Born in Umarkot, India in 1542, Akbar the Great took over as ruler of the Mughal empire when he was just 14 years old. Although Akbar was born into a Sunni Muslim family, he received an education by two Persian scholars on religious matters, which likely had an impact on his tolerant for Mughal society. After several triumphant military conquests, which expanded his empire as far north as modern-day Afghanistan and as far east as Bengal, Akbar began to implement an inclusive approach toward non-Muslims, ushering in an era of religious tolerance based on the Sufi concept of Sulh-e-kul, or “peace to all.”

Akbar was so convinced of the commonalities among religions that he even attempted to unite them in creating his very own religion, known as the Din-e-Ilahi, or “the religion of God.” In borrowing ideas from Sufism, most notably from the scholar Ibn Arabi, Akbar looked at how major religions could be synthesized in their shared belief in the almighty. In creating the Din-e-Ilahi and breaking away from the notion of Islam’s superiority over all other religions, Akbar achieved his single greatest feat: “liberating the [Mughal] state from its domination by the [clerics],” as suggested by leading historian R.S. Sharma.

Akbar also went to great lengths to integrate non-Muslims into the Mughal empire. After conquering the area of Rajput, he did not forcefully convert Hindus to Islam, but accommodated their religious demands by securing their freedom of public prayer, and allowing Hindus to build and repair their temples. Granting Hindus the ability to freely worship baffled many critics, including his own son Salim, who once asked his father why he had allowed Hindu ministers to spend money on building a temple. Akbar responded to Salim: “My son, I love my own religion… [but] the Hindu [m]inister also loves his religion. If he wants to spend money on his religion, what right do I have to prevent him… Does he not have the right to love the thing that is his very own?”

Finding Tolerance in Akbar, the Philosopher-King

Akbar the Great, ruler of most of South Asia in the 16th and early 17th century, rejected bigotry and made unprecedented moves to help non-Muslims feel at peace in his Mughal empire — actions antithetical to current violence against vulnerable relig…

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