TravelFatehpur Sikri: the city of religious tolerance in India

Fatehpur Sikri: the city of religious tolerance in India

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Fatehpur Sikri means city of victory. It is located 35 km from Agra, in northwestern India. The city was built between 1571 and 1585 by the Mughal king Akbar and was intended to be a symbol of religious tolerance. Today it is a world heritage site in a perfect state of conservation.

Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal empire for 14 years. It forms a beautiful example of a Mughal walled city, with large public and private areas. It is believed that it had to be abandoned, apparently due to lack of water and many of its treasures being looted and stolen. It still retains its magnificent architecture, a mixture of Hindu and Islamic styles.

Jalaluddin Muhammad, known as Akbar; It belonged to the Mughals, a dynasty of Persian Muslim emperors descended from the Mongol Genghis Khan. The Mughals controlled much of Southwest Asia for more than three centuries. 

A difficult empire to rule

Specifically, Akbar ruled between 1556 and 1605 and came to control a territory that stretched across present-day northern India, parts of Pakistan, and even Kabul. He inherited from his father at the age of 13 an empire difficult to govern. 

To the usual wars, killings and betrayals of the time, we had to add the fact that the vast majority of his subjects did not profess Islam like him, but were Hindus. They were two very different religions whose discrepancies continue to cause, even today, strong clashes in India.

But Akbar was not a typical ruler. Unlike most of his predecessors and rulers of his time, he did not want to impose his beliefs… He did not do so on those who were already his subjects or on the inhabitants of the lands he was conquering, and he was governed by the Sufi concept of the Sulh -e-kul or “peace for all”. 

This is how the local guide Shamshad explained it on my trip to the area: «I try to seek happiness for everyone, I don’t just spend my life on myself. He took care of the population and that is why he was a successful ruler of all India and that is why he married three women of three different religions and that is why he is a great king in the history of India, because he was a king of open minded and believed in all religions. That is why he is a great ruler for all of India and he ruled for 49 years because he tried to make everyone happy and that is why he was a successful ruler of all of India.”

Promotion of union between religions

Akbar was, above all, political. He understood that maintaining an empire as complex as his required the support of its inhabitants and he knew how to gain great popularity among the population based on proximity and respect for local traditions, especially Hindu ones. 

Akbar authorized the construction of temples, abolished the current taxes for non-Muslims and allowed people of other religions to access high positions in his government.

Column in which different artistic and cultural styles are represented and which symbolizes the union between religions. Photo: Gonzalo Prieto.

Despite being illiterate, he developed a taste for the intellectual life, the arts and dealing with cultures foreign to his own. Specifically, he encouraged debate between theologians and had professors from the main religious denominations of the time, all in order to achieve an understanding between them. He invited to his court Hindus, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Jains, members of different Muslim streams such as Shiites, Sunnis and Sufis.

«King Akbar was very open-minded. He believed in all religions and therefore architects of all religions worked together. And that is why my city is one of the best in the world because there is no Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jewish problem and that is why people from all over the world come to my city looking for good wishes for good luck,” explains Shamshad. 

And he continues: «Religion means nothing in my city. Religion means happiness, taking care of people, doing good things. That means religion and that teaches religion. If you are a very religious person you need to take care of people, not cheat people, make people happy or not worry about what people do or don’t do.”

Charter of Felipe II, King of Spain and Portugal

In 1582, Philip II, King of Spain and Portugal, received a letter from faraway India written by Akbar, the Emperor. The purpose of the letter was to congratulate the monarch on his recent accession to the throne. But the letter also contained a message of tolerance unusual at a time when religious persecution ravaged Europe.

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