Dīn-i Ilāhī was an elite eclectic religious movement, which never numbered more than 19 adherents, formulated by the Mughal emperor Akbar in the late 16th century ad.
The Dīn-i Ilāhī was essentially an ethical system, prohibiting such sins as lust, sensuality, slander, and pride and enjoining the virtues of piety, prudence, abstinence, and kindness.
The soul was encouraged to purify itself through yearning for God (a tenet of Ṣūfism, Islāmic mysticism), celibacy was condoned (as in Catholicism), and the slaughter of animals was forbidden (as in Jainism). There were no sacred scriptures or priestly hierarchy in Dīn-i Ilāhī.
In its ritual, it borrowed heavily from Zoroastrianism, making light (Sun and fire) an object of divine worship and reciting, as in Hinduism, the 1,000 Sanskrit names of the Sun.
In practice, however, the Dīn-i Ilāhī functioned as a personality cult contrived by Akbar around his own person. Members of the religion were handpicked by Akbar according to their devotion to him. Because the emperor styled himself a reformer of Islām, arriving on Earth almost 1,000 years after the Prophet Muḥammad, there was some suggestion that he wished to be acknowledged as a prophet also. The ambiguous use of formula prayers (common among the Ṣūfīs) such as Allāhu akbar, “God is most great,” or perhaps “God is Akbar,” hinted at a divine association as well.
Akbar is recorded by various conflicting sources as having affirmed allegiance to Islām and as having broken with Islām. His religion was generally regarded by his contemporaries as a Muslim innovation or a heretical doctrine; only two sources from his own time accuse him of trying to found a new religion.
The influence and appeal of the Dīn-i Ilāhī were limited and did not survive Akbar, but they did trigger a strong orthodox reaction in Indian Islām.
Din-i Ilahi has been described as a combination of all moral principles of various religions which would satisfy all. In fact, Akbar wanted to introduce a national religion. In any case Din-i-Ilahi was not a proselytizing religion. It was confined to a selected few. It said that there is one God and that Akbar is his prophet, and preaches high ethical values which can be enumerated by Jain classification as nonviolence, truthfulness, honesty, chastity and ascetism.
When Akbar founded the religion, he did not preach it, nor did he institute preachers, but he founded an Ibadat Khana (House of Piety) where people of all religions were invited to discuss religious topics and peaceful debates was encouraged.
Dini Ilahi being close to Islam in the theology of God’s existence can at most accept the Sufi notion of monism, like exists also in the Dvaidadvaita, Shuddhadvaita, Vishishtadvaita and Gaudiya Vedanta, but not the monism of the Advaita Vedanta which is entirely mystical, and is a very unique feature of that tradition. Dini Ilahi being deistic, it is the closest to the Nyaya tradition of Hinduism.
Records from Akbar’s time said: “In the sequel it became evident to wise men, that salvation is to be obtained only by the knowledge of truth conformably with the precepts of the perfect prophet, the perfect lord of fame, Akbar, the Wise; the practices enjoined by him are: renouncing and abandoning the world; refraining from lust, sensuality, entertainment, slaughter of what possesses life; and from appropriating to one’s self the riches of other men; abstaining from women, deceit, false accusation, oppression, intimidation, foolishness, and giving to others opprobrious titles.” “Akbar called the harmless animals the beasts of peace, and showed abhorrence to their slaughter. It is tyranny to kill harmless animals, and a tyrant is an enemy of God, the Almighty.”
The ten virtues of Din-e Ilahi are:
- Liberal-mindedness and generosity
- Forgiveness of evil-doers and repulsion of anger with mildness
- Abstinence from the worldly desires
- Non-attachment to the materialistic world
- Careful weighing of pros and cons of actions to be taken
- Performance of noble deeds with courage
- Softness of voice and gentle speech
- Good behaviour to others
- Absolutely no connection with bad characters or evil-doers
- Total dedication to God
The religion had no script or written documents or prayers of its own but attempted to create an equal platform for many believers and therefore unity.
Din-e-Ilahi taught that:
- The soul should be encouraged to purify itself through yearning for god (Islam)
- Celibacy should be condoned (Christianity)
- The slaughter of animals were forbidden (Jainism)
- The object of light (Sun and fire) were divine worship (Zoroastrianism)
- To recite the 1000 Sanskrit names of the sun and that cows should not be killed (Hinduism)
However despite its attempt at being all-encompassing, the religion only had 18 adherents and faced fierce criticism from orthodox Muslims.