Asia Discussion Middle East

Aurangzeb: The Salafi Mughal Emperor?

Written by Shoaib

In the early winter of 1658, India was undergoing political turmoil. The Emperor Shah Jahan had become ill and abdicated the throne in favour of his eldest son Dara Shikoh. Shah Jahan spent his reign engulfed in the midst of his riches where he would entertain himself with music, dance and narcotics. Too often we remember his achievement of creating the Taj Mahal but history forgets the oppression of the poor builders and labourers who paid the real price for the build.

The Mughal Kingdom had no concept of primogeniture (the passing of the crown to the eldest son), in fact it had become customary to overthrow your father and brothers to become King, even if it meant everyone’s death. Shah Jahan’s abdication meant this process began.

Of the four brothers, Aurangzeb had the most military experience and competence in governance. Dara and Aurangzeb stood as a stark contrast to each other. Dara, like his father, enjoyed parties, dance, lavish spending and had little consideration of the poor. Aurangzeb on the other hand was a devout worshipper who took his governance seriously, often spending time with his soldiers or listening to the complaints of the poor. It is no wonder that in a matter of months he had completely assumed power over greater India.

His Reign

It became well known that Aurangzeb prayed regularly and even woke to pray voluntary prayers at night (Tahajjud). He not only read the Quran daily but also wrote copies of the Quran which were sold at market along with caps he had sewn, all so that he did not take personal money from the treasury. He redirected all the wealth, which had been spent for personal use and frivolity by his predecessors, on military expeditions, crushing all rebellions and making the Mughal Empire the largest it had ever been.

A handwritten copy of the Quran written by Aurangzeb

A handwritten copy of the Quran written by Aurangzeb

He banned music and singing, despite being accomplished in both. He banned alcohol, gambling, dancing, castration, drugs, unjust taxes, and bowing to the King. All which were the legacy of the Mughal Empire under his predecessors.

Noticeably Aurangzeb had taken to heart lessons he had learnt from his teacher Muhammad Salafi. He had learnt Hanafi Fiqh (Law) so actively took part in court compared to his predecessors but relied on the scholars to issue final verdicts. By the end of his reign he compiled his Shariah rulings into one book “Al Fatawa Al Alamgiriyah” which became popular across the entire Muslim world under the name “Al Fatawa Al Hindiyah”

Aurangzeb actively fought against invented practices in Islam (bidah)and myths. He fought against Sufism, sometimes to extremes for example killing Sarmad Kashani, a naked “majzoob” (holy man). He prevented Sufism to such an extent that prominent Sufi Bulleh Shah one day danced and played music in the streets of Lahore in protest of their practices being shut down.

His legacy was a military one as well as a religious one. Sufi Islam rarely recognises a military aspect to Islam whereas it was said that once Aurangzeb left his throne for the battlefield, he never returned to his throne except to die.

Tombs and processions were the hallmark of a Sufi funeral so he drew a will forbidding that his grave be simple without a tomb built around it and that no lavish procession take place with his body. His desire to return Islam to its original pure state was undeniable. Perhaps this is why some referred to him as a “remnant of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs.” (Shaykh Tantawi).

Was he really a Salafi?

A Salafi is someone who believes in strict monotheism, that nothing can be added to Islam after the Prophet ﷺ and that the first three generations of Muslims (the Salaf) ought to be emulated. Ahlul Hadeeth, meaning follower of the Prophet’s ﷺ Hadeeth (words or actions), is another word for Salafi.

The word Salafi pops up early in Aurangzeb’s life, his closest teacher throughout childhood was Muhammad Saleh Kamboh Salafi. His attempt to rule in the guidance of the early generations along with his attempts to eradicate polytheism and bidah shows adherence to the grain of Salafiyyah. Furthermore his reign of banning music, dance and Sufi practices indicates a clear Salafi rulership compared to the Sufi rulership of his forefathers, especially Akbar.

Fatawa Hindiyya/Alamgiriya of the Hanafi rulings under Aurangzeb

Fatawa Hindiyya/Alamgiriya of the Hanafi rulings under Aurangzeb

There are 4 Schools of Fiqh known as Madhhabs: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali. Salafis do not blindly follow any instead reconcile all of them by following whichever of the four is closest to the Hadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ. Salafiyyah isn’t incompatible with the schools of thought, rather it attempts to follow them the way they were followed originally not the blind and rigid way they were followed later.

Aurangzeb ruled by Hanafi Fiqh, something often sited as proof he couldn’t have been Salafi. But by looking at the past through a modern lens we fail to grasp context. Take Shaykh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, for example, there is no doubt he is Salafi for he fought against polytheism (shirk) and bidah. However he was Hanbali  when it came to Fiqh. Clearly when it comes to ruling by a school of thought, it does not necessarily mean complete blind following of it.

