Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb: Bad Ruler or Bad History?

Of all the Muslim rulers who ruled vast territories of India from 712 to 1857 CE, probably no one has received as much condemnation from Western and Hindu writers as Aurangzeb. He has been castigated as a religious Muslim who was anti-Hindu, who taxed them, who tried to convert them, who discriminated against them in awarding high administrative positions, and who interfered in their religious matters. This view has been heavily promoted in the government approved textbooks in schools and colleges across post-partition India (i.e., after 1947). These are fabrications against one of the best rulers of India who was pious, scholarly, saintly, unbiased, liberal, magnanimous, tolerant, competent, and far-sighted.

Fortunately, in recent years quite a few Hindu historians have come out in the open disputing those allegations. For example, historian Babu Nagendranath Banerjee rejected the accusation of forced conversion of Hindus by Muslim rulers by stating that if that was their intention then in India today there would not be nearly four times as many Hindus compared to Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims had ruled for nearly a thousand years. Banerjee challenged the Hindu hypothesis that Aurangzeb was anti-Hindu by reasoning that if the latter were truly guilty of such bigotry, how could he appoint a Hindu as his military commander-in-chief? Surely, he could have afforded to appoint a competent Muslim general in that position.

Banerjee further stated:

“No one should accuse Aurangzeb of being communal minded. In his administration, the state policy was formulated by Hindus. Two Hindus held the highest position in the State Treasury. Some prejudiced Muslims even questioned the merit of his decision to appoint non-Muslims to such high offices. The Emperor refuted that by stating that he had been following the dictates of the Shariah (Islamic Law) which demands appointing right persons in right positions.”

During Aurangzeb’s long reign of fifty years, many Hindus, notably Jaswant Singh, Raja Rajrup, Kabir Singh, Arghanath Singh, Prem Dev Singh, Dilip Roy, and Rasik Lal Crory, held very high administrative positions. Two of the highest ranked generals in Aurangzeb’s administration, Jaswant Singh and Jaya Singh, were Hindus. Other notable Hindu generals who commanded a garrison of two to five thousand soldiers were Raja Vim Singh of Udaypur, Indra Singh, Achalaji and Arjuji. One wonders if Aurangzeb was hostile to Hindus, why would he position all these Hindus to high positions of authority, especially in the military, who could have mutinied against him and removed him from his throne?

Most Hindus like Akbar over Aurangzeb for his multi-ethnic court where Hindus were favored. Historian Shri Sharma states that while Emperor Akbar had fourteen Hindu Mansabdars (high officials) in his court, Aurangzeb actually had 148 Hindu high officials in his court.1 But this fact is somewhat less known.

Some of the Hindu historians have accused Aurangzeb of demolishing Hindu temples. How factual is this accusation against a man, who has been known to be a saintly man, a strict adherent of Islam? The Qur’an prohibits any Muslim to impose his will on a non-Muslim by stating that

“There is no compulsion in religion.”2

Surah al-Kafirun clearly states: “To you is your religion and to me is mine.” It would be totally unbecoming of a learned scholar of Islam of his caliber, as Aurangzeb was known to be, to do things that are contrary to the dictates of the Qur’an.

Interestingly, the 1946 edition of the history textbook Etihash Parichaya (Introduction to History) used in Bengal for the 5th and 6th graders states:

“If Aurangzeb had the intention of demolishing temples to make way for mosques, there would not have been a single temple standing erect in India. On the contrary, Aurangzeb donated huge estates for use as temple sites and support thereof in Benares, Kashmir and elsewhere. The official documentations for these land grants are still extant.”

A stone inscription in the historic Balaji or Vishnu Temple, located north of Chitrakut Balaghat, still shows that it was commissioned by the Emperor himself. The proof of Aurangzeb’s land grant for famous Hindu religious sites in Kasi, Varanasi can easily be verified from the deed records extant at those sites. The same textbook reads:

“During the fifty year reign of Aurangzeb, not a single Hindu was forced to embrace Islam. He did not interfere with any Hindu religious activities.”3

Alexander Hamilton, a British historian, toured India towards the end of Aurangzeb’s fifty year reign and observed that every one was free to serve and worship God in his own way.

