On Saturday, May 14, while the eager bustle of the Embassy Row world tours returned to Washington DC for the first time since the Covid Pandemic, a special event was also held on Massachusetts Avenue at one of Washington’s most prominent and exclusive institutions. The Cosmos Club of Washington DC, founded in 1878, is a private social club for distinguished men and women of varying professional backgrounds in the arts, literature, sciences, and public service. Over the years, there have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, 14 Supreme Court justices, 36 Nobel Prize winners, 61 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 55 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom counted among its members. As the final offering of academic and cultural programs for the season, The Cosmos’ Theatre presented a stage-reading of The Trial of Dara Shikoh, a play written by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed and directed by Brian Doyle. Akbar Ahmed is an American-Pakistani academic, author, poet, playwright, film-maker, former Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, Wilson Center Global Fellow, and one of the very few members of The Cosmos Club with a Pakistani background. He currently holds the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, School of International Service in Washington, DC. The BBC has described him as “The world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam.” The Trial of Dara Shikoh offers the story of the Crown Prince of the Mughal Empire of India in the 17th century when it was at the height of its power and the wealthiest empire on Earth. The play is set after a historic military battle for succession between the sons of Shah Jahan, the emperor responsible for the Taj Mahal. The heir-apparent Darah Shikoh was a scholar and uniting figure who was adored by many for his religious tolerance that surpassed even his great grandfather, Akbar the Great. Dara fought for his birthright against his younger brother, Aurangzeb, a rigidly orthodox Muslim who, with the support of the nobility and imperial military, defeated his eldest brother at the Battle of Samugarh in 1658. The play chooses not to focus on the intense political and military struggle of the Mughal throne or Dara Shikoh’s actual assassination. Instead, through a historically fictionalised trial for apostasy, the play serves as a forum for the pluralist philosophy of Prince Dara to be examined in contrast with the rigid orthodox interpretations of his brother and the court. In times of increasingly frequent violent prejudice between communities of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds, scholarship is needed to educate the youth on the interconnected histories and philosophies of the world. The play’s first act takes place entirely in the courtroom, where Sufi, Hindu, and Sikh witnesses testify on behalf of Dara’s great friendship with their communities. However, their testimonies are manipulated against Dara in an effort to pervert his appreciation of different faiths as heresy towards monotheism. When asked by the Mughal Qazi if he believed that the Hindu expression of God is equal to that of Allah, Prince Dara responded, “the creator is known by many names. He is called God, Allah, Prabhu, Jehova, Ahura Mazda and many more names by devout people in many different lands.” The second act follows the conversations between the royal family. These conversations give insight into Mughal history through stories of Dara’s forefathers. Great attention is given to scenes shared by Emperor Aurangzeb and his sisters, with Jahanara begging for Dara’s life and Roshanara justifying Aurangzeb’s actions. Following this, Dara and his son, Sipihr, candidly talk while both are imprisoned and await the court’s verdict. These scenes emphasise the prince’s humanity as a brother, husband and father. Dara’s touching final words with Sipihr end with him being condemned to death and serve as the emotional climax of the play reminding us of the distinctly human heart at the centre of a great figure. The production of a play on Islamic history by a Muslim author at one of the most exclusive and historically white institutions in the nation’s capital represents the scholarly progress The Cosmos Club promotes. The event also reaffirms the pluralistic ideals that the United States was founded upon by its architects like Thomas Jefferson, whose statue at the University of Virginia carries a transcription of God’s many names, exactly like Dara Shikoh’s ring. Ambassador Ahmed remarked that this play, which would take us hundreds of years into the past and across the oceans, offers a history unrecognised by western scholars and audiences. The intimate production at The Cosmos Club featured a small cast where several of the male roles were voiced by female actresses, “to balance out Shakespeare,” reasoned Ambassador Ahmed jokingly, reminding the audience that they then had males play female roles. The director and motivating force behind the play’s production was Brian Doyle. The reading truly moved the audience and roused discussion on South Asia’s rich history and the importance of interfaith dialogue. The high regard for religious pluralism and the tireless pursuit of interfaith harmony characterized in Dara Shikoh’s life and story are also principles pursued by Ambassador Ahmed in his career, authorship, and advocacy. Akbar Ahmed spent much of the last two decades in the United States advocating for a better understanding of Islam and its adherents following the events of September 11, 2001. His notable Jinnah Quartet of films and books and his Brookings Quartet, which includes Journey into Islam, Journey into America, The Thistle and The Drone, and Journey into Europe, served as ethnographic studies of Islam’s deeper relationship with the Western world and dismantled misconceptions about the religion. Ahmed’s upcoming project will be titled “The Mingling of The Oceans” after Prince Dara Shikoh’s last scholarly work of the same name, Majma’-ul-Bahrain. Dara’s version explored the very affinities between Sufic and Vedantic thought for which he was tried and condemned to death shortly after completing it. Ahmed’s take on Mingling of The Oceans will venture more broadly into the shared wisdom of history’s most prolific “Minglers” or those who embraced cultural differences and motivated their respective societies forward. In times of increasingly frequent violent prejudice between communities of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds, this scholarship is needed to educate the youth on the interconnected histories and philosophies of the world. On May 14th, the same Saturday afternoon the play was held at The Cosmos Club, an 18-year-old opened fire at an unsuspecting predominantly black supermarket, in Buffalo, NY, shooting 13 and killing 10. This act of domestic terrorism was blatantly motivated by white-supremacist ideology as laid out in the perpetrator’s manifesto, which cites conspiracy notions like the “replacement” of the white population as his motivation to target African-Americans. In an effort to not sympathise with the perpetrator’s radicalisation but to understand it, the ideas of mythologizing whiteness in a “clash of civilisations” with non-white groups are central to the growing trend of racially motivated atrocities. These notions are propounded in mainstream news and media but are further developed and radicalised in online echo chambers like 4chan. One has to wonder what opportunities there are to derail this pipeline of disillusioned youths towards violent radicalisation? Could the writing of Rumi, Ibn Arabi, or Dara Shikoh have influenced potential extremists down an alternative path if they were incorporated into public education? As an anthropologist, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed has written extensively on radicalisation in the Muslim world but hopes to provide necessary intervention in the form of education through his writing on the mutual development of cultures and worldviews which undermine the insolated historical inaccuracies young people like the Buffalo shooter were led to believe. The Trial of Dara Shikoh and the Ambassador’s current project The Mingling of The Oceans aspire to present alternative perspectives for young people through the factual precedents set by pluralists and great philosophers throughout history, believing that the wisdom offered by those that “mingled” between cultures remains as a panacea for the social dilemmas of our time. The writer is a student at American University’s School of International Service.