The Dīn-i Ilāhī ( دين إله, lit. “Religion of God”) or Divine Faith was a syncretic religion propounded by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1582, intending to merge some of the elements of the religions of his empire, and thereby reconcile the differences that divided his subjects. The elements were primarily drawn from Islam and Hinduism, but some others were also taken from Christianity, Jainism and Zoroastrianism.
The name Dīn-i Ilāhī literally translates to “God’s Religion” or “Religion of God”. According to the renowned historian Mubarak Ali, Dīn-i Ilāhī is a name that was not used in Akbar’s period. At the time, it was called Tawhid-i-Ilāhī (“Divine Monotheism”), as it is written by Abu’l-Fazl, a court historian during the reign of Akbar. This name suggests a particularly monotheistic focus for Akbar’s faith. The anonymous Dabestan-e Mazaheb uses the name Ilahíah to refer to the faith.
Akbar promoted tolerance of other faiths and even encouraged debate on philosophical and religious issues. This led to the creation of the Ibādat Khāna (“House of Worship”) at Fatehpur Sikri in 1575, which invited theologians, poets, scholars, and philosophers from all religious denominations, including Christians, Hindus, Jains, and Zoroastrians.
Since Akbar suffered from severe dyslexia, rendering him totally unable to read or write, such dialogues in the House of Worship became his primary means of exploring questions of faith. Despite his aforementioned illiteracy, Akbar would eventually amass a library full of more than 24,000 volumes of texts in Hindi, Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Kashmiri. The later Mughal Emperor and son of Akbar, Jahangir, stated that his father was “always associated with the learned of every creed and religion.” In a letter to King Philip II of Spain, Akbar laments that so many people do not inquire into issues within their own religion, stating that most people will instead “follow the religion in which [they] were born and educated, thus excluding [themselves] from the possibility of ascertaining the truth, which the noblest aim of the human intellect.”
By the time Akbar established the Dīn-i Ilāhī, he had already repealed the jizya (tax on non-Muslims) over a decade earlier in 1568. A religious experience while he was hunting in 1578 further increased his interest in the religious traditions of his empire. From the discussions held at the Ibādat Khāna, Akbar concluded that no single religion could claim the monopoly of truth. This revelation inspired him to create the Dīn-i Ilāhī in 1582. Various pious Muslims, among them the Qadi of Bengal Subah and Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, responded by declaring it to be blasphemy to Islam.
Dīn-i Ilāhī appears to have survived Akbar according to the Dabestān-e Mazāheb of Mohsin Fani. However, the movement never numbered more than 18 adherents.
In the 17th century, an attempt to re-establish the Dīn-i-Ilāhī was made by Shah Jahan’s eldest son, Dara Shikoh, but any prospects of an official revival were halted by his brother, Aurangzeb, who executed him on grounds of apostasy. Aurangzeb later compiled the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri, reimposed the jizya, and established Islamic Sharia law across the Indian Subcontinent, spreading Islamic orthodoxy and extinguishing any chance of religious reform for generations.
Beliefs and practices
Although the spirit and central principles of Dīn-i Ilāhī were adapted from Sufism (including ideas from the Andalusi Sufi mystic, Ibn al-‘Arabi), Akbar endeavored to create a synthesis of other beliefs and so his personal religion borrowed concepts and tenets from many other faiths. Aligned with Sufi practices, one’s soul is encouraged to purify itself through yearning of God. Sins included lust, sensuality, slander, and pride; virtues included piety, prudence, abstinence, and kindness. The following details illustrate the personal religious observances of Akbar:
As an inquisitive inquirer endowed with the spirit of reason, he learnt the Hindu alchemy and medicine and cultivated their Yoga system; like his Central Asian ancestor, he believed in astronomy and astrology; and after his association with the Zoroastrian mobed, he believed that life might be lengthened by lightning fire or by the repetition of a thousand names of the Sun. Following the Buddhist custom, he used to shave the crown of his head thinking that the soul passed through the brain. He turned into a vegetarian later in life.