Now let us deal with Aurangzeb’s imposition of the jizya tax which had drawn severe criticism from many Hindu historians. It is true that jizya was lifted during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir and that Aurangzeb later reinstated this. Before I delve into the subject of Aurangzeb’s jizya tax, or taxing the non-Muslims, it is worthwhile to point out that jizya is nothing more than a war tax which was collected only from able-bodied young non-Muslim male citizens living in a Muslim country who did not want to volunteer for the defense of the country. That is, no such tax was collected from non-Muslims who volunteered to defend the country. This tax was not collected from women, and neither from immature males nor from disabled or old male citizens. For payment of such taxes, it became incumbent upon the Muslim government to protect the life, property and wealth of its non-Muslim citizens. If for any reason the government failed to protect its citizens, especially during a war, the taxable amount was returned.

It should be pointed out here that the zakaat (2.5% of savings) and ‘ushr (10% of agricultural products) were collected from all Muslims, who owned some wealth (beyond a certain minimum, called nisab). They also paid sadaqah, fitrah and khums. None of these were collected from any non-Muslim. As a matter of fact, the per capita collection from Muslims was several fold that of non-Muslims. Further to Auranzeb’s credit is his abolition of a lot of taxes, although this fact is not usually mentioned. In his book Mughal Administration, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, foremost historian on the Mughal dynasty, mentions that during Aurangzeb’s reign in power, nearly sixty-five types of taxes were abolished, which resulted in a yearly revenue loss of fifty million rupees from the state treasury. Other historians stated that when Aurangzeb abolished eighty types of taxes, no one thanked him for his generosity. But when he imposed only one, and not heavy at all, people began to show their displeasure.4

While some Hindu historians are retracting the lies, the textbooks and historic accounts in Western countries have yet to admit their error and set the record straight. Such intellectual dishonesty by historians is dangerous — more explosive and more damaging than nuclear bombs. We have already seen its hideous effect with the destruction of Muslim historic sites (including the Babri Mosque) and recent riots in India that killed thousands of Muslims.

Let us not fall into the trap set by those who want to “neatly divide our world.” Let truth vanquish falsehood. bismika-tombstone Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb: Bad Ruler or Bad History?

Footnotes

  1. Mughal Government []
  2. Surah al-Baqarah (2):256 []
  3. op. cit., p. 138 []
  4. Vindication of Aurangzeb []

12 Comments

  1. assalamu alaikum. A nice article

  2. To
    RBO

    It is very convenient to claim a high moral position for Hindus to assert themselves as the ‘indegenous’ people of India. However, history tells an altogether a different story.

    History narrates that Aryans migrated from Central Asia to Indus valley. Indus valley civilization was not an Aryan civilization. Aryan conquered the land and imposed their cultural and religious practices over the dravidians dwelling in the indus valley and inturn adopted some from the cultural religious practices of dravidians as well. The majority of dravedians were pushed to the southern side and aryan established their rule in the north.

    What is known today as ‘Hindu’ actually should be read as ‘Sindhu’ not Hindu and present Hinduism is an imposed ism on the dwellers of this land from the aryan conquerers.

    Just because the Aryans happened to conqure this land millenniums ahead of others, like Mughal rulers and British, they cannot pass for as indegeneous.

    Now it looks like that the pan claiming to pot as if it has more rights to the home which both of them have been accidently brought on differnt dates.

    Is it tenable?

  3. Have a look at ‘Aurangzeb, as he was according to Mughal Records’, it contains paintings and sketches about his rule as well as farhans, original edicts by Aurangzeb, preserved at the Bikaner Museum, Rajasthan, India.

    Click to view the complete exhibition online:
    http://according-to-mughal-records.blogspot.com/

    Best

    Ramesh

  4. King Aurenzeb was the most intelligent, Adminstrative, Lawful king of all Mugal Dienesty. He was very religious and far sighted king. He strikly obey rules and want every body in his wast empire to obey them. He respect all existing religin in india and serve them with his best. He nevr forced or pressureised eney community to convrt. King Aurenzeb was “The Best King” of all muslim rulers in india who rules in india more then One Thousand years….

  5. Awrangzeb was a great SCHOLAR, A GREAT SUFI, AND A SUNNI WHO FOUGHT AGAINST THE HERETICAL SECTS WHICH HAD SPRUNG UP IN INDIA.

