©The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
This contemporary painting by Narsingh depicts Jesuits at Akbar's court. Akbar the Great (1556-1605) belonged to the Mughals, a Muslim dynasty whose members reigned in northern India from 1526 through 1858. The empire of Akbar stretched from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. Akbar himself was a capable (although illiterate), shrewd, and conciliating administrator, who managed to gain the cooperation of the peoples and their rulers in the regions he conquered. He took expressed interest in the religious beliefs of his subjects, especially that of the Muslims and Hindus, and even entertained the desire of creating a new syncretistic cult.
In 1578, Akbar invited Jesuits from Goa to Fatehpur Sikri, some 110 miles south of Delhi. He wanted them to provide him and his Moslem and Hindu courtiers with first-hand knowledge about Christian doctrines (which, according to him, consisted of the message of the Tora and the Gospel). This invitation elicited great hopes among the Goan Jesuits. The provincial, Fr. Rui Vicente, sent three priests, Rudolf Acquaviva (who later suffered martyrdom and was declared blessed), the Persian born convert Francis Henriques, and Anthony Monserrate, for this first mission to the Mughal court (1580-1583). Their one clear objective, known to friend and foe alike, was to convert the emperor, and through him the people. In this task the fathers failed.
Throughout the years of acquaintance, Akbar showed sincere friendliness with them, but remained uncommitted. Their uncompromising advocacy for the Christian faith, occasionally perceived by the audience as aggressive, was met by the firm commitment of the Muslim scholars to Islam. The eclectic and rationalist politician, Akbar, who was also mystic, did not embrace Christianity. To the Jesuits, he was first an encouragement, then became an enigma, and, finally, a bitter disappointment.
From our modern day understanding, however, the Jesuit mission at the Mughal court may not be deemed a total failure. Art, literature, and history, in India as well as in Europe, benefited by the presence of Jesuit missionaries at Akbar's court. Their Christian presence probably helped to bring about a better understanding and dialogue between Islam and Christianity. The Jesuits at the Mughal court did end up writing an extremely important chapter in the history of religious dialogue in India, for the opening of a dialogue was precisely what the circumstances thrust upon them there. The friendship that came into existence outlived the first missionaries. Subsequent Jesuit missionaries were similarly well received by the Mughal court. This first contact created a pattern of normal relationships between the learned of different religious convictions.
Compiled by David N. Biacsi, S.J. nov., based upon the writings of S.N. Banerjee, J. Correia-Alonso, G.E. Ganss, H. Heras, J.S. Hoyland, and Ch. Troll.
The Page DesignThe initial design for the page was conceived by Raymond Bucko, S.J. after viewing the image from the Chester Beaty library which was used in an issue of Company Magazine. The initial site was constructed by Mr. Shaun Ellis of Le Moyne College. He designed the formats for the "Jesuits in Interreligious Dialogue" newsletters. The actual site design for the current pages as well as selection of fonts, font colors and and page titles and menu bars was executed by Mr. Steven Dare (firstname.lastname@example.org), a graduate of Creighton Univesity. The majority of the texts in the site were provided by Fr. Francis Clooney, S.J. of Boston College. This site is hosted at Creighton University.
Site Launched: December 3, 2000
This page last updated: September 18, 2001