Akbar’s Attitude to Jihad
The story of how Akbar, the Mughal emperor, earned the title of ghazi by beheading the defenceless Himu on November 5, 1556, and its repudiation by his court historians (Abul Fazl etc.) is a silent commentary on the doctrine of jihad by the one and the only Muslim potentate of medieval times who had a wiser head on his shoulders. I give below the two versions of the story - one from the pen of the Afghan historian Ahmad Yadgar and the other from that of Badauni (who drew his material from Nizamuddin’s Tabaqat-i-Akbari). I need only add that Nizamuddin, Abul Fazl, and Faizi - all give the same fabricated version of the story.
According to Ahmad Yadgar, ‘By the decree of the Al-mighty an arrow struck Himun in the forehead (His soldiers) saw how matters stood, and he sustained a complete defeat. When Shah Kuli Beg was told of what had occurred, he came up to the elephant (of Himun) and brought it into the presence of Bairam Khan. Bairam Khan caused Himun to descend from the elephant and took him before the young and fortunate prince and said, ‘As this is our first success, let your Highness’s own august hand smite this infidel with the sword.’ The Prince, accordingly, struck him and divided his head from his unclean body.’1
It has only to be remarked that modern historians accept this version alone as the true story of how Akbar earned the title of ghazi (=slayer of infidels) after the Second Battle of Panipat. They do not credit the story circulated by court historians like Nizamuddin and Abul Fazl, which in due course was taken up by Abdul Kadir Badauni.
According to Badauni, ‘(Bairam Khan said): ‘This is your first war (ghazd), prove your sword on this infidel, for it will be a meritorious deed.’ Akbar replied: ‘He is now no better than a dead man, how am I to strike him? If he had sense and strength, I would try my sword.’ Then in the presence of them all, the Khan as a warrior of the faith, cut him down with the sword.’2
This version of the story is extremely interesting, and, as an indication of Akbar’s mind at its maturity, is far more valuable than the true story itself. The reader of the present work would understand that in jihad there is absolutely no room for chivalry to the fallen enemy. In 627 AD the Banu Kuraizah in chains were cut off at the market place of Medina with nauseating cruelty and little consideration for norms of chivalry. The fourteen-year old Akbar, at the bidding of Bairam Khan, had certainly cut off the head of the defenceless Himu in 1556, confirming thereby the classical Islamic practice. But his court historians knew enough of the Emperor’s mind at its maturity to realise that this story would never do in a general history of his reign. They ‘paltered with the truth’ of history, or rather Akbar himself did so, but they did reveal, as if in a flash, the aging emperor’s contempt for the doctrine of jihad and the glory of ghazihood that went with it.
But this is not all. Besides his contempt for jihad, Badauni’s account contains an ideal of chivalry maturing in Akbar’s mind which was little different from the Rajput ideal. That ideal again was the Hindu ideal of chivalry par excellence, harking back to the heroic exploits described in the Mahabharata. It has often been remarked that Akbar’s brand of religious tolerance was more a matter of policy than conviction; but the above account indicates how, with advancing years, he inclined with his whole heart towards Hindu ideals and abhorred Islamic teachings in the secret recesses of his being. No wonder, Islamists have never forgiven him for such transparent indications of downright apostasy.
Elliott and Dowson, Vol. V, pp. 65-66. Tarikh-i-Akbari of Muhammad ‘Ãrif Qandhari also says that ‘The King struck Himu with his sword and won the title of Ghazi’ (English translation by Tanseem Ahmad, Delhi, 1993, p. 74). ↩
Ibid., p. 253. Akbar’s court historians have also suppressed the fact that Akbar had viewed as jihad his expedition to Chittor in 1567-68 in which he had ordered the massacre of 30,000 Hindus, including non-combatants. The text of his Fathnama, issued from Muinuddin Chishti’s dargah at Ajmer in March 1568, was included in Munshat-i-Namakin compiled in 1598 by Saiyid Abdul Qasim Khan, a prominent noble who served under Akbar as well as Jahangir. The Fathnama cites the jihadic verses from the Koran, and refers to Hindus as accursed infidels. It has been translated into English by Ishtiaq Ahmed Zilli, and published in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 1972 (pp. 350-61). ↩