By Akbar Ahmed
November 23, 2019
As for the Majma, this brilliant and seminal achievement in spiritual harmony that could have changed the shape and destiny of South Asia was reduced to rubble when Aurangzeb had Dara beheaded. It was a death foretold as the younger sibling was already busy building a case against his elder brother arguing that Dara was an apostate deserving death. Did he not equate the Hindu scriptures to the Quran and thus commit sacrilege? In this case sibling rivalry changed the course of history. The notion of Mingling took a hit and for the next few centuries Muslims were wary of moving towards spiritual adventures. As for the Hindus, they soon saw Dara Shikoh as an aberration.
In time they said Islam was more represented by the orthodox and bigoted younger brother. His beloved wife Nadira Begum committed suicide, his sons and nephews were killed and his revered father was jailed. The man who was inflicting this cruelty on Dara Shikoh was his own younger brother Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb used Dara’s book on the Mingling as his main argument to mobilize court opinion against Dara. The book now became a millstone around the neck of Dara and Ulema argued that as an apostate he deserved death. Aurangzeb’s hatred knew no bounds. Once Dara lost the battle at Samugarh near Agra it was all over.
After a series of skirmishes, as Aurangzeb’s army chased Dara’s dwindling numbers, he arrived at the estate of Jiwan Khan whose life Dara had saved several times and found treachery waiting for him. He had Dara and his son handed over to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb had Dara beheaded and in a fit of rage slashed the head with his own sword thrice. He then had the head placed in a box and the box on a plate which was sent to his imprisoned father with a note saying “your son has not forgotten you.” At which the former emperor expressed his delight and “thanked God that my son has not forgotten me.” When he opened the gift he fainted and in doing so injured himself.
Aurangzeb did not spare his brothers nor his own son. But his close family was not his only target: he had Sarmad and Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru and the head of the Sikh community, executed; perhaps because they were close to Dara Shikoh. The Guru’s close advisor Bhai Dayala was boiled alive. Pathan leaders in the north and Shia leaders in the south were all his targets. There was a demonic fury and psychotic hatred in Aurangzeb’s extraordinary acts of bloody cruelty which would have sent Macbeth scurrying for pen and paper so he could write down tips from the master.
As emperor, Aurangzeb proved to be an austere ruler attempting to live by certain values. He accused Jiwan Khan, who was expecting a reward: How dare he lay his hand on a prince of the Mughal family? He conferred the highest title of Padshah Begum on Jahanara in spite of her full support of his brother Dara and father. He now developed aspects of religiosity which to this day impresses Muslims and convinces them that Aurangzeb was a saint. For forty days every year he slept on the floor, fasted and withdrew from public life. He donated the small sums of money he earned by making caps and copying the Qur’an to the building of mosques and temples. He also began to ask searching questions about his own behavior in the past and challenged the Ulema around him who supported him blindly as Waliullah-or friend of God.
Under Aurangzeb, the Mughal empire was at its largest ever and effectively united India, from Afghanistan to Burma and Baluchistan to the deep south of the peninsula. It comprised some four million square kilometers and had a population estimated at 180 million people, India was then the world’s largest economy and manufacturing power having overtaken China. It is estimated by historians of India like Dr Shashi Tharoor and William Dalrymple that India then produced about 25% of the world’s GDP, more than all of Western Europe put together. Its largest and wealthiest Province, Bengal, was the best example of proto-industrialization. When the British left after 200 years of colonization India’s GDP was reduced to about 2%, and Bengal was reduced to an impoverished and famine prone area.
Today with the RSS drive in India to bludgeon, lynch and burn non-Hindus in an attempt to convert them to Hinduism, the marauding mobs chant, “Aurangzeb Ki Awlad , yah Qabiristan yah Pakistan”- “children of Aurangzeb, either the grave or Pakistan for you.” Dara in the meantime, in one of those strange twists of fate that leaves us baffled at her fickleness, has been discovered by the RSS as “the good Muslim ” in contrast to the “bigoted Muslim ” Aurangzeb. In contrast, in Pakistan, Aurangzeb remains an iconic champion of Islam, while Dara is relegated to the margins of history and viewed with suspicion as a confused apostate. Few have heard of him, fewer remember him. The colleges and highways of Pakistan are named after Aurangzeb, rarely if ever to honor Dara Shikoh.
At school in Northern Pakistan I had not been taught anything about Dara Shikoh nor had any idea who he was. In our history lessons we viewed Aurangzeb as a defender of Muslims along with the other champions of the faith like Sultan Saladin. It would be years before I realized the true nature of Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb and the complexity of their relationship. I also realized that the issues their lives raised are very much with us today.
Going into the future we are thus faced with three broad choices. The first is to leave things as they are which is a constant Clash-or possibility of Clash-of Civilizations, an idea made popular by Samuel Huntington. Much of the media and too many leaders today are influenced by it and it has shaped the malevolent Islamophobia that has spread like a virus. The second alternative is to continue the Dialogue of Civilizations with its limited impact. The third is to find other methods to live in peace. The first is not viable without eventually reducing civilization to rubble and the second will not really go anywhere judging by its performance so far in spite of the heroic efforts of individuals. We must therefore develop a third way. That leaves us with no recourse but to explore our own path to Mingling. But we need to clarify what precisely we mean by the concept and then to suggest a way forward.
To reject Dara Shikoh because he failed to gain the throne and lost his life is similar to rejecting the concept of philosophy because Socrates lost his, or rejecting the notion of compassion and embracing humanity because those who advocated it, from Jesus to Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr, lost theirs.
Although little may remain of Dara Shikoh’s political legacy, the message and spirit of his book The Mingling of the Oceans is of significance for us in the 21st century, especially in the context of the violence and confrontation taking place between and inside the faiths across the world. It leads me to believe that perhaps Dara’s time has come.
First Part of the Article: Dara Shikoh: The Mingling of the Oceans Part-I
Akbar Ahmed is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, School of International Studies, American University, Washington, DC and author of The Mingling of the Oceans
Original Headline: The Mingling of the Oceans (Part-II)
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan