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Past present: Letters of discontent

Updated Aug 09, 2013 04:42am


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Throughout the Muslim rule in the subcontinent, from the Sultanate period to the Mughal rule, the views of the ulema contradicted those of the rulers. Despite state policies being in contradiction to religion according to the ulema, the rulers did not permit them to interfere with the state.

During Akbar’s rule, the ulema disapproved of his policy of sulh-i-kul or peace with all. When Mullah Mohammed Yazdi issued a fatwa, several disgruntled nobles and the ulema rebelled against Akbar who dealt with it in a diplomatic manner. He cancelled the maddad-i-ma’ash jagirs belonging to the ulema, only to reallocate them after interviewing the ulema and confirming their loyalty. He also appointed bureaucrats to supervise their conduct, so that in case of misconduct they could be reprimanded. He then continued with his policy undeterred.

During the reign of Jahangir, a religious scholar, Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624) wanted to convince Jahangir to change Akbar’s policy towards non-Muslims. He tried to influence the nobles to help fulfil his ambitions and wrote letters to them, expressing his fanatical ideas.

In a letter to Shaikh Farid, a devout Muslim who had supported Jahangir’s succession to the throne against his eldest son Khusrau, Sirhindi wrote that Islam was in critical condition, and insisted that as a man of faith, it was Shaikh Farid’s responsibility to take action to revive the glory of Islam. In the same letter he expressed his pleasure on the assassination of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, regarding it an admirable step. He further explained that the government should adopt a policy to humiliate Hindus and that the imposition of jizya rightly kept the infidels in a state of subordination. According to Sirhindi, this was the right time to convince the emperor to eliminate un-Islamic practices which had become a part of the Muslim culture and to eliminate the influence of the infidels. He appealed to Shaikh Farid to play a role in reviving the purity of Islam. If no action was taken and idolatry continued to flourish, the emperor and his nobles would be responsible for damaging the cause of Islam by not creating a consciousness about sharia among the Muslims.

He wrote another letter to Aziz Khan Kuka, Akbar’s foster brother and opposed Akbar’s religious views. In the war of succession, Sirhindi supported Prince Khusrau against Jahangir, yet retained an important position at the court. In his letter, Sirhindi lamented that the forces of Islam were becoming weaker and at this juncture, his contribution would help annihilate irreligious practices and innovations which were influencing the Muslims. He also said that Islam could only be purified by reverting to its original teachings.

Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi wanted to destroy Akbar’s diplomatic relations with the Hindus. In one of his letters addressed to Lala Beg, he expressed his views that sacrifice of the cow was an Islamic rite.

However, the majority of the ulema and people remained estranged from his movement. Jahangir continued with Akbar’s policy and was a great admirer of his father. In Tuzk-i-Jahangiri, he praised Akbar’s wisdom and sagacity.

Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi was not popular among the Muslims because of his extremist religious views. When Jahangir summoned him to his court, he found him arrogant and rude and did not hesitate to send him to the fort of Gwalior for a brief period of imprisonment.

During the emergence of communalisn in the 1930s, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi was resurrected by some ulema and projected as the champion of Islam. In Pakistani historiography, I.H. Qureshi and S.M. Ikram eulogised him as the defender of Islam and the man who saved it and protected it from the heretical views of Akbar.

Writers of history textbooks portrayed the same image. As a result, Akbar and his policy of sulh-i-kul, multi-cultural unity and secularism were condemned while Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s orthodoxy and religious extremism were appreciated. Sadly, his anti-Hindu, and anti-Shia views are also accepted without criticism, totally negating their dire impact on society today. Today, Pakistani society is paying a heavy price for these misdemeanours.


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Comments (18) Closed

BRR Aug 09, 2013 08:33am

Historically, muslims society in India have rejoiced at the misfortune and troubles of Hindus, which they have themselves caused in several ways, the jaziya tax not being the only one. The ruthlessness with which some of the invaders and subsequent rulers ruled and lorded over the hindus are being celebrated in Pakistan as an achievement. If that is what makes Pakistanis proud, so be it - they can hang on to their visions of grandeur while crawling through the crime ridden despicable land that is Pakistan today.

Naeem Syed Aug 09, 2013 04:01pm

Mubarak Ali how courageous of you to write this article. We are riddles today with pseudo Sirhind's expounding their versions of Islam. Islam is a religion of Peace and and has fought to maintain its rights as a civilized Society. If we are to look at Islamic History we will find that the violence and extremism we see today is not a fundamental trait of Islam but the an aberration of thought that is similar to what Sirhindi was trying to Impose on Jahangir. The fact is that the Sharia laws were formed by the Ulema about three hundred Years after the Passing of the Prophet Mohammad PBUH. These were man made laws that reflected a collective of thought of the Ulema at that time and did not reflect the real social structure that the Prophet PBUH himself had put into effect. We really need to reflect on the Gentle life of the Prophet PBUH with the guidance from the Koran and not listen to rantings of these uneducated and rabid Mullahs of today. By the way why are all the madrass that produce these unislamic thoughts being funded by the Arabs?