A consideration to make is that the Hanafi school of thought was the only one widely available throughout India. Maliki, Hanbali, Shafi’ Fiqh were all scarcely taught. It was only after Shah WaliUllah travelled to Hajj (1737) that any alternative began becoming more widely available in the Indian subcontinent.

It is also historically documented that the Hanafi judges, the state, leadership and scholars kept a great deal of pressure on the ruler they served to maintain the Hanafi status quo (Imaam al-Fullanee in al-Eqaadh p.171)

For example when the Hanafi scholar Abu Yusuf Al-Qadee was appointed Chief Judge he was given the sole right to appoint the judges of modern day Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Jordan, Egypt etc. He chose people solely from his own Hanafi madhhab (school of thought) to be the judges throughout the main parts of the Muslim lands. This suppressed all the other madhhahib and became a theme for every new Chief Judge appointing people under themselves. This is mentioned by Shah WaliUllah in HujjahAllah al-Baligah and Al-Maqreezee in Al-Khutat as well as many other books.

Aurangzeb is often referred to as a “Sufi” in many of his biographies, something which again may indicate he wasn’t of Salafi belief. The word Sufi is often used in India to mean any pious person. Often times even today in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh people will say “so and so is such a Sufi” meaning “so and so is pious”. One thing we can say for sure looking at his legacy is he was definitely not a Sufi.

Was this the first time Salafis were in India?

“Salafi” is interchangeable with the word “Ahlul Hadeeth”. The word Ahlul Hadeeth dates back to the companions of the Prophet ﷺ as well as their students and their students after them.

When the youth came to study with the companion of the Prophet ﷺ Abu Saeed Al-Khudri (ra) he said:

“Come oh youth, you have come to seek knowledge. The Prophet ﷺ instructed us to open the gatherings for you. For indeed you, after us, are the Ahlul Hadeeth”
– Sharaf Ashabul Hadeeth by Khateeb Baghdadi. Classed Sahih by Albaani in Silsila Sahiha

Historians of the early era of Islam describe how the Ahlul Hadeeth were very widespread. Islam had conquered Azerbaijan in 22AH, Africa in 27AH, Spain in 92AH and India in 90AH. This all before the great Imams had even began working on their madhahib and the majority of the Muslims were Ahlul Hadeeth.

“I found pagans and I found Muslims, most of the Muslims are Ahlul Hadeeth”
– Ahmad ibn Bashar al-Maqdisi upon seeing the Muslims in Mansura, Sindh in 365AH


“I found Muslims, most of the Muslims are Ahlul Hadeeth” Maqdisi on arrival in India

The second Caliph of Islam Umar (ra) officially sent preachers to India in 15AH. There are even earlier reports that some Indian tradesmen had heard of the Prophet ﷺ in Makkah and taken news of it to India. A group of new Muslims were travelling from India to meet the Prophet ﷺ but on their journey they learnt of the Prophet’s ﷺ death. This shows Islam was  all years before Muhammad bin Qasim (the conqueror of India) was even born!

The earliest of the four great Imams was Imam Abu Hanifa (rh) who was born in 80AH and then Imam Maalik (rh) born in 93AH. Islam had already reached the parameters it is at today. Add on to this the time it took for the Imam’s to learn, then form their schools of thought, then teach their students, then their students to fully grasp the schools of thought and then were able to take this understanding to the world. In the mean time the Muslim world had been ruled by something other than their schools of thought for a long time; The madhhab of Ahlul Hadeeth.

Abu Mansoor ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi (born 369AH) sheds light on this:

“It is clear that the people of the lands of Ar-Rum (Rome meaning Europe), Al-Jazeerah (Arab lands), Ash-Shaam (Jordan and Syria), Azerbaijan, Baab-ul-Abwaab  and others which were conquered were all upon the madhhab of Ahlul Hadeeth. Also the inhabitants of Africa, Andalus (Spain) and all the countries beyond the western sea (Americas) were from the Ahlul Hadeeth. Also the people of the lands of Al-Yaman (Yemen) upon the Zanaj coastline were all from the Ahlul Hadeeth”

Centuries before Aurangzeb, Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi (born 361AH) was one of the greatest Muslim leaders of his era. He ruled over modern day Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Whilst he spent the first part of his life Hanafi he later said “As-Sultan (referring to himself) has left the Hanafi madhhab to the madhhab of Ahlul Hadeeth” (Tareekh of Ibn Khalliqaan)


“As-Sultan has left the Hanafi madhhab to the madhhab of Ahlul Hadeeth” Mahmud Ghazni 971 – 1030 CE

Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq, over 300 years before Aurangzeb, also showed clear Salafi beliefs. Although not asserting his beliefs at the beginning of his reign, towards the end he followed orthodox Islam. The traveller, Ibn Batutta, describes Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq as meticulous in his prayers and who stuck strictly to the commands of the Quran and Hadith, punishing those who innovated anything new (bidah).

Alam al Din (grandson of the well known Sufi Baha al-Din Zakariyya of Multan) again centuries before Aurangzeb ascribed to Salafi beliefs and after Aurangzeb, Shah WaliUllah did the most work to tackle bidah and misguidance and to promote the way of the Salaf.

Ahlus Sunnah only have one name, they are Ahlul Hadeeth
– Abdul Qadir Jilani in Gunya Tu Talibeen

Abdul Qadir Jilani is venerated by Sufis today referred to as “Gaus Pak” and for whom the practice of Giyyarvee has become innovated. Ironically he himself was Ahlul Hadeeth and opposed to Sufism.

These examples show that Salafi beliefs were nothing new to India showing that Aurangzeb too was a Salafi. All of Aurangzeb’s opinions and beliefs will never be known. His track record clearly shows someone who promoted the way and the following of the Salaf. He stood against shirk and bidah in every way including on the battlefield. What could be closer to being Salafi than these characteristics?

This in no way is to say if he was not Salafi then he was not righteous. Nor is it to say anyone else who is not Salafi has not served Islam and Muslims. Its just that the contribution of the Ahlul Hadeeth/Salafis is the history which is less spoken of making it a lot more interesting to discuss.

About the author


Writing is my passion. Pharmacy is my career. The truth is my resolve. My kids are my life. You can catch me on Facebook and Twitter!


  • His ustadz was a direct descendant of Umar ibn Khattab radhiAllaah anhu. He killed his own brother Dara, who was heretic, the one who had memorised portions of hindu scriptures.

    Allaah Azza wa Jal facilitated him in gaining power and enabling to crush paganism during his era.

  • Rebranding a renowned Hanafi ruler as salafi is awkward i thing. No mazhab cause bida’h its the ignorance which is the main cause of bida’h. The arab was engulfed with bida’h before Sahaikh Wahhab Rahimahullah and he is Hanbali also Sultan Gaznavi chose Shafee Mazhab leaving Hanafi . Shaykh abdul Qadir Jilani rahimahullah was Hanbali, Mujaddid a Alfe e Sani was Hanafi and Ashraf Ali Thanwi was also Hanafi and great Imam of Tazkiyah so in a sense All the righteous predecessor followed among the four school of thought.

    Yes in a sense all mazhabi are salafi because the chain of Fiqh reach to sahaba radiallahu’anhum and the compiler of mazhab are also tabe’i or tabe’in, And the people who practice, remember, learn hadith they are call ahlul hadith.

    In short words my expression is do not stand head to head the Ahlul Hadith and Salafi term to Fiqh school of thought. Two are different things with different definition. Allah knows best 🙂

  • Poor poor article. Poor English, dishonest generalizations, ridiculous conclusions and laughable strawman-esque arguments.

    When can one start! Just a few points to help a man pursuing truth to realise the folly of the article:

    Mahmood Ghaznawi, from a millenium ago, did not follow the Ahle Hadith of Indian subcontinent which sprung couple centuries back…a simple student of deen knows that many a time Ahl al-Hadith in the early times referred to non-Hanafis/non-Ahl al-Ra’y. Shaf’i’i and Ibn Hanbal were champions of that usage of “Ahl al-Hadith”!

    And btw….
    Salahuddeen, the warrior king, was a Sufi.
    So was Nooruddeen Zengi – the Turk warrior king.
    So was Ibn Tumart, the founder of the Muwahhidoon dynasty.
    And the Sanusis of N Africa.

    So was Shah Waliyullah….Fuyud al-Haramain, Hama’at, Tafheemat…lol, hardly what modern Salafis will approve of! He himself talks of the sheer amount of Sufi silsilahs he was part of, had ijazahs from. He got them from India and then different types (Shadhili, Ba alawi etc) from Arabia.

