New Login   

The Struggle Within Islam*

Akbar Ahmed

August 29, 1659, was a hot and humid day in Delhi, the capital of the mighty Mughal Empire. Large throngs lined the main streets to catch a glimpse of their favorite prince, Dara Shikoh, heir apparent to Shah Jehan who had built the celebrated Taj Mahal. But this was not a happy occasion. Dara was on his way to be executed.1 As the crowd caught sight of him, a gasp went up. Pale, drawn, and clothed in filthy rags, Dara looked down from a ragged elephant covered in dirt. Aware that every attempt was being made to publicly humiliate him, he sat with characteristic dignity and poise, his bewildered fifteen-year-old son beside him. Both knew that this was their last journey.   Malik Jiwan, an Afghan nobleman, then appeared, and the crowds booed and hissed. Some pelted him with cow dung in contempt of his betrayal of their Dara, who had once saved Malik from a similar fate. The nobleman had returned the favor by betraying Dara to Aurangzeb, Dara’s younger brother and tormentor, who had usurped the throne and now ruled in Delhi. When Shah Jehan fell ill, Aurangzeb, a battle-hardened veteran and commander of the imperial army, imprisoned his father and challenged Dara in battle, easily defeating him.   That victory sealed Dara’s fate. He was tried, found guilty of apostasy, and sentenced to death. When Dara’s severed head was brought before him, Aurangzeb exclaimed, “As I did not look at this infidel’s face during his lifetime, I have no wish to do so now.”2 He had the head placed in a box and sent to Shah Jehan in his prison cell. Ill and dejected at the cruel fate of his favorite son, the father sadly remembered visiting the tomb of the great Sufi saint at Ajmer before Dara’s birth and praying for a son and heir. Upon the birth of his son, Shah Jehan honored the saint for successfully interceding with God on the emperor’s behalf by ordering a grand celebration that included fireworks exploding across the night sky in a thousand colors and alms to the poor. Shah Jehan would spend the rest of his days looking at the Taj Mahal in the distance through a slit in his cell, pining for his beloved wife buried therein, and mourning the loss of his dearest son, Dara.   Despite Aurangzeb’s victory on the battlefield, Dara’...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.