Akbar probed into open-mindedness from the very beginning of his career. However, his secular views surfaced clearly sometime around 1580. Thereafter, his acceptance of and respect for other faiths was so unconditional that the voice of orthodoxy, Abdul Qadir Badaoni, and the Christian Jesuits declared that perhaps he was not a Muslim. Shaikh Ahmad Sarhindi went a step further and claimed that Akbar had not only deviated from Islam, but he hated it.
A simple explanation for Akbar’s liberalism is often located in the claim that his mother was a Shia and therefore he was exposed to the idea of balancing differences of creed from early childhood. However, Iqtidar Alam Khan opines that Hamida was not a Shia, since her brother Mu’azzam Beg was involved in the assassination of Humayun’s Shia Wazir Khwaja Sultan Rushdi (1546), and the killing was understood to be the design of orthodox Sunni bigots.
This shifts the focus towards other early influences on the Baadshah’s mind— and in this context the role of his tutors seems noteworthy. Two of them were Irani Shias—Bairam Khan and Mir Abdul Latif Qazvini—and the third was a Sunni Turani, Munim Khan. Luckily, all of them were above sectarian prejudices. In fact, if one digs deeper, beyond the general liberality of Akbar’s immediate ancestors one finds the roots of toleration in the Mongol traditions.
The cultural ethos of the Timurids promoted broad-mindedness. Timur respected all religions and Shias were never persecuted in the Timurid principalities. The Yasa-i Chingezi was literally a guidebook of the Timurids and according to Alauddin ‘Ata Juwaini, it required the ruler ‘to consider all sects as one and not to distinguish them from one another.’ According to Juwaini, Chengiz Khan refrained from bigotry, communal preferences and discriminatory policies. In fact, Iqtidar Alam Khan attributes Akbar’s persecution of the Shias and Mahdavis (1560) to the erosion of the influence of Yasa-i-Chingezi. In the 1560s, the Chishti Khanqahs (hospices) had introduced Akbar to a liberal way of thinking. In addition to his regard for Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, he was particularly indebted to Shaikh Salim Chishti of Sikri. After the death of many of his newly born children, Akbar left one of his pregnant queens at the Shaikh’s khanqah at Sikri and requested him to pray for the birth and survival of an heir.