A Summary and Analysis by John Newhall.
Basically, this chapter revolves around the idea that rulers had complicated feelings when it came to Hinduism. Very few of the Mughal leaders discussed were strongly aligned with Hinduism or opposed to it. Beginning with Akbar, Doniger describes how he was sometimes good and sometimes not in relationship to the Hindus. She writes that he “abolished the jizya, the tax on pilgrims, and other discriminatory measures against Hindus. He ensured that Hindus would have their own laws and their own courts. He celebrated the Hindu festivals of Divali and Dussehra. He put Hindus in charge of almost the entire money lending system, acknowledging their competence in matter mathematical and financial” (535).
One of the primary sources of conflict between Hindus and Muslims was the Muslim practice of sacrifice. Muslims would sacrifice animals to Allah, including cows. This deeply offended the Hindu community. At one point Doniger ventures out on a tangent about the treatment of dogs. It’s not totally clear why, it seems as though dogs were pretty important to Akbar.
It is important to note that the Mughals did not have control over all of India. Doniger notes that “there were major pockets of resistance, including the Punjab under the Sikh gurus, Vijayanagar, the kingdoms in the far south, and, most famously, the Maharashtrians…” (544).
In basic summary, Hindu temples were knocked down, mosques were built, Hindu temples were restored or rebuilt.
Let me just, for a moment, express that this book is not great, nay it is not even good. I would not recommend this book to someone who is just beginning to learn about Hinduism. However, Doniger does know what she is talking about (although, sometimes I think she’s the only one who knows). I find it beyond my ability so say whether I think she is correct or not, I can only say that she seems to present a persuasive argument. To the best of my understanding, that argument is that some Mughal rulers were bad, others were good, but for the most part they tended to be on the good side (i.e. more tolerant side).
Doniger begins the chapter with a quote from Abu’l Fazl that acknowledged the mutual “fanatical hatred” between Hindus and Muslims. The passage is discussing “Akbar, by far the most pluralist of the Mughal rulers” (527). She backs this claim up by assessing his actions, beginning in a section where she deems him “Akbar the Tolerant” (531). She posits that Akbar was the first to back religious pluralism with the power of a great empire. Akbar would wonder through bazaars, which Doniger claims may have “nourished his interest in the religious diversity among his people” (532).
There was no doubt as to the religious diversity of India (Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism were not uncommon faiths in the area). Doniger seems to come to the conclusion that these faith traditions, especially Hinduism and Islam, were in a constant state of dialogue. She points out that “Much of the poetry written by Muslims … begins with the Islamic invocation of Allah but goes on to express Hindu content or makes use of Hindu forms, Hindu imagery, Hindu terminology.” She then connects this to the practices of the people stating that many “people were Hindu by culture, Muslim by religion, or the reverse. Mughal emperors patronized yoga establishments. Hindus worshiped Sufi Pirs” (548).
These types of religious interactions pervade most religious traditions throughout history, especially in Europe. In fact, most witchcraft beliefs throughout Europe were connected to this type of “religious fusion,” as Doniger calls it. It is not surprising then, to see such intersections occurring within Hinduism and Islam throughout their history in close proximity.
- What does this all mean in relationship to the development of Hinduism?
- What meaning can be drawn from the religious intersections played out through Islamic poetry of the period?
- What does it mean to be Hindu by culture and Muslim by religion (or Muslim by culture and Hindu by religion)? How does this relate to assimilation and conversion?