    And so was Aurangzeb, a Sufi, whether you like it or not.
    He spread, preserved & enforced Hanafi fiqh. He practised, encouraged & helped purify the Naqshbandi silsilah of Tasawwuf. And of course, he opposed, helped eradicate & guide the misguided pseudo-Sufis and disrespectful Shi’is. Executing a Jewish-Hindu type of Sufi who was polluting pristine Shariah-based Sufism does not make him anti-Sufi. He was helkping it, purifying it!
    If opposing the bid’ahs of heretical Sufis makes him “Salafi” – then opposing extreme Shiahs makes you Nasibi. Shoaib bhai, it’s either 1 of 2 things it seems:

    1) A sort of willful ignorance (tajahule arifana) being applied to avoid any sort of cognitive dissonance in the mind of one’s own idealistic understanding of history or that of one’s fellows in the sect.
    2) Simply an incapability of nuanced understanding of the ikhtilafs, strands and sects of Ahl al-Sunnah & others throughout our history.

    Such ignorant generalizations of juhhal have always existed amongst awaam in the Ummah…hence when Imam Shafi’i & Imam Nisaa’i opposed the Ahl al-Bayt-cursing Nasibis, juhhal said oh, theyre rafidis now!
    When Imam Bukhari disagreed with the extreme literalists re Khalq al-Qur’an, they said oh, he’s a Mutazil type guyi.
    When Imam Hasan al-Basri opposed the materialist-types in his day, juhhal said oh, he’s almost like a khariji/qadriyyah (Qadr-rejectors).

    When the great Sultan Awrangzeb Alamgir Naqshbandi opposed heterodox sufis, some juhhal say oh, he’s a salafi. The heterodox juhhal sufis will say oh, he’s a wali-hater, gustakh etc…

    And the way you try to argue his being Hanafi was somehow probably due to pressure of Ulama by citing an incident of 7 centuries prior to him in Baghdad is the very definition of strawman arguments…maybe I’ll use this as an example in future discussions as how ‘not’ to present arguments.

    Also have a read of Fatawa Alamgiriyya will you…plenty of Sufi stuff in there for our “Ahle Hadith” brethren to use in their anti-Hanafi propaganda.
    Give us a break.

    • Poor English? Please provide reference so I can correct it.
      Poorly written? Yes a lot of what you wrote came across as aggressive. Aggression and belittling a person usually comes in when ones beliefs have been shaken up, and for that I’m proud.

      At least you took the time to read the article. Thank you.

      Firstly a strawman argument is when you create a false argument and then refute it. I didn’t refute anyones beliefs. I haven’t said Sufism is bad, just that Aurangzeb was clearly against it from reading his biography.

      Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi, I agree with you but toward the end of his life he said (as detailed in his article) he said “The Sultan followed the hanafi madhhab but now follows the madhhab of the ahlul hadeeth”

      Something that you keep applying is your modern understanding of Ahlul Hadeeth/Salafi. Its an ancient term as old as Islam as detailed in the article from Abu Saeed Al-Khudhri, there’s even a hadeeth with the use of the word. No one is saying Aurangzeb or any of these people belonged to the current modern day salafi organisations nor to Jamiat AhleHadith India. Its the principles he displays throughout his life that he shares with the original people.

      Using Baghdadis quote was to show that the Ahlul Hadeeth madhhab was widespread in the early centuries so there was no reason why someone like Tughluq, Ghaznavi, Aurangzeb etc were Salafi/Ahlul Hadeeth.

      You just have to glance at Shah WaliUllah’s life to realise that when he went on Hajj he was a Sufi Naqshbandi and returned Ahlul Hadeeth.

      Either way, mr., why not have your name properly so we can discuss. Clearly you share a passion for history too and there’s no reason why we can’t discuss this in a civilised way without attempting low blows like claiming each others English is lacking!

      • What you see as a show of aggression, as I clearly mentioned, was at the fallacy of the article’s premises. Alhamdulillah my beliefs were not remotely shaken by this article – but maybe my emotions were shaken: slight anger & frustration at a meek attempt at distorting the truth…because of the potential for misleading innocent readers.

        Of course I read the article, I love all things Aurangzeb-related, which is why this article is so disappointing! As for you reading my reply above, I’m not so sure! I would appreciate you re-read it…

        All you just said about Ahle Hadith…sigh…please re-read what I posted. I didnt deny it’s existence before, but Shafi’is, Hanbalis, and sometimes even Maliki & Hanafi muhaddiths were called Ahl al-Hadith. It meant Scholars of Hadith! Modern Indo-Pak usage: – a version of salafis, who generally have a tendency of Hanafi-hating.

        BTW the meaning of Straw man argument: When you present an argument (A) in a way that it appears to refute a particular claim (B), when it is actually irrelevant to claim (B) and rather proving something else entirely (C).

