Abul Fazl was the historian at Akbar’s court. He occupies a place of distinction among the many eminent scholars of medieval India. He wrote a treatise on Akbar’s reign known as Akbarnama. A part of it called Ain-i-Akbari explains the concept of monarchy.
Akbar’s religious policy has evolved in the course of time depending on different internal and external factors. The final stage of Akbar’s religious policy, the Din-i-Ilahi (Religion of God), was a syncretic religious movement advocated by him in 1582 CE. It was one of the most substantial dimensions of mutual interaction and relationship between Hinduism and Islam.
Abul Fazl’s Concept of Monarchy
The real manifestation of the concept of monarchy of the Mughals took place during the reign of Akbar. The state ideology of the Mughals was articulated by Abul Fazl.
While writing the history of Akbar, it seems that Abul Fazl felt the need of giving justification to the actions of his monarch.
That Akbar was an ideal monarch could be established by setting down standards for the institution of monarchy which would well conform to his actions.
Though the institution of monarchy was in vogue in the Islamic civilization, yet Abul Fazl tried to provide a fresh interpretation. Scholars believe that it was influenced by theTimurid structure of the monarchy and the ideas of the famous Sufi saint Shihabuddin Suharwardy.
According to it he believed that there is a divine radiance (Farr-i-Izadi) in every person, but only the highest person can be the leader of his era. This ideology was also at the core of the kingship theory propounded by Abul Fazl. The following elements formed the Mughal concept of monarchy:
Divine Principle of Kingship
Abul Fazl has explained Akbar’s views regarding the sovereign attitude towards his subjects. He says that the king was something more than an average human being.He was the representative of God on earth and His shadow. He was given greater knowledge and wisdom than any other human being. Kingship was God’s gift and was not bestowed till many thousand grand requisites were gathered in an individual.
According to him, “state-power is the light emanating from God and the ray emanating from the sun.” Akbar and other Mughal rulers assumed the title of Zill-i-Ilahi i.e. ‘Shadow of God’.
This divine principle of kingship increased the power of the Mughals and imparted a feeling of respect and admiration for the position of the emperor.
Abul Fazl believed that the term Padshahat (Badshahat) meant ‘an established owner’ where Pad means stability and shah stands for owner. Therefore, Padshah means powerful and established owner who cannot be removed by anyone.
In the Mughal Empire, the Badshah had a superior place. He was the ultimate authority on all social, economic, political and judicial powers. This theory of Badshahat was a combination of Mongol, Turkish, Iranian, Islamic and Indian political traditions.
While the rule of the king is legitimate in the divine light, but it does not imply that it liberates the ruler from his duties. He makes an important distinction between the just and the unjust ruler. It is only “a just ruler (kargiya)” who is able “to convert, like a salt- bed, the impure into pure, the bad into good. The just ruler was characterized by tolerance, respect for reason and fatherly love to all the subjects irrespective of their religion or creed.
During the Delhi Sultanate, the king had no say in religious matters. But when Akbar became the king, he made himself the final authority even in religious disputes vis-à-vis the Imam-e- Adil because he followed the order of God and he could not be wrong. Therefore, people must follow his order. It is clear that Akbar was the ideal king for Abul Fazl and that’s why he viewed Akbar as a ‘complete man who could never be wrong.’
Communication of the Idea of Divine Principle by means of Pictures
It is worth mentioning that the pictures to be painted with the details of the chronicles contributed significantly to the communication of these ideas. These pictures had an enduring impact on the mind of the beholders.
From the 17th century, Mughal artists began to portray Mughal rulers with auras. Abul Fazl viewed these halos as symbolizing divine light in European paintings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
Separation in Religion and Politics
Abul Fazl wanted to divorce religion from politics altogether. Akbar was interested in establishing the authority of the ruler over all other elements of the state and did not like the unwarranted interference of the Ulema class in politics. He wanted to eradicate the influence of the Ulema class and conduct his government policy on the basis of people-friendly principles.
On September 2, 1579 CE through a decree named Mahzar, Akbar was acknowledged as the supreme power to make final decisions in the controversial issues arising out of the interpretation of the Quran.
Adherence to the Policy of Sulh-i-kul
The policy of Sulh-i-kul (universal peace) pervades all of Abul Fazl’s political and religious theories. It occupied an important place among the elements that formed the Mughal theory of kingship. The most important feature of the Mughal theory of kingship was accepting the secular form of the state and adopting the policy of religious tolerance.
