About 100 miles south of Delhi, where I live, lie the ruins of the Mughal capital, Fateh-pur Sikri. This was built by the Emperor Akbar at the end of the 16th century. Here Akbar would listen carefully as philosophers, mystics and holy men of different faiths debated the merits of their different beliefs in what is the earliest known experiment in formal inter-religious dialogue.
Representatives of Muslims (Sunni and Shi’ite as well as Sufi), Hindus (followers of Shiva and Vishnu as well as Hindu atheists), Christians, Jains, Jews, Buddhists and Zoroastrians came together to discuss where they differed and how they could live together.
Muslim rulers are not usually thought of in the West as standard-bearers of freedom of thought; but Akbar was obsessed with exploring the issues of religious truth, and with as open a mind as possible, declaring: “No man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to any religion that pleases him.” He also argued for what he called “the pursuit of reason” rather than “reliance on the marshy land of tradition”.
All this took place when in London, Jesuits were being hung, drawn and quartered outside Tyburn, in Spain and Portugal the Inquisition was torturing anyone who defied the dogmas of the Catholic church, and in Rome Giordano Bruno was being burnt at the stake in Campo de’Fiori. [complete article]