Din-i Ilahi, “the religion of God,” was a system of religious beliefs introduced by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1582 CE. His idea was to combine Islam and Hinduism into one faith, but also to add aspects of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Jainism. Akbar took a deep personal interest in religious matters. He founded an academy, the Ibadat Khana, “the House of Worship,” in 1575, where representatives of all major faiths could meet to discuss questions of theology. Listening to these debates, Akbar concluded that no single religion captured the whole truth and that they instead should be combined.
Din-e Ilahi emphasized morality, piety and kindness. Just like Sufi Islam it regarded the yearning for God as a key feature of spirituality; just like Catholicism it took celibacy to be a virtue and just like Jainism it condemned the killing of animals. As for its rituals, it borrowed heavily from Zoroastrianism, making fire and the sun objects of divine worship. [Read more: “Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism“] The new religion had no scriptures, no priests, and in fact it never had more than a handful of followers – mainly the members of Akbar’s closest circle of advisers. The most prominent person among them was Abul-Fazl ibn Mubarak, the emperor’s vizier or prime minister. Abul Fazl was the author of the Akbarnama, “the Book of Akbar,” a history of Akbar’s reign written in three volumes, which provides a rich description of India at the height of the Mughal’s power.
Din-e Ilahi is best viewed as a state religion with the emperor himself at its center. As the single authority on all religious matters, Akbar was not only going to interpret and apply the religious law, but to actually make it. In the end, the new faith had more to do with politics than with religion. Din-e Ilahi was his solution to the thorny problem of how a Muslim ruler could govern a predominantly Hindu state. Yet the Din-e Ilahi was fiercely opposed by many Muslims clerics who declared it a heretical doctrine. Although the new religion did not survive its founder, it triggered a strong fundamentalist reaction among India’s Muslims. According to rumors, the Muslim call to prayer, “Allahu akbar,” meaning “God is great,” was interpreted by Akbar himself as “God is Akbar.”