The Islamic World to 1600
Humayun had the misfortune in history of reigning between two very strong leaders - his father, Babur, and his son, Akbar. Using those comparisons, Humayun comes up short, and is generally remembered in Mughal history as an opium addict with a lack of confidence in himself as a ruler. The main battles he had to fight throughout his life were against his three brothers, all of whom wanted a chance on the throne. Since Babur had died only four years after defeating Sultan Ibrahim to establish the Mughal Empire, the empire was on very shaky foundations. It was essentially just a military occupation of Hindustan, since Babur had not had time to establish an administration for his conquered land. Humayun did attempt to set up such an administration, but his penchant for superstition got in the way. He divided public offices into four departments according to the four elements, which resulted in many unrelated administrative sectors being lumped together in the same department, on the basis of their broad characteristics as earth, fire, water, and air. Similarly, Humayun assigned each day of the week to represent a different planet; Tuesdays, for example, were assigned to the red planet Mars, and Humayun duly played the role of the angry ruler on those days.
Away from these peculiarities at court, however, Humayun faced serious challenges from those vying for the Mughal throne. Foremost among these challengers were Humayun's brothers, Kamran, Askari, and Hindal, the latter of whom was born as Babur was preparing his invasion of Hindustan, and was thus named accordingly. The fourth challenger Humayun faced was Sher Shah, ruler of a community of Afghans living along the Ganges River in northeastern India. Sher Shah had his sights set on conquering Bengal, the region of the present-day country of Bangladesh, which Humayun also wanted for the Mughals. A race for the wealthy territory in 1537 resulted in Sher Shah's victory when Humayun's party was delayed on the Ganges.
While Humayun was in Bengal, however, his youngest brother, Hindal, had taken over his palace in Agra, and was living as the Mughal emperor. At the same time, another brother, Kamran, was en route to Agra from his territories in Punjab, in northern India. After suffering defeat to Sher Shah in Bengal, Humayun returned to Agra to find all three of his brothers there to challenge him. Humayun's non-confrontational nature led him to pardon his brothers for their betrayal, and leave the matter at that. Had he been willing or able to kill or imprison his male relatives who might challenge for the throne - the way Ottoman sultans and, increasingly, Safavid shahs did - Humayun may have been able to avoid the trouble his usurping brothers caused.
In 1540, Humayun again faced Sher Shah in battle, and this time, the Mughal defeat was total. Sher Shah chased Humayun and his brothers, who had uncharacteristically united in the battle, back to Agra. The four brothers continued west to Lahore, in the far north of Hindustan, while Sher Shah reached Delhi and proclaimed the replacement of the Mughal Empire with his own dynasty, the Sur. Humayun remained incapacitated at Lahore for a year, unable to muster the troops to defeat Sher Shah, and equally unable to seek refuge in Babur's home city, Kabul, because it was controlled by Humayun's hostile brother, Kamran.
In 1542, Humayun set off for Sindh, a region in northwestern India, which in the 8th century was among the first Indian regions to adopt Islam. Humayun hoped to gather troops there who would help him fight Sher Shah. However, the Sindh ruler, Husain, did not want to anger Sher Shah, and he refused to help Humayun. The only positive outcome of his visit to Sindh was Humayun's marriage to Hamida, who would become mother to the great Mughal ruler, Akbar.
After being refused assistance by Husain, Humayun set off for Persia, to seek assistance from the Safavid shah, Tahmasp I, in fighting Sher Shah for the return of the Mughal Empire. His party arrived in the Persian city of Herat in 1544, and fortunately for them, Tahmasp welcomed them. In Herat, Humayun met several great Persian artists, many of whom he invited to come back to India with him, as soon as he regained his empire. Despite the shah's warm welcome, however, he had ulterior motives in playing host to the easily manipulated Humayun. Eager to spread his empire's Shi'a doctrine, Tahmasp noted that both Humayun's wife and chief advisor were Shi'ites, and he anticipated converting the Sunni Mughal emperor. Humayun agreed to sign a document that claimed he accepted the teachings of Shi'ism, to please Tahmasp, but he likely did not pursue the faith any further.
He did use his proclaimed allegiance to Shi'ism to gain the support of Shah Tahmasp in reconquering Hindustan from Sher Shah, however. In 1545, Humayun's army took Qandahar, an important Persian fort, from his brother, Askari, on Tahmasp's behalf. With Persian assistance, Humayun then took Kabul from his brother, Kamran, and after finally realising Kamran's lifelong treachery, Humayun had his brother blinded and exiled, along with Askari. His remaining brother, Hindal, had supported Humayun against Kamran and Askari for years, thus saving his own life.
With his brothers' leadership challenge out of the way, Humayun turned his full attention to the reconquest of Hindustan from Sher Shah's son, Islam Shah, who had succeeded his father as emperor of the Sur dynasty. It turned out that the task was not as difficult as Humayun had anticipated. Islam Shah died in 1554, and with no clear successor in place, the Sur dynasty collapsed into chaos. Humayun's army marched through Punjab to virtually no resistance, and succeeded in defeating the meagre Sur defences to reach Delhi and reclaim Babur's throne, in 1555.
Humayun lived only a year after the re-establishment of the Mughal Empire, but he accomplished much in that year to prepare the realm for the grandeur it would see during the rule of his son, Akbar. In fact, much of Humayun's administrative accomplishments owe much to models set up by Sher Shah during his rule over the region. Sher Shah set up systems for tax collection and provincial government, and Humayun inherited this infrastructure when he re-established the Mughal Empire. He died in 1556, and he has since been remembered in Mughal history as the weakest of the Mughal emperors. But his reconquest of Hindustan was no easy feat, since the Mughal Empire could have died along with him. The fact that it was resurrected instead is testimony that Humayun played a significant role in the formation of the Mughal Empire.
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