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MUGHAL EMPIRE. The great Muslim empire on the Indian subcontinent was founded by Babur (1483/ 84-1530), who was descended on his father’s side from Timur and on his mother’s from Chinggis Khan. Unsuccessful in reviving Timurid glories in Central Asia, he turned to India, where he established Mughal power in 1526. The empire reached its zenith under four great emperors: Akbar (r. 1556-1605), Jahangir (r. 16051627), Shah Jahan (r. 1627-1657) and Awrangzib (r. 1658-1707). Mughal rule embraced all India except the far south. After Awrangzib died, power quickly waned; former provinces became independent states. By the mid-eighteenth century its power was finished. The last emperor was deposed by the British in 1858.



Akbar developed the administrative systems and policies on which Mughal power rested. He recruited into his administration not just members of the Turani clans who had come with Babur but also Persians, Indian Muslims, and Hindu Rajputs. These officials were granted mansabs, military ranks expressed in numbers, which indicated their pay and their duties; these duties were fulfilled using revenues assigned to them from nonhereditary and transferable land grams (jagirs). Akbar developed a method of calculating revenue based on detailed knowledge of crops, land, productivity, and price fluctuations that yielded maximum return for minimum impact on the cultivator; revenue was collected by zamindars, for the most part Hindus, who kept a proportion for themselves.

Akbar integrated Hindus into the empire from the lowest levels of administration up to his own marriages with Rajput princesses. For this reason he adopted policies of religious toleration, abolishing for instance the jizyah tax on non-Muslims. As long as Akbar’s administrative and religious policies were maintained, all was well. But Awrangzib found he had to change them: faced with growing Hindu and Sikh opposition, he began to replace non-Muslims in government with Muslims; and under pressure from orthodox `ulama’, he ordered that the jizyah be reimposed and that the shari ah be followed. Then constant warfare and the expansion of the official class led to a crippling dearth of jagirs.

Like all rulers of India, the Mughals were primarily concerned about attack from the northwest, first from the Uzbeks of Central Asia and then from Safavid Iran. The ultimate dangers, however, lay in India and beyond the seas; the British were the successors to the empire, first building on the Mughal legacy and then transforming it.

The Mughal Empire stands with those of the Safavids and Ottomans as one of the three great “gunpowder” empires, in which some of the highest expressions of Islamic civilization were achieved. In religious belief it was the arena in which, in opposition to the Mughal policy of religious innovation and the liberal interpretation of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Sufi understanding that then prevailed, Ahmad Sirhindi emphasized strict obedience to shari’ah and sunnah as the path to Sufi realization, refocusing attention on the transcendance of God and the need for men to be guided by revelation; this development was to be carried by Naqshbandi Sufis through much of Central and Western Asia. Thus the empire marks the point at which India stopped being a mere receiver of Islamic ideas and took up its role as a major contributor to modern Islamic civilization as a whole.

[See also India and the biography of Sirhindi.]


Athar Ali, M. The Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb. Bombay, 1968. Classic analysis of the Mughal ruling class and its involvement in Mughal decline.

Gascoigne, Bamber. The Great Moghuls. London, 1971. Popular and well-illustrated introduction to the great Mughal emperors. journal of Asian Studies 35.2 (1976). Articles by Peter Hardy, M. N. Pearson and J. F. Richards debate the reasons for Mughal decline. Raychaudhuri, Tapan, and Irfan Habib. The Cambridge Economic History of India, vol I, c. 1200-c. 1750. Cambridge, 1982. The best introduction to the economy of the empire.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. Leiden and Cologne, 1980. Chapters 3-5 give an excellent overview of Islamic developments and Muslim practices in the Mughal period.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/mughal-empire/

  • writerPosted On: August 18, 2014
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