Fazal Karim Aug 10, 2013 04:38am

Ultimately poisoning of mind by by ulmas and Muftis like sirhandi gave birth to Shuddi movement by orthodox Pandits resulting into Partition of india. This was great disservice to Islam and people of the country.

nazir ahmad bhat Aug 10, 2013 07:36am

..this is most disappointing feature of history being clubbed with islam. history and historains had been critically illogical to equate the individual acts of kings and kingdoms with just muslim names something related to islam.the indian world historain dr.romila thapar;dr. sir desai etc have aptly anylised that no where during muslim rule any islamic law in strict sense was applied or anyway mughal courts followed sharai as a matter of spirit of governace and rule.Abdul qadir buduyani a popular court historain of akbar says that how akbar was religious in his conduct and daily life..per budyauni; that akbar was so religious even if akbar would visit to any distant place; among other things he would ensure that imam is regularly with carvan to arrange nimaza pajngana. yet; per budyunai;akbar after nimaz would listen to views of ulema on different matters. ulems who usally were seated nearer to akbar provoked jealousy to ulema who were figured at last row of royal court.on this ulemas for their personal pungent and hostility started crictcising each other on all issues by projecting divergent views. the criticism went beyond royal protocol. akbar expelled class of ulemas and started distancing himself from religious started the phase of his being seculralist. the royal court where scholars would meet was given to christain popes { refer mantkhab tauarek by abdul qadir budyuani]Role of ulemas had been always controversial and negative which divided islam and muslims. pakistan is paying extremely dear price for it..thcx.

Suresh Aug 10, 2013 07:43am

I think the Quran is written more like a constitution than a religious Text with dos and don'ts. But Since it is believed to be the words of God the Muslims would not compromise even if it goes against protecting humanity. In the Modern World the Muslims need to review their faith and take a decision on Which comes first - Human beings or Religion. If it is human beings the future looks good ; if it is the other way the entire civilization will vanish in the future. A third World war is also quite possible on this account. If it happens we can see who comes to rescue - Allah or Jesus.

dev Aug 10, 2013 12:40pm

It is an irony of sort that almost all muslims in the Indian sub-continent hail the muslim invaders without realizing that they were the ones who reined havoc on their forefathers and converted them to Islam. In fact all of them believe that their fore-fathers came from faraway lands of Arabia, although the scientific evidence proves that 99% of the muslim population is that of converts; yet all of them believe that their forefathers were from the remaining 1%. The sooner the people accept the truth the sooner they would be able to get rid of the hatred.

aslam minhas Aug 10, 2013 01:39pm

The situation is worsened today. That orthodoxy and extreme sectarian religion has been the undoing of this country. Today this is a state that has failed to povide security, healthcare, education, justice and free expression to its citizens. And yet and yet we hesiate to call it a failed state. Why? So the successive governments can ooze the last drop of resources with impunity. The bunch of thugs that ruled us for the last five years are now turned preachers of honesty and morals. Our rulers are even scared to challenge these morbid mullahs much less eliminate them!

nazir ahmad bhat Aug 10, 2013 09:21pm

@BRR: bro suresh; i may humbly remind that there is no such thing in holy quran which looks inhuman or where humanity is undervalued.the holy quran holds that one inocent killing is killing of whole humanity. similarly; mass killing of muslims at gujrat were neither any dictum of hindu faith or religion; nor in future it could be so..thus; instead; reviewing islam ; we need to review criminal world knwn as politics and politican..thcx

Qarib Aug 10, 2013 09:44pm

Yohanan Friedmann has argued against communalist interpretations of Sirhindi's thought specifically in South Asian nationalist historiography, pointing out that there is no evidence that Sirhindi or his disciples spread " anti- Hindu sentiments wherever they went

Faraz Aug 11, 2013 12:28am

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. Thomas Jefferson

Shaukat ali Chughtai Aug 11, 2013 07:15am

Excellent narrative of history,sir. I salute you. A major debate is essential to revisit Islam and the narrative which macula as have fabricated. Being An historia, hope must be doing justice.

dr vimal raina Aug 11, 2013 10:35am

Partition helped to separate in a strange way two Islamic ideologies. People who stayed back in India are more secular in their practice. I can even vouch for their thought. It is the opposite for a majority in Pakistan or it seems so. Herein I would like to mention that a non-Kashmiri muslim in India does not really gel with the Kashmiri muslim. This is from my long experience having them both around.

Dr. Mazhar Aug 11, 2013 01:49pm

@Naeem Syed: Well said Shah gee


HR Ahmad Aug 11, 2013 02:25pm

To understand Dr Mubarak Ali we need to integrate the study of a religion with history. Without history the religion and its applications can be misleading. Dr Mubarak is pointing towards the illness of our society and tracing the transmission of virus from where it originated. We are living in the age of science and humanism and we all should be enlightened through a good education system instead of being trained. Here we need to reflect !

Khanm Aug 11, 2013 05:38pm

It is not the religion that kills. it is the people... those who kill in the name of religion have nothing to do with religion.. Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

Naintara Aug 11, 2013 06:47pm

Very well written article.

Suresh Aug 11, 2013 08:10pm

@nazir ahmad bhat: Dear Nazir bhai, I agree with what you have said. However in my opinion when the state uses religion for governance the law and oder breaks down because when some mad men commit crime and justify it in the name of religion the state gets confused and remains a mute spectator. The need of the hour is that the state should stop mixing governance and religion. It is also worth mentioning here that democracy cannot survive without secularism because it is one of the pillars that support democracy . It is high time that the civil society demanded secularism in Pakistan. I tell you Secularism is such a beautiful concept that if implemented will take Pakistan a long way in the modern world. Thanks.

Shzaidi Aug 12, 2013 02:14am

I have known Dr Mubarak Ali when we all travelled to England for our postgrad studies. He created his niche elsewhere. We knew him way back in 60s, that this man will be a beacon of light in the future. He is honest, genuine, through, factual,anti -establishment and a true reformer. Thank God , someone is lighting a diya of truth in the darkness of ignorance that has afflicted the Muslim Ummah for ever. 'Teenagey jungle mein kam nahin hey aik jugno. Tum bas apney hisay ka aik diya jala dena. Kudos, Dr Mubarak Ali Khan.