  6. What about great Britan who have cut the heads of seven sons of Bahadershahzafer and put before him in a dish.

  7. It is hard to decipher what is the truth, especially in view of all this happening many many years ago. If Aurangazeb was so cruel and bigoted why did not all of India become forceably muslim during his time? What was the number of muslims in India then vis-a-vis Hindus? There is some truth to the fact that Shah Jehan, favored Dara Shikoh over others. What disposition had he made of his other able bodied sons he used for his own gain in the whole of India while he was king and while Dara would be king if he had his way? Deccan campaign was difficult to manage and he had sent his most capable son Aurangazeb to manage the conflict. Why not make him king too? While Aurangazeb was not entirely a ‘saint’ as he is made out to be in above he is both clever and ruthless, qualities essential to being a king – Hindu or Muslim alike.

  8. To RBO

    You seem hell bent on hating Islam and you even go as far as quoting

    wat right do the Mughals have to protect the Indians and from wat?

    Well if they were ruling the nation then they don’t have a right but an OBLIGATION to protect all citizens from harm. You again whining like the anti Islamics. If they didn’t protect you would be whining on how bad they were for not protecting and since they did protect you start whining on Who they are to protect…. You make no mention of the fact that despite centuries of Muslim rule India remained predominantly Hindu… hmmm I guess that would put a damper on your spread by the sword allegation against Islam.

  9. RBO – I think you are missing the point of the article – the point being akbar etc are celebrated but aurungzeb is not. They were both emperors – and according to you foreigners in India – but one is slandered and the other celebrated.

    The reason is not because of what each did or didn’t do for their citizens. Both were generous and accepted people of different religions into their inner courts. Arguably Aurungzeb did more eg through land grants to Hindu Temples and the lifting of taxes. The reason that Aurungzeb is so maligned is only due to his personal religiousity. And that has to be wrong.

    His religiousity manifested itself in a type of tax thaat some people may find offensive but the actual level of tax paid by a non muslim fell whereas for a muslim it rose relative to his non muslim countrymen.

  10. Glorifying Moghul empire in India by a Muslim is the same as a British talking big about their clonising activities. If Muslims talk big about their “tolerance” of allowing only two HIndus decide the monetary policies of an MUslims empire, then British should not be condemned, because altough they were the colonisers they did allow indigenious ppl of the respective countries occupy minor positions in their Raj.THey also introduced new administrstion practices,new medicines to fight tropical diseases,founded new schools, colleges,hospitals, introduced laws that are used till today with some adjustments the list continues. THis does not make the Brits benevolent conquerors.We still treat them as villains of our history books, treat colonial eras as dark ages in our history books, why ? Because they were not of the our country. they came they conquered and pludered our wealth. “WAT RIGHTS DO PPL FROM OUTSIDE THE COUNTRY TO impose rules on us” we ask when we were fighting against the westrern colonisers.
    SIMILARLY MUGHALS TOO SHOULD BE SUBJECTED TO SUCH CRTICISMS. India is a Hindu country the place where it was born,a majority of HIndus. ISlam came from the outside , MUghal emperors are descende d from the great grandson of Tamerlane, Babar, who on his mother’s side was descended from the famous Genghiz Khan, came to India in 1526 at the request of an Indian governor.Wat right does he have to grant a deed for a Temple in a land which is not rightfully his in the first place!
    YOU SAY THAT “For payment of such taxes, it became incumbent upon the Muslim government to protect the life, property and wealth of its non-Muslim citizens. If for any reason the government failed to protect its citizens, especially during a war, the taxable amount was returned” wat right do the Mughals have to protect the Indians and from wat? THe picture is you came frome the outside ,conquered the land and its citizens, later forbade them to bear arms, since they are forbidden to bear arms you say you are going protect them so you cahrge them a tax. This is actually wat protecction rackets do.Forcefully extract payments from ppl by browbeating them and tell them they are going to be protected from threats that are non existant.Sounds like aurangzeb is don or a dada.By the way who gave him the task to protect the nonMuslims? If he was so concerned abt protecting the non MUslims he could have done it by aiding the HIndu kingdoms during war.He doesn’t have to COnquer them! Empires are evil no matter who asts them up. The concept tht some one else can conquer some one else is disgusting no matter who does it.Let us condemn colonialist activities no matter who does it but not the religion of the empire builders.

  11. Excellent article!

  12. Allhumdulilah: Habib Siddiqui you have done a good job writting this article and explained how the indian historian tried to change the facts in their text books. I heard there was a case filled in the indain court on the perivious history minister. They took very important element of mughal history from the text books.

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