Islam Shah Sur, the forerunner of Akbar in reforms and policies

In Islam Shah we see the initiation of many of the institutions and principles which passed as precious legacy to his Mughal successors.

Islam Shah made a definite contribution to the system of strong monarchy and centralized administration. By assuming the title of Khalifat-al-Adil and surrounding himself with dignitaries and great ceremonials, he gave spectacular form to royalty and greatly raised the dignity and majesty of kingship. Indeed, his work encouraged Akbar to propound the theory of “divine right of kingship” revealed in the writings of Abu Fazal who says, ” Royalty is a light emanating from God and a ray from the sun”. In connection with pardon of Daud. Akbar said, “By virtue our being the shadow of God, we receive little and give much. Our forgiveness has no relish for vengeance.” Following Islam Shah, Akbar took the title of Khilafat-i-Ilahi and elevated royalty to a unique position.

Akbar’s reduction of the position of the Mughal chiefs to a position of official nobility was but continuation of the policy and work of Islam Shah.

In Islam Shah’s administration through bigger units, we find the beginning of Akbar’s subah administration. It was the ideal of Sher Shah to govern in smaller units, like the Sarkars. Islam Shah on the other hand, thought that the bigger units, such as the provinces, were more useful for an efficient administration.

To Islam Shah is also due the credit for the introduction of the mansabdari system which received systematic shape in Akbar’s reign. He divided his army into several divisions beginning from 50 to 20,000 and introduced the system of mansab in the army. He placed each division under a noble, who was paid, according to his mansab, in stipend from the royal treasury instead of in jagir. This made the Afghan chiefs stipendiaries and official nobles of the king. Islam Shah also introduced the system of paying the soldiers in cash.  

Indeed, Islam Shah’s was the first attempt at the codification of the local laws regulating the lives of the individuals and officers. His hukamnamahs are the precursors of the dastur-ul-amal (the annals of instructions) of Mughal times. The hukamnamahs contained comprehensive instructions on all important affairs, religious, political and civil in eighty sheets of paper. They were intended to regulate the life of the soldiers, the subjects, the merchants, and other classes of people.  The hukamnamahs were sort of manual of instructions to be followed by the local officers in their dealings with the people. The officers read them in the public meetings and thus gave them adequate publicity in the localities. 

In the introduction of liberal ideas in Islam, his activities prepared the way for the rationalism of Akbar’s reign. Also, Islam Shah’s liberal policy towards the non-Muslim elements of India’s population encouraged his great Mughal successor to advance further in promoting the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity.

In Islam Shah’s patronage to the learned and his interest in philosophical discussions with them, we find the dawn the intellectual renaissance that took place in the reign of Akbar.  

“The fort of Selimghur, Delhi,”
the Illustrated Times, 1857. The fort was built by Islam Shah Sur

Book consulted: History of the Afghans in India by M.A.Rahim

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