        A – Aurangzeb banned bid’aat and the heresies of pseudo-Sufis like his brother and Sarmad etc.
        B – Aurangzeb was a Sufi
        C – Aurangzeb was against heterodox Sufism.

        You are using A to refute B, when in reality it only proves C.
        And C and B are not remotely contradictory.
        Or else every prominent accepted Sufi of history will be non-Sufi, Junayd al-Baghdadi (did he not condemn al-Hallaj), al-Qushayri (see his Risala for condemning bid’aat), al-Ghazali (frequently lambasts wayward Sufis) etc etc.

        Many such examples in the article.

        The other things I claimed were:
        “Poor English, dishonest generalizations, ridiculous conclusions and laughable strawman-esque arguments”.

        Sorry if you felt the English comment was a low-blow – that was probably uncalled for from myself. TBH it was a part of my critique on the article, but maybe not relevant to the real issue I have with your premises. But the rest of my post is no low or high blows – it’s things to actually consider.

        Here is a “dishonest generalization”:

        “Aurangzeb fought against Sufism….He prevented Sufism to such an extent that prominent Sufi Bulleh Shah one day danced and played music in the streets of Lahore in protest of their practices being shut down”

        Why would you generalize that action of Aurangzeb to mean “preventing” & “fought against” Sufism when you, as a student of history, know so well that he spent his life honouring and practising the ways of the pure Sufiyyah…and his efforts were to remove heresies from extreme Sufis, not to remove Sufism in general. Why do you give an example of a dancing musician Sufi instead of the real Sufis of the time, the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi tareeqah, to which Aurangzeb belonged. That’s what I meant by dishonest generalization (of the term Sufism).

        “ridiculous conclusion” is the title itself. I’ve tried to explain the simple well-known disparity in the usage of the term Ahle Hadith in both my posts. Seekers of the truth can analyse honestly.

        Straw man argument example above.

        What does my name have to do with discussing??

        Few more points about your latest reply:

        – “Using Baghdadi’s quote…” – I wasn’t referring to Baghdadi’s quote. I was referring to how you tried to prove Aurangzeb could have been pressured into adopting Hanafiyyah (when in reality his inner passion was for the way of our Ahle Hadith brethren of today or something????, lol!!) but was too scared of opposing the Hanafi Ulama – for that you cited the state of Baghdad (not Baghdadi) by using as evidence the practice of Imam Abu Yusuf….now kindly re-read my argument on this. (BTW this is another fine example of straw man argument)

        khayr bhai, May Allah guide us to the truth and grant us honesty and integrity in the field of ilm. Ameen

        • Another important issue about my first reply which you did not address:

          When I mentioned examples of Salahuddeen etc, it was in reference to this most “dishonest generalization” and “ridiculous conclusion” from the article:

          ” Sufi Islam rarely recognises a military aspect to Islam whereas it was said that once Aurangzeb left his throne for the battlefield, he never returned to his throne except to die.”

          Now in that light read the Salahudden etc examples.

          This is also a baseless claim without proof.

          • Oh and I almost forgot…re Shah Waliyyullah.
            You say look at his life…indeed…look at his life. And also look at what I mentioned re him in my first reply. I have Fuyood al-Haramayn before me at this moment…not even a muta’assib anti-Sufi can deny this is the work of one of the greatest Sufis of his day. It’s essentially a Sufi!

  • I noticed above comment may appear aggressive to author. I apologize if that is the case.
    What has come out as an aggressive disapproval is intended for the arguments, not the author.

  • Just a baseless and man made story without evidences and proofs..these kind of stories can give u a bit of relaxation that you are on right path but believe me it is far away from the Truth and righteousness..
    May Allah show us the right path..

  • For interest here’s an article by one of the staunchest Salafi ulama of our day in relation to Aurangzeb and this very question:

    I’m not claiming that Shaykh is an authority on this topic, Indian historians are authorities on Indian history, not Arab Ulama, due to language barrier. He’d have used secondary and/or tertiary sources. But he does not claim to be an expert on Aurangzeb’s history, but has merely analysed the facts before him honestly. Here is a quote:

    “… but in fact he (may Allah have mercy on him) was a Hanafi in terms of madhhab, and what is well-known about the Hanafis in that land is that they are Maturidis in terms of beliefs (‘aqeedah). Many of those who have written biographies of him stated that he was a Sufi. Allah knows best about him and his beliefs. There is nothing that we know about that for certain.”

    A Hanafi, Maturidi and a Sufi.

  • look up khushal khan khattak before you call Aurangzeb a sufi or a saint of sorts. this person was our sworn enemy and his islam was built upon the blood of the afghan people.

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