Empire in Asia

A New Global History

The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors

Book Cover

Book Title

The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors. New York: Asia Pub. House, 1962. 2d ed.


Sharma, Sri Ram


Explaining the structure of the Indian government during the Sultanate was deemed an appropriate starting point for the discussion of the religious policy of the Mughal emperors. Initially, the population had been held in subjection mainly by the military strength of her rulers. A distinction was made between the status of the Hindus and the Muslims: the Jizya served as a special tax for Hindus. It was levied directly, such that even when new territories were conquered or vassal princes subdued, it was not customary to make any bargains to ensure that there would not be any accusations of unfairness amongst the vassals.

Jizya was however seen as a badge of inferiority round the necks of the 'unfaithful' Hindus who were constantly reminded of their status as a subject people under an alien Muslim rule. Yet, this payment helped ensure free exercise of their religion to the non-Muslims, preventing such cases of extreme intolerance exhibited in Europe in the same period.

Akbar's rule saw the foundation of a new order, where he was seen to have emancipated Indian from its domination by the religion of the minority-- indeed he could be seen as a pioneer of religious tolerance because only in the latter half of the nineteenth century was England able to adopt similar religious toleration and freedom from civic disabilities.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The author assessed the importance of religion in government policy, as well as how and why it manifests in ruling policies. The Jizya was not only a tax, but a badge of inferiority of non-Muslims, who became second-class citizens in the state. Such topics are deemed relevant to making observations of the structure of the Mughal polity. Yet, while focusing specifically to the Mughal policies, the author does make reference and comparison to pre-Mughal Muslim dynasties.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The main argument that can be distilled from the book is that under the Sultanate, India was held in subjection and controlled mainly by the military strength of her rulers. The distinction made between Hindu and Muslim subjects was one of the central policies of the Sultanate in India. The author also argues that the position of the Hindus in India was generally much better than that of many communities in Europe whose faith differed from that of their rulers. Hence, he argues that the religious policy which governed Muslim politics in India until the beginning of the sixteenth century was nothing singular - its parallel is seen in the European continent.

In his conclusion, the author also questions the reference to empires in the East as "Oriental Despotism", since the presumption is that it is more despotic than the West. While the author agrees that there are some elements of despotism, it remains true that the rulers were never recognized as 'the masters of the law'. In this way, religious policy was seen to be one of the guiding principles of rule, rather than power being vested in one man. Finally, Muslim laws and Hindu personal laws were manifestations of Mughal law, such that the idea of a theocratic government can be dismissed with the argument that this form of government involved the subordination of the state to the church.

Annotated by Michelle Djong