The visitation of Jesuit missionaries such as Rodolfo Acquaviva brought the virtue of celibacy into the House of Worship, where it consequently became a virtue of Akbar’s faith that was not mandatory (as it is for the priests of Roman Catholicism) but respected. The faith also adopted the principle of ahimsa, an ancient virtue of almost all Indian religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The nonviolence extended from humans to animals, encouraging vegetarianism and prohibiting the slaughter of animals for any reason at all. The Dīn-i Ilāhī had no sacred scriptures and, similar to both Islam and Sikhi, there was no priestly hierarchy.
Light was a focus of divine worship, with a light-fire ritual based on the yasna (the primary form of worship in Zoroastrianism) and an adoption of the hymn of the 1,000 Sanskrit names for the sun. Followers were referred to as chelah (meaning: “disciples”).
The major practices and beliefs of Dīn-i-Ilāhī were as follows:
- The unity of God
- Followers salute one-another with Allah-u-Akbar or Jalla Jalalahu (meaning: “may His glory be glorified”)
- Absence of meat of all kinds
- One’s “on-birth-by-anniversary” party was a must for every member
- Ahimsa (non-violence); followers were prohibited from dining with fishers, butchers, hunters, etc.
It has been argued that the theory of Dīn-i Ilāhī being a new religion was a misconception which arose because of erroneous translations of Abu’l-Fazl’s work by later British historians. However, it is also accepted that the policy of sulh-i-kul, which formed the essence of Dīn-i Ilāhī, was adopted by Akbar as a part of general imperial administrative policy. Sulh-i-kul means “universal peace”.
In practice, however, the Dīn-i Ilāhī functioned as a personality cult contrived by Akbar around his own person. Members of the religion were handpicked by Akbar according to their devotion to him. Because the emperor styled himself a reformer of Islām, arriving on Earth almost 1,000 years after the Prophet Muḥammad, there was some suggestion that he wished to be acknowledged as a prophet also.
Akbar is recorded by various conflicting sources as having affirmed allegiance to Islām and as having broken with Islām. His religion was generally regarded by his contemporaries as a Muslim innovation or a heretical doctrine; only two sources from his own time—both hostile—accuse him of trying to found a new religion. The influence and appeal of the Dīn-i Ilāhī were limited and did not survive Akbar, but they did trigger a strong orthodox reaction in Indian Islām.
The initiated disciples of Dīn-i Ilāhī during emperor Akbar the Great’s time included (p. 186):
- Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak
- Qasim Khan
- Azam Khan
- Shaikh Mubarak
- Abdus Samad
- Mulla Shah Muhammad Shahadad
- Sufi Ahmad
- Mir Sharif Amal
- Sultan Khwaja
- Mirza Sadr-ud-Din
- Taki Shustar
- Shaikhzada Gosala Benarasi
- Sadar Jahan
- Sadar Jahan’s first son
- Sadar Jahan’s second son
- Shaikh Faizi
- Jafar Beig
- Din-i Ilahi – Britannica Online Encyclopedia
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- THE DABISTÁN, OR SCHOOL OF MANNERS, Trans. DAVID SHEA and ANTHONY TROYER, 1843, Persian Literature in Translation, The Packard Humanities Institute
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- “India was at a crossroads in the mid-seventeenth century; it had the potential of moving forward with Dara Shikoh, or of turning back to medievalism with Aurangzeb”.Eraly, Abraham (2004). The Mughal Throne : The Saga of India’s Great Emperors. London: Phoenix. p. 336. ISBN 0-7538-1758-6.
“Poor Dara Shikoh!….thy generous heart and enlightened mind had reigned over this vast empire, and made it, perchance, the garden it deserves to be made”. William Sleeman (1844), E-text of Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official p.272
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- Children’s Knowledge Bank, Dr. Sunita Gupta, 2004
- “Why putting less Mughal history in school textbooks may be a good idea”.
- Roy, Himanshu (2020). Indian Political Thought themes and thinkers. Pearson. ISBN 978-93-325-8733-5.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia