Islam and Shadow of Intolerance – Francois Gautier
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–> March 29, 2007
Islam needs a moderate face with a reformist spirit as exemplified by the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, not his antithesis, Aurangzeb
The People’s Democratic Party’s demand of demilitarisation of Jammu & Kashmir, even though it has been temporarily dropped, is one more sign that the State is forsaking its Sufi inheritance and allowing Aurangzeb’s spirit to take over. What will happen once the Army goes? Chaos, for sure – and Pakistan’s gamble of a 20-year proxy war will have paid. The earlier sign of this drawing away from modern, secular, democratic India was the voting by the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly of the Shari’ah law, which surprisingly attracted no comment from the Indian media, quick to react when they feel the secular fabric of the country is threatened.
Aurangzeb’s shadow is not only present in Jammu & Kashmir, his very name still triggers passion on both sides of the Hindu and Muslim community. The recent show of paintings, ‘Aurangzeb As He Was According To Mughal Tecords”, which Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism exhibited at the India Habitat Centre, Delhi, attracted thousands of visitors, some of whom had no idea about what Aurangzeb did to India.
The article I wrote on Aurangzeb for Rediff.com (rediff.com/news/ 2007/feb/16francois.htm) was the most commented ever in the history of Rediff.
Ultimately, Indian Muslims have to make today a crucial choice: Do they want Aurangzeb’s shadow to prevail upon Islam, or will they invoke Dara Shikoh’s spirit and bring the greatness of Sufism back to India? Two brothers, two different incarnations of Islam – and how different!
Aurangzeb (1658-1707) was a neither the eldest nor the favourite son of his father, Shah Jahan. To ascend the throne, he killed his two brothers, sent his father to jail and subsequently murdered him by sending him poisoned massage oil and later had his own son imprisoned. (In his will, he admonished: “Never trust your sons.”) He was also very cruel to the majority of his subjects, Hindus, ordering temples to be destroyed, and making sure that Hindu gods and goddesses were buried under the steps of the mosques (like the Jama Masjid in Delhi) so that future generations of Muslims will trample on them.
Muslims suffered as much as Hindus: Ninety per cent of today’s Indian Muslims should know that their ancestors were converted by force under Aurangzeb. Even his own brother, Dara Shikoh, was executed for taking an interest in Hindu religion and the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded because he objected to Aurangzeb’s forced conversions.
Sultan Mohammed Dara Shikoh (1615-1659), the eldest son of Shahjahan, was born in Ajmer. Dara was a patron of arts, architecture, and literature and was himself a skilled calligrapher, artist, poet, writer, and translator. He wrote, in 1640, four books on Sufism which dwelled on the doctrine of wahadat al-wajud (oneness of being) and advocated an inclusive approach towards other religions.
Dara Shikoh held a series of dialogues with a Hindu yogi, Baba Lal Das, and discussed with him various concepts of Hinduism, at times comparing them with Islam. As a result of his discussions with Baba Lal and other sufis, he translated all the Upanishads into Persian and wrote Majma’ al-Bahrayn (The Mingling of the Two Oceans), which tried to reconcile Islam and Hinduism.
Dara Shikoh, who believed that there was one and the same absolute incarnated in different religions, was not an apostate, as claimed by hard-line Sunnis. Indeed, he regarded the prophethood of Prophet Mohammed as the ultimate, because he had harmoniously blended the absolute and the determined, the colourless and the coloured, and the near and the distant.
However, Dara, although brave, was not a very good warrior and he suffered his final defeat in 1659 at the hands of Aurangzeb in Deorai. Finally, he was paraded in disgrace through the streets of Delhi and beheaded in August 1659.
“As I did not look at this infidel’s face in his lifetime, I do not wish to do so now,” Aurangzeb is reported to have said when the decapitated head of Dara Shikoh was presented to satisfy him that no fraud or substitution had taken place. On Aurangzeb’s order Dara’s corpse was placed on an elephant, paraded through the streets of the city a second time, and then buried in a vault under the dome of the tomb of Humayun, without the customary washing and dressing of the body. Dara Shikoh was executed not only on the charge of heresy and infidelity, but also for the crime of calling hinduism and Islam ‘twin brothers’.
India – and indeed the whole world – today needs a Dara Shikoh, who can reintroduce an Islam which, while believing in the supremacy of the Prophet, not only accepts other faiths, but is also able to see the good in each religion. May the spirit of Dara Shikoh return to India and make Islam a tolerant faith. For that purpose, FACT, the Foundation that I head, has decided to hold an exhibition on Dara Shikoh: His life and what he stood for.
(The writer is the editor- in-chief of the Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde (lesbelleslettres.com)