The Dīn-i-Ilāhī (Persian: “Religion of God”) is a doctrine that is a mixture of various religious concepts.
Its founder, Akbar the Great, the creator of the Mughal Empire, aimed to merge the various religions of his empire, namely Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism and Zoroastrianism to unite his people into one nation.
Akbar approved of tolerance towards various religions among his courtiers. In Fatehpur Sikri, he established an Ibādat Khāna (house of worship) where Muslims, Hindus, Parsis, Jainists and Christians gathered for philosophical disputes. Akbar reflected upon many religious teachings and realized that all of them worship One God. But no religious movement has a monopoly on the truth, so, all the disputes between them are senseless. In 1587, after elaborating upon this idea, Akbar created a new syncretic religious and philosophical doctrine called Dīn-i-Ilāhī. Most of the Muslim priests readily called it blasphemous (shirk).
The new religion was popular only at the Emperor’s court and only one person was faithful to it till his death. This was Birbal, Akbar’s minister. There are a few reasons for its decline:
Raja Man Singh, The Emperor’s military commander, rejected the new religion and said that he accepted only Islam and Hinduism.
Dīn-i-Ilāhī united mystics, philosophy, and the worship of nature. It claimed the One God who reveals Himself in various religions, and denied Polytheism. Dīn-i-Ilāhī goes back to the foundations of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism and Zoroastrianism and probably Buddhism also, and these are interpreted through the rational search for the truth. Qibla (the direction towards Mecca) is a sun, according to Akbar’s teaching. He burned the unquenchable fire (derived from Zoroastrianism), wore yajñopavītam (Barkman’s cord) and drew Tilaka (sacred sing in Hinduism) on his forehead. Beef was forbidden at his court.
Dīn-i-Ilāhī was more like a set of moral and ethical principles than a religion as such. Piety, wisdom, fasting, and kindness were the basic virtues. Passions, emotions, lies, and pride were all decried. The idea of cleansing the soul through the desire to communicate with God was derived from Sufism. Celibacy was possible (as for the Catholic clergy). Slaughtering animals was prohibited (as in Jainism). There were no sacred books and clergy in Dīn-i-Ilāhī.
The religion of Akbar the Great introduced the translations of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Gospels into Hindustani Islam. Mahabharata was translated by Badayuni, a pious Muslim. He regarded the task as a sin, so, every night after work he performed ablution and prayed. Though, some historians believe he was a sincere adherent of Dīn-i-Ilāhī.
This religion did not last after Akbar’s death. The number of its believers has never been more than 19 people.
Dīn-i-Ilāhī claimed all religions as equal in rights and in this respect, it was in advance of its time by hundreds of years.