Ottomans v. Safavids v. Mughals Comparative Essay

The Safavid, Mughal, and Ottoman empires all depended in some way on the allegiance of non-Muslims to the empire. The Ottoman emperors were kinder on their conquered people, and the main separation between Muslims and non-Muslims in the empire was the tax on the dhimmis (non-Muslims). The Safavid leaders were more forceful in this regard. They imposed on subjects to convert to Islam unless they were an asset in trading with Europe. However, the leaders of the Mughal Empire, starting with Akbar, were far more just and understanding toward conquered people (mainly the Hindu population) in northern India. The Ottoman and Safavid empires had differing ideas as to how the population of non-Muslims should be treated within their empires. The Ottoman empire had a considerably fair treatment of all Christians and Jewish people, as these religions are the roots of Islam, but not much respect for Polytheistic religions. The dhimmis, or non-Muslims, had to pay a tax to be allowed to stay non-Muslim, but were otherwise left alone.

The “people of the book” who resided in the Ottoman empire were given substantial rights, and allowed to live in relative peace compared to how non-Christians were treated in Europe, and how non-Muslims were treated in the Safavid empire. The Safavid empire was very forceful in it’s conversions, and only really allowing non-Muslims to live peacefully if they were traders. Of course, the reason Safavids conquered the region was to spread Shi’a Islam. Since the Safavids weren’t very connected with Europe or the Americas in terms of trade, as their navy was very weak, they needed all the help they could get from Christian and Jewish traders within the empire.

These were the only non-Muslims with real rights within the empire. The ottomans also allowed education to be left to each millet (religious community) in the empire. This allowed for a more content population, especially in an empire with such connections to the entire Mediterranean Sea and to the Americas.

However, all education in the Safavid empire was controlled by Shi’ite state religious officials. In fact, the whole government was run by religious leaders. Because of this, much of the Iranian population that was not Muslim was converted to Shi’ism- Jewish people, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Sufi followers were converted. Every part of an Iranians life was in some way connected to Shi’ism, so not being a Shi’ite was a major drawback. The ottomans ruled indirectly, meaning that they let conquered areas be ruled traditionally in exchange for paying atax. In this way, non-Muslim people under ottoman rule were allowed to almost entirely keep to themselves, while those under Safavid rule were at a great disadvantage if they did not convert. A great majority of the people in the Safavid empire were Islamic; there wasn’t another predominant religion in the area like in the Ottoman empire (Christianity) and the Mughal empire (Hinduism), making the conversion system much more practical and applicable in this area rather than the Balkans or northern India.Mughal society was vastly different from both the Ottoman society and Safavid society, largely due to the fact that Hinduism, which was (and still is) the dominant religion in India, is polytheistic.

The Mughal emperor Akbar tried to alleviate tensions between the Muslim population in India and the Hindu population by creating compromising laws to reach a middle point between the vastly different Muslim laws and Hindu laws. He banned some traditional Hindu practice that he judged as inhumane, trying to help eliminate the biggest differences between Hinduism and Islam. Instead he simply infuriated the Hindus, who felt that their traditional way of life had been trespassed. Under the rule of Akbar and his sons, the much-despised tax on the Hindu population was lifted.

Hindu men were also allowed to take government positions, allowing the Hindu population to have some control over itself, but more importantly relieving some of the bitter feelings towards Muslim leaders. He even tried to create a religion, Din-i-Ilahi, that had mixed ideas from both Hinduism and Islam.