in category Mughals

Was the Mughal State unIslamic, pragmatic and syncretic, Turkic and Mongol, with limited shari'a?

1 Answer
1 Answer
6 Helpful
0 Unhelpful

I am surprised to find people are claiming the Mughal State was not Islamic, pragmatic and syncretic, Turkic and Mongol, and it did not adopt the shari'a aside from a few minor areas. This is grossly untrue.

According to Professor M. Reza Pirbhai, Associate Professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar, in his "A Historiography of Islamic Law in the Mughal Empire", he describes the Mughal state as

"a state dependent on a vast network of Islamic legal thought and institutions rather than the capricious whims of "one man.""

Regarding claims of pragmatism, Turkic, Mongol origins etc, he dismisses them as oriental in nature - whilst having some relevance, they are part and parcel of an Islamic framework, not a negator of it:

"Rather, in the study of legal theory and its influence on practice by the Mughal state and those living under its watch, Orientalism's assumptions and essentialisms live on. The result is that the Mughals, once erroneously characterized as uniformly Islamic by Orientalists, are now often shorn from their Muslim contemporaries outside South Asia, to be branded as Indic, Indo-Persian, and/or Turko-Mongol, at the expense of broadly common Islamic identifiers."


"...Late works force the conclusion that knowledge of the administrative structure of Islamic law in the Mughal Sultanate has steadily grown for well over a century, but a similarly developed appreciation of the theory and practice of Islamic law under Mughal aegis begs further consideration.
The approaches these late scholars take and the conclusions they draw most starkly reveal that for the study of Islamic law to proceed, the advantages of expunging the remnants of Orientalism's perspective on Islam in general and its legal disciplines in particular bears much fruit. This not only references the equation of legal theory with an unchanging, exclusionary form of Qur'anic code, but encompasses the revisionist implication based on this assumption that Islamic legal theory has little to no bearing on the practice of the Mughal state or its subjects. That is not to say that Indic, Indo-Persian, or Turko-Mongol institutes and customs are inconsequential, or that political pragmatism does not come into play. It is a question of appreciating how these influences and exigencies are accommodated by and wrapped in an Islamic legal framework, rather than assuming that their acknowledgement is a natural signifier of Islamic doctrine's transgression."

The elaborate institutions of the Mughal state are for instance seen in the works of many researchers. J.N. Sarkar, "Mughal Administration" considered Mughal institutions in some detail.

He firstly claims the Mughal state, as an "Islamic" regime, albeit like his colonial masters an example of "centralized despotism," or "military rule" by "one man." He points out the "only law recognised" was "Quranic law" but "Hindu caste courts" and "Brahmanic courts were sanctioned" for the non-Muslim population. The sultan himself acted as the "highest court of appeal," advised by various qadis (judges) and muftis (jurisconsults) particularly of the Hanafi madhhab, but below him ranged a formal institutional structure headed by a Qadi al-Qudat and a Sadr al-Sudur - the former presiding over the qadis of the realm trying cases, the latter administering the judiciary and grants/endowments for schools individual scholars. Muhtasibs were also under the purview of the Sadr. Sarkar notes that the same institutions and functions were replicated in every provincial capital, but concludes that beyond those cities, community-based, custom-bound bodies prevailed in the villages.

Later scholarship added to the scale of legal institutions, the sense of an Islamic character comparable to such contemporaries as the Ottomans, as well as change over time, though none more so than W. Husain's "Administration of Justice during the Muslim Rule in India" (1934), Ibn Hasan's "The Central Structure of the Mughal Empire" (1936), and M.B. Ahmad's "The Administration of Justice in Medieval India" (1941). These works reconfirmed the basic institutional structure outlined by Sarkar, but challenged some of the shallowness of legal institutions he had portrayed under Orientalist assumptions. Most significantly, they showed qadi-courts, administered by an array of qualified jurists and administrators beside the qadi (e.g. mir 'adls), extended to the district (pargana) level, and naib-i qadis (deputy judges) were present further below.