Abul Fazl believes that the ideal of Sulh-i-kul was the foundation of enlightened governance. This doctrine of peace says that the agent of God could not practice discrimination among the various faiths present in the society.
In Sulh-ikul all religions and sects had freedom of expression.The only condition was that they would neither harm the monarchy nor fight among themselves. Actually, this policy was the need of the hour to justify the religious policy of Akbar. Even sovereignty was not confined to any particular faith. It was thought that all religions were, in essence, the same but only the path differed. It became overarching.
According to Abul Fazl, in a multi-religious country like India, the theory of monarchial sovereignty was more relevant. Here, sovereignty was not related to any religion because he considered that monarch was above all religions. He endorsed the good values of different religions and thus brought together different faiths for maintaining peace everywhere. He had to sustain those qualities by following an appropriate religious status.
After assessing Abul Fazl, we may conclude that a sovereign must have the spirit of tolerance for the existing beliefs and he should not reject the traditional conduct of his people which was necessary and complementary. Abul Fazl justified Akbar’s views by promoting him as having a rationalist approach to social reforms. He argued that Akbar did so, as he wanted to build a country that could stand out in the world with greater confidence.
Implementation of Sulh-i-kul through State Policies
The idea of Sulh-i-kul was implemented by means of state policy by the Mughal emperors. All the nobles like Irani, Turani, Afghani, Rajput, Deccan, etc. were included in the Mughal aristocracy. Abul Fazl strongly believed in the hierarchy, but he was more concerned about the need for talent for the empire.
He did not bother about the social background of a talented person. While conferring all these posts and awards, not their caste or religion, but their service and loyalty to the emperor were kept in mind.
Akbar proved that his rule was not based on religious bias by abolishing the pilgrimage tax in 1563 CE and jizya in 1564 CE. The officers of the empire were also directed to follow the rules of Sulh-i-kul in the administration. The Mughal emperors provided grants for the maintenance and construction of places of worship.
Sovereignty as a Social Contract
Abul Fazl can be compared with Ziauddin Barani of Delhi Sultanate in the political sphere. Both of them were concerned with social stability, however, Abul Fazl’s method of handling this concept was different.
His Ain-i-Akbari creates a theory of sovereignty on the basis of social contract instead of Shariah. He drew a picture of the society that existed before and explained the emergence of sovereignty.
He realized that there would be lawlessness and rebellion in society in the absence of a strong ruler and this will be harmful.
It represents a picture of Pre-State society which is similar to the negative picture of the Pre-Contract State given by Thomas Hobbes.
Abul Fazl propagates a theory of ‘Social Contract’ to justify the need of political authority. According to this theory, sovereignty was a social contract between the king and the subjects.
The emperor protected the four entities of his subjects – life (jana), property (maal), honor (namas) and religion (din) and, in lieu of obedience from the subjects and a share in the resources.
Only the just ruler would have been able to honor these contracts with power and divine guidance. Akbar believed that a king is the greatest well-wisher and protector of his subjects.
A king is supposed to be just, fair and generous. He should consider his subjects like his own children and should strive for the betterment of his subjects every moment.
Akbar’s successors also kept this principle of public interest as the main basis of their monarchical ideas.
Abul Fazl located the basis of sovereignty in the needs of the social order. Here his reasoning first follows the pure commands of reason (aql), appealing to the tradition of the philosophers (fìlasafa) and the scientists (hukama).
According to Abul Fazl, sovereignty was in nature, a divine light(Farr-i-Izadi) and with this statement he, seems to dismiss as inadequate the traditional reference to the king as the shadow of God (Zill-i-Ilahi).
Criticism of Abul Fazl
Abu Fazl is criticized for not being a true Muslim and for being a kafir. He did not believe in the superiority of Islam over all religions while Barani and other thinkers regarded it as supreme. It is because of this reason that many people called Abul Fazl a rebel, a kafir, Hindu or Agnipujak etc.
He was too cynical of tradition and those hostile to him record that he had roughly brushed aside Ghazali’s criticisms of the scientists with the short remark that Ghazali had spoken nonsense. His cosmopolitan philosophy and Din-i-Ilahi met with partial success in India.
Policies such as Sulh-ikul and Din-i-Ilahi reinforced his governance and administration, but these new experiments were not as successful as Akbar hoped.
There was inconsistency in his theory of social contract and the divine origin of sovereignty since the two theories were not logically compatible with each other.
Indeed, he may be said to have attempted to combine the two, however, certain logical inconsistencies persisted.