Jahangir and Religion

Jahangir was certainly willing to engage with other religions.When drunk, Jahangir swore to Sir Thomas Roe, England's first ambassador to the Mughal court, that he would protect all the peoples of the book. Many contemporary chroniclers were not even sure quite how to describe his personal belief structure. Roe labelled him an atheist,

Most notorious was the execution of the Sikh Guru Arjun. It is unclear that Jahangir even understood what a Sikh was, referring to Guru Arjun as a Hindu, who had "captured many of the simple-hearted of the Hindus, and even of the ignorant and foolish followers of Islam, by his ways and manners … for three or four generations (of spiritual successors) they had kept this shop warm." The trigger for Guru Arjun's execution was his support for Jahangir's rebel son Khusrau Mirza, yet it is clear from Jahangir's own memoirs that he disliked Guru Arjun before then: "many times it occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam."

Guru Arjun was handed over to the Mughal governor of Lahore, and was tortured to death for refusing to convert to Islam. Jahangir ordered his execution, but it is unlikely that he also ordered Guru Arjun to be tortured and converted, for two reasons; one, because we have no other examples from Jahangir's generally tolerant reign to support the idea that he forced people to convert to Islam, and two, because Jahangir makes no note of Guru Arjun's torture, yet cheerfully describes the torture of two other rebels, as well as Guru Arjun's execution. Jahangir maintained his hostility towards the Sikhs, imprisoning Guru Hargobind, the successor of Guru Arjun, for several years.

Such a religious situation allowed the more recently arrived form of Christianity to have opportunity to grow. Jahangir did not seem to have anything against Christianity. He wrote fondly of Akbar's reign, when "Sunnis and Shias met in one mosque, and Franks and Jews in one church, and observed their own forms of worship." Roe noted that "of Christ he never utters any word unreverently." His prayer room in Agra contained pictures of "our Lady and Christ." In the imperial palace in Lahore, over one of the doors, according to William Finch, a merchant, was "the Picture of our Sauiour," with an image of the Virgin Mary facing it. Elsewhere, the emperor had pictures of angels and demons, with the demons having a "most ugly shape, with long hornes, staring eyes … with such horrible difformity and deformity, that I wonder the poore women are not frightened therewith."

There was even some baseless suggestion that Jahangir had converted to Christianity. Thrown by the religious tolerance of Akbar and Jahangir's rule, the Jesuits had long thought that they were always on the verge of conversion.

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