This is an excerpt from a great article in the Journal of World History, entitled “Global Politics in the 1580s: One Canal, Twenty Thousand Cannibals, and an Ottoman Plot to Rule the World” by Giancarlo Casale:
All of these events, despite the vast physical distances that separated them, impinged directly on the Ottomans’ ability to maintain “soft power” in the Indian Ocean. Even more ominously, they all took place alongside yet another emerging menace from Mughal India, where the young and ambitious Emperor Akbar had begun to openly challenge the very basis of Ottoman “soft power” by advancing his own rival claim to universal sovereignty over the Islamic world.
Of all these newly emerging threats, the Mughal challenge was in many ways the most potentially disturbing. Unlike the others, it was also a challenge mounted incrementally, and as a result became gradually apparent only over the course of several years. In fact, it may have begun as early as 1573, the year Akbar seized the Gujarati port of Surat and thus gained control of a major outlet onto the Indian Ocean for the first time. Less than two years later, he sent several ladies of his court, including his wife and his paternal aunt, on an extended pilgrimage to Mecca, where they settled and began to distribute alms regularly in the emperor’s name. Concurrently, Akbar became involved in organizing and financing the hajj for Muslim travelers of more modest means as well: appointing an imperial official in charge of the pilgrimage, setting aside funds to pay the travel expenses of all pilgrims from India wishing to make the trip, and arranging for a special royal ship to sail to Jiddah every year for their passage. Moreover, by means of this ship Akbar began sending enormous quantities of gold to be distributed in alms for the poor of Mecca and Medina, along with sumptuous gifts and honorary vestments for the important dignitaries of the holy cities. In the first year alone, these gifts and donations amounted to more than 600,000 rupees and 12,000 robes of honor; in the next year, they included an additional 100,000 rupees as a personal gift for the Sharif of Mecca. Similar shipments continued annually until the early 1580s.
To be sure, none of this ostensibly pious activity was threatening to the Ottomans in and of itself. Under different circumstances, the Ottoman authorities may even have viewed largesse of this kind as a sign of loyalty, or as a normal and innocuous component of the public religious obligations of a ruler of Akbar’s stature. But in 1579, in the midst of the complex interplay of other world events already described above, it acquired a dangerous and overtly political significance—particularly because it coincided with Akbar’s promulgation of the so-called “infallibility decree” in September of that year. In the months that followed, Akbar’s courtiers began, at his urging, to experiment with an increasingly syncretic, messianic, and Akbar-centric interpretation of Islam known as the din-i ilahi. And Akbar himself, buttressed by this new theology of his own creation, soon began to openly mimic the Ottoman sultans’ posturing as universal sovereigns, by assuming titles such as Bādishāh-i Islām and Imām-i ‘Ādil that paralleled almost exactly the Ottomans’ own dynastic claims.
Against this incendiary backdrop, Akbar’s endowments in Mecca and his generous support for the hajj thus became potent ideological weapons rather than simple markers of piety—weapons that threatened to destabilize Ottoman leadership of the Islamic world by allowing Akbar to usurp the sultan’s prestigious role as “Protector of the Holy Cities.” Justifiably alarmed, the Porte responded by forbidding the distribution of alms in Akbar’s name in Mecca (it was nevertheless continued in secret for several more years), and by ordering the entourage of ladies from Akbar’s court to return to India with the next sailing season. These, however, were stopgap measures at best. In the longer term, it was clear that a more serious reorientation of Ottoman policy was in order if the empire was to effectively respond to Akbar’s gambit.
Thus, by the end of 1579, a perfect storm of political events in Istanbul, the Western Mediterranean, Ethiopia, Southeast Asia, and Mughal India had all conspired to bring an end to the existing Ottoman system of “soft empire” in the Indian Ocean. As a result, the Ottoman leadership was faced with a stark choice: to do nothing, and allow its prestige and influence in the region to fade into irrelevance; or instead, through aggressive military expansion, to attempt to convert this soft empire into a more concrete system of direct imperial rule. Because of an ongoing war with Iran, and because the 1580s were in general a period of political retrenchment and economic crisis in the Empire, many in Istanbul seem to have resigned themselves to the former option as the only feasible alternative.
Unfortunately you need to be a subscriber to have access to the full article online but a larger excerpt can be read at Far Outliers which has excellent articles on Asian politics and history from time to time! Though I am less convinced by the arguement that this is replayed in the challenges to Saudi ‘soft’ power by the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, of late several historians of the early modern period, such as Muzzaffar Alam have began to compare the jostling for influence during the 16th and 17th centuries between the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires in the region and for pre-eminence as the power in the Islamic world of the time.