Turning to legal practice, a number of works have lately illustrated the functioning of Islamic law, rather than its transgression, in South Asia's majority non-Muslim environs with anything but the one-sided bigotry assumed by earlier scholars and carried forth in more general histories. R.A. Khan's "The Practice of Escheat and the Mughal Nobility" illustrates the widespread use of this Islamic legal principle by the state, with its broad acceptance among the nobility, to confiscate property upon the holder's death in the case of Muslims of all ethnicities, but not Hindus. As well, G.C. Koslowski's "Imperial Authority, Benefactions and Endowments (Awqaf) in Mughal India" provides an overview of the state's extensive use of grants and endowments with specifically Islamic theoretical roots issued to Muslim and non-Muslim religious figures and institutions, though in the interests of pragmatic rather than pious state interests throughout the period of Great Mughals. S. Moosvi's consideration of marriage contracts (nikah nama) in Gujarat reveals the strict imposition of Islamic norms on the groom, such as the condition of monogamy, restrictions on violence, and compensation for desertion and the wife's right to divorce/annulment if any of these conditions are violated. Regarding the role of the qadi and his court, N. Chatterjee's "Hindu City and Just Empire: Banaras and India in Ali Ibrahim Khan's Legal Imagination" shows how well into the period of Lesser Mughals, custom, locality, and colonial exigencies continued to shape and be influenced by Islamic legal principles and procedures. On the other hand, S. Sen's "Retribution in the Subaltern Mirror: Popular Reckonings of Justice, and the Figure of the Qazi in Medieval and Precolonial Bengal" considers how the judge was perceived by subaltern non-Muslims, both as an exponent of Islam and that of elite authority.

Sudipta Sen's paper adds further detail stating:

"As prevalent laws pertaining to crime and punishment were drawn from the Shari 'a and the Hanafi legal code, and as Persian became the lingua juridica, vernacular and regional versions of the law were affected throughout the empire, as were no doubt popular conceptions of justice and retribution. Thus even without entering the enormous corpus of the usul al-fiqh (cf. Latin jurisprudentia) in classical Arabic and its versions in Indian Islam, which is beyond the scope of this paper, one could still show that the application of the law, howsoever formal, devolved on legal intermediaries who were at the same time imperial exponents of the law and visibly important members of local communities...
And the canonical institutions of Islamic criminal justice based on interpretations of the Shari 'a and the Hanafi School, including refined notions of restrictions and limits (hadd), equivalence (qisa¯s) and recompense (dı¯yat). Colonial intervention and appropriation of criminal jurisprudence and indigenous courts of law (along with their Qazis and Muftis) created a period of considerable uncertainty in the established legal culture...
The British retained the scaffolding of Islamic law while transforming its inner workings; to a certain extent the British-Indian Qazi was the herald of a hybrid endeavor, more likely an individual fraught with the difficulties arising from the conflict between contending regimes...
"It was not only Muslims who followed the Shari 'a law in Mughal India interpreted by the Qazis, non-Muslims including Hindus or indeed any category of persons considered as under the protection of the law (dhimmı¯s) were in principle subject to Islamic laws, although they reserved the right to be tried by judges from their own respective communities...."

In a recent valuable contribution, Farhat Hasan has shown:

that in the context of western India, the Qazi was very much part of the local administrative network: a key figure interposed between the local community and the imperial order.39 Usually the scion of a family of good standing and respectability, the Qazi was witness to births, marriages and death, involved in the maintenance of public monuments including mosques and hospices, an adjudicator for disputes between merchants and artisans, and thus a valued intermediary between the imperial regime and indigenous localities. Hasan also points out that the Qazi played an essential part in rendering the Shari 'a, determining the specific application of general legal principles"

User Settings

What we provide!

Vote Content

Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.

Multiple Perspectives

Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.

An authoritative community

Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come

Join Now !

Update chat message


Delete chat message

Are you sure you want to delete this message?