‘Akbar Enunciated Policy of Religious Tolerance And Interfaith Studies’, Says Prof Irfan Habib

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Prof Habib pointed out that Europe came to know of Upanishads from the Persian translations by extraordinarily learned and erudite Mughal Prince, Dara Shikoh.

Legendary Historian Prof Irfan Habib of AMU (Picture credit: Tribune/Mukesh Aggarwal)
Legendary Historian Prof Irfan Habib of AMU (Picture credit: Tribune/Mukesh Aggarwal)

“Mughal emperor, Akbar enunciated the policy of religious tolerance and interfaith studies that was unique in the world of his time”, says AMU’s Dr Irfan Habib.

Dr Irfan Habib, a legendary historian and Professor Emeritus of the Department of History at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), was delivering a keynote address on ‘The Great Phase of Inter-Religious Communication, from Akbar to Dara Shikoh: A Survey of the Principal Texts’ at the opening ceremony of the three-day International Seminar on ‘Inter-Faith Studies in India’.

“Mughal emperor Akbar’s era was largely characterized by a syncretism that has few parallels in other times. He was curious, open-minded, and pragmatic and gave all the support to regular state-sponsored inter-faith public dialogue, which brought together learned men from across the religious spectrum – Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Parsees, Jains, and even atheists from across the realm”, said Prof Irfan Habib while examining a wide tableau of sites and modes of interchanges during the Mughal period. 

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According to Prof Habib, “Akbar is said to have proclaimed that his sole aim was to lay bare the facts of any religion, ‘whether Hindu or Muslim’ and it was because of these dialogues and personal interactions with Hindu Brahmins, he acquired deep knowledge of the various schools of Hindu thought. Thus, of the transmigration of the soul and divine reincarnation, he is believed to have said, ‘In Hind (India) no one set forth a claim to Prophethood—this is because the claim to divinity has had precedence’”.

“For a Muslim ruler like Akbar to brook the idea of reincarnation, let alone to take to its logical conclusion —shows a startling level of open-mindedness”, stressed Prof Habib.

He emphasised, “The interfaith interaction at the time of Akbar is most evident in the stunning amount of literary and translation activity that occurred during his rule, in his Maktabkhanah (writing bureau). The Mughal emperor’s first interaction with the Sanskrit literati occurred early in his reign. Hindu Brahmans and Jains, continued to be a regular presence at the Mughal court. Of particular relevance were his attempts to get the Atharva Veda, one of the oldest Hindu scriptures, translated into Persian—that gave impetus to a translation effort that would soon result in Persian versions of the two Hindu epics – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana”.

Prof Habib pointed out that Europe came to know of Upanishads from the Persian translations by extraordinarily learned and erudite Mughal Prince, Dara Shikoh.

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He said that Dara Shikoh translated Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian so they could be read by religious scholars in India and elsewhere. His other famous works include Majma-ul-Bahrain which was devoted to a revelation of the mystical affinities between Sufic and Vedantic speculation. In fact, the Mughals acted as major conduits for cultural breakthroughs. The Persian translations of the Mahabharata and Ramayana during the Mughal period were passed down to the British via the Arabs who found it easier to translate them into English. Even Emperor Jahangir considered Vedanta as ‘the science of Sufism’.

In a special message to the participants of the seminar, AMU Vice Chancellor, Prof Tariq Mansoor said: “Mughal emperor, Akbar enunciated the policy of religious tolerance and interfaith studies that was unique in the world of his time. His great grandson, Prince Dara Shikoh by rendering over fifty Upanishads into Persian, introduced these wonderful philosophical texts to the non-Indian learned world, even reaching Europe through a Latin translation of his Persian version. I am sure that this effort of the Centre of Advanced Study, Department of History will add substantially in the knowledge of the project of inter-religious understanding undertaken in India four hundred years ago, which should not only enlarge our knowledge of the past, but also contribute to the enrichment of mutual understanding today”.  

Presiding over the programme, Prof Nisar A Khan (Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences) said that the Mughal emperor, Akbar and his great grandson, Prince Dara Shikoh were flag bearers of inter-religious peace, tolerance, brotherhood and secularism.

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“Akbar and Dara Shikoh played a vital role in promoting interreligious harmony and the missionaries and Sufis during their time served as a force against religious hatred. They applied liberal and accommodative views toward the masses and urged people to live in an integrated society with full socioeconomic and religious rights”, he added.

Prof K.A.S.M. Ishrat Alam delivered the welcome address of the inaugural function and introduced the theme of the seminar.

Prof Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi and Prof Athar Ali Khan respectively chaired the first and second academic sessions on the first day of the seminar.  

Prof Shireen Moosvi (AMU) spoke on ‘Akbar’s Opening to Hinduism, its Beliefs and Doctrines’, Prof Farhat Hasan (University of Delhi) delivered a lecture on ‘Inter Community Interaction in Legal Spaces in the Mughal Period’, Prof Farhat Nasreen (Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia) discussed ‘The Brahma Vaivarta Purana and the Majmaul Bahrain against a backdrop of the philosophy of Dialogism’ and Prof Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi (AMU) discoursed ‘Imaging the Other: Walls as a Register of Pluralistic Traditions under the Mughals’. 


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