, Jains, Hindus, Jews etc. which led to further confusion. As a result Akbar had to close the Ibadat Khana practically in 1581 but finally in 1582. It is not clear as to what Akbar had hoped to achieved from the debates. If his object was to persuade leaders of different sects and faiths to abjure their differences and arrive at a commonly accepted truth, it wouldnt be possible. They had a vested interest in preserving their differences. They are convinced of the superiority of their views.