Akbar's Intriguing departure from his predecessors

Today I downloaded a book from Project Gutenberg – a source of free books whose copyrights have expired. This book is titled “Akbar, Emperor of India” written by Richard von Garbe (Rector of the University of Tubingen) reprinted in April, 1909.[1]

The author talks of how Akbar was one of the finest ruler that India and indeed the world has known. Probably his greatest strength was in defying the odds of his upbringing and still becoming a gentle, wise, and caring person. He also set aside rules and laws that in Islam came directly from Mohammad – like Jizya (called Poll tax here in the book). His spiritual development was indeed remarkable given the raw material that he got. Remember, he was the successor of Timur and Babar – both barbarians (according to the book, Timur slaughtered 100,000 prisoners he captured on way to Delhi in ONE DAY!) – and son of Humayun – an opium drugged idiot who lived most of his life in exile.

It was the influence of Akbar’s tutor Mir Abdul Latif that really made him what he was. But interestingly there was another factor to Akbar’s personality that led him to break free of the Islamic rules that his predecessors had followed the world over through the history. Akbar was BOTH, Sunni and Shia! His father was Sunni, while his mother was Shia. And.. he was born at the home of a Hindu. He had suffered discrimination himself.[2]

In Persia he was persecuted because he was a Sunni, while in India he was mistrusted for being Shi’a. Throughout Akbar’s life one finds examples of his religious questing and tolerance.

The author pays glowing tribute to Akbar in how he developed his spiritual paradigm despite his background and the ecosystem he grew up in:

Still, however high we may value the influence of this teacher, the
main point lay in Akbar’s own endowments, his susceptibility for such
teaching as never before had struck root with any Mohammedan prince.
Akbar had not his equal in the history of Islam. “He is the only
prince grown up in the Mohammedan creed whose endeavor it was to
ennoble the limitation of this most separatistic of all religions into
a true religion of humanity.”

In this sense, it would seem that Akbar was the first and probably the only Mohammedan/Muslim ruler who was tolerant and indeed non-discriminating. The account below, though long, discusses that rather well.

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Akbar and abolition of Jizya

Akbar also introduced a new uniform standard of coinage, but
stipulated that the older coins which were still current should be
accepted from peasants for their full face value. From all this the
Indian peasants could see that Emperor Akbar not only desired strict
justice to rule but also wished to further their interests, and the
peasants had always comprised the greatest part of the inhabitants,
(even according to the latest census in 1903, vol. I, p. 3, 50 to 84
percent of the inhabitants of India live by agriculture). But Akbar
succeeded best in winning the hearts of the native inhabitants by
lifting the hated poll tax which still existed side by side with all
other taxes.

The founder of Islam had given the philanthropical command to
exterminate from the face of the earth all followers of other faiths
who were not converted to Islam, but he had already convinced himself
that it was impossible to execute this law. And, indeed, if the
Mohammedans had followed out this precept, how would they have been
able to overthrow land upon land and finally even thickly populated
India where the so-called unbelievers comprised an overwhelming
majority? Therefore in place of complete extermination the more
practical arrangement of the poll tax was instituted, and this was to
be paid by all unbelievers in order to be a constant reminder to them
of the loss of their independence. This humiliating burden which was
still executed in the strictest, most inconsiderate manner, Akbar
removed in the year 1565 without regard to the very considerable loss
to the state’s treasury. Nine years later followed the removal of the
tax upon religious assemblies and pilgrimages, the execution of which
had likewise kept the Hindus in constant bitterness towards their
Mohammedan rulers.

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Sometime previous to these reforms Akbar had abolished a custom so
disgusting that we can hardly comprehend that it ever could have
legally existed. At any rate it alone is sufficient to brand Islam and
its supreme contempt for followers of other faiths, with one of the
greatest stains in the history of humanity. When a tax-collector
gathered the taxes of the Hindus and the payment had been made, the
Hindu was required “without the slightest sign of fear of defilement”
to open his mouth in order that the tax collector might spit in it if
he wished to do so.
[11] This was much more than a disgusting
humiliation. When the tax-collector availed himself of this privilege
the Hindu lost thereby his greatest possession, his caste, and was
shut out from any intercourse with his equals. Accordingly he was
compelled to pass his whole life trembling in terror before this
horrible evil which threatened him. That a man of Akbar’s nobility of
character should remove such an atrocious, yes devilish, decree seems
to us a matter of course; but for the Hindus it was an enormous

Reference Links:

1. Akbar, Emperor of India
2. The Path of the Masters

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