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Historical
Conversions To Islam Under Aurangzeb
Jan 2014

THEOLOGIANS and courtiers both have labored hard to prove that all that Aurangzeb did was inspired by a desire to serve the cause of the ‘true faith’. The culmination of such a ‘service’ would naturally lie in swelling the number of the faithful The economic pressure put on the ‘non-believers’, their persecution, the war waged against their fairs and festivals, the perversion of the judicial system in the interest of the faith could not but result in some of the ‘non-believers’ seeking the easier way out.

The annals of Aurangzeb’s reign furnish an interesting list of Hindus who were converted to Islam. The proselytizing activity of Aurangzeb seems to have started about the year 1666 and remained unabated till the end of his life. A list compiled after an exhaustive stndy of the original sources of his reign, more particularly the News Letter and the correspondence of the period forms an appendix to this chapter. Here it is necessary to take notice of some typical cases only.

In April, 1667, the cases of four revenue collectors (qanungoes) were brought up before the emperor. They had been dismissed for various faults. On 22 April, 1667, it was reported that they had expiated their shortcomings by accepting the true faith whereupon the emperor was pleased to order their reinstatement.

On 26 January, 1670, one Chanda submitted that he was a collateral of Budh Prakash, a zamindar. He declared, he was willing to become a Muslim, if Budh Prakash were set aside and the zamindari assigned to Chanda. Aurangzeb was prepared to accept this time-serving convert, but the minister, Asad Ullah Khan, opposed this manifestly unjust deposition of an innocent zamindir. 

Bhupat Singh requested that his brother Murari Das be given the vacant chieftainship of Choki Garh. Aurangzeb at once used the occasion for attempting a conversion and ordered that Murari Das be made the chief of Choki Garh if he accepted Islam. It seems that Murari Das resisted the temptation held forth to him.

A brother of the zamindar of Dev Garh accepted Islam and was given the name of Islam Yar. He was at once put into the possession at his conversion produced a very strong effect. Many members of the younger generation among the Rajputs saw therein an easy way of acquiring territory.

The Raja of Palaman was offered better terms if he would accept lslam.

A daughter of Raja Aniip Singh Rathor was married to Mu’azzam. She was first brought to the palace and there converted.

Probably the most sensational case of the reign was that of Netoji. He was Shivaji's commander-in-chief. When the Maratha Raja surrendered along with Sambhiji, Netoji was given a command of 5,000. When Shivaji escaped from Agra, Aurangzeb sent orders to Raja Jai Singh to capture Netoji and to send him to the Imperial Court as a prisoner. Raja Jai Singh carried out his orders and Netoji was sent to Agra. There he seems to have been kept a close prisoner. At last in the words of Abu'l Fazl Mamuri, he sought release by embracing Islam, though the official annalist would have us believe that he was a willing convert. He was thereupon liberated and given a mansab of 3,500. Later on he left the Mughal service and went back to Shivaji. There not only was he taken back into the Hindu fold, but Shivaji exalted him by giving him his own daughter in marriage.

On the North-West Frontier some forty miles from Jalalabad, the inhabitants were converted at the point of the bayonet.

A Hindu clerk killed the Muslim seducer of his sister. He was compelled to become a Muslim.

It is not surprising to find Tavernier declaring, ‘Under the cover of the fact that the rulers are Muslims, they persecute these poor idolators to the utmost and if any of the latter become Muslim, it is in order not to work any more’.

A letter written by the President and the Council of Surat on 22 January, 1668, suggests a rather ingenious method of making converts. The factors state that trade had been largely obstructed by the fierce bigotry of Aurangzeb and his persecution of the Hindus. ‘If a Muhammadan had no desire to discharge his debt to the bania and if the bania demanded the payment of the same, the Muhammadan would lodge a complaint to the Kazi that he had called the prophet names or spoken contumaciously of their religion, produce a false witness or two, and the poor man was forced to circumcision and made to embrace Islam. Several persons had been thus served to the great terror of all. This king not at all minding anything of his kingdom gives himself wholly upon the converting or rather perverting the banias.’ Forcible conversion of the Hindus at Surat, at last drove them to plans of migrating from Surat to Bombay. The English, however, turned down their request. The Hindus then closed their shops at Surat and eight thousand of them marched on to Broach to the emperor who was supposed to be there. What became of their appeal we do not know.

A study of these cases brings to light the several methods used by Aurangzeb for the purpose of making converts. Whenever two claimants to a property quarrelled, the most approved method of proving one’s title was to become a convert. This provided the most conclusive argument which nothing could upset. Of course the recorded cases only refer to such important disputes as were brought before the emperor. It is unlikely, however, that this ‘case law’ of the emperor was not followed by the lower courts who had to deal with minor disputes. Thus worldly advancement was placed as a bait before likely candidates for conversion and it would not be unreasonable to attribute a large number of conversionsn to this factor. Another method was to make terms with the convicts or suspects. Whatever might be a man’s crime, he could expiate for it by becoming a Muslim. Rebels thus could wash off their rebellions, felons their felonies, whereas the minor crimes of embezzlement and defalcation could be easily compounded by entry into the charmed circle of the faithful. Economic pressure was also used frankly for the purpose of making converts. The Jizya hit the poorest classes hardest and the Hindu traders paid higher taxes. War was used as a convenient weapon for the purpose of extending the faith and prisoners of war often swelled the ranks of the faithful. The converts, whatever their earlier failings, were always sure of a place at the court, in the imperial secretariat, and in the revenue or the accounts department. In certain cases 'forcible conversions' were also effected.

Popular Hindu and Sikh tradition ascribes mass conversions by force to Aurangzeb’s reign. Of course it has heightened the colours in the picture. But the examples quoted above prove that the emperor made it a part of his imperial duty to encourage conversions, personally admit converts to Islam and grant favours to the initiated. Of the converts it must be said that very few, if any, seem  to have changed their faith for religious reasons. Desire to escape civic disabilities or worse, and to acquire material benefits formed the motive force in most cases. It may be argued that the religion which these converts shook off so easily must have been sitting very lightly on them. But the history of the world contains a few martyrs and a host of trimmers. Hindu India of Aura.ngzeb’s reign was no exception. The wonder is not that so many were converted but that the vast majority of the Hindus kept their faith amidst so many temptations and such persecution.

NOTES

1. News Letter, 22 April, 1667.

2. ibid., 26 January, 1670.

3. Akham-i-’Alamgiri, 1970.

4. News Letter, Ramzan 15, sixteenth regnal year.

5. News Letter, 12 July, 1680.

6. ibid., 26 September, 1681.

7. ibid., 15 January, 1704.

8. Kalimat, Letter No. 109.

9. Nuskha-i-Dilkusha, 130a, 145b.

10. Alamgir Nama, 655.

11. ibid., 648.

12. Khafi Khan, II, 207.

l3. Alamgir Nama, 971-2, 987.

14. Marathi Riyasat, I, 490; Khafi Khan, II, 207, 234; Alamgir Nama, 1062.

15. Adab-i-Almngiri, 107b.

16. Maasir-i-Alamgiri, 73.

17. Tavernier, I, 391.

18. English Factories, XII, 284.

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