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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.