Siddiq Deendar Channabasaveshwara Anjuman

Yoginder Sikand

S ome of its members having been accused of masterminding a series of bomb blasts in churches in south India, the little-known Siddiq Deendar Channabasaveshwara Anjuman has suddenly shot into the headlines. Union Home Minister L K Advani has suggested that the government might step in to ban the sect, while the sect’s own leadership based in Hyderabad has protested, asserting that the group as a whole has nothing to do with the controversy, arguing that the entire community cannot be punished for the alleged acts of some of its members. All the same, the controversy refuses to die out. Rather, it is becoming increasingly murkier by the day.

Deendar Anjuman is a small community, having an estimated following of some five thousand. It has its headquarters at what it calls the Jagadguru Ashram Sarwar-i-Alam Khanqah, in Asif Nagar, a run-down locality in the Old City of Hyderabad. It was founded by a charismatic preacher, one Sayyed Siddiq Hussain, who was born in 1886 in Balampet in the Gulbarga district of northern Karnataka, then in the Nizam’s Dominions, in a family which claimed allegiance to the Qadri order of Sufi mystics. He received his primary education first at Gulbarga, and then at Hyderabad, from where he went to the Mohammaden Arts College, Madras and then to Bursen College, Lahore. As a young man he developed a great interest in mysticism, staying in the company of several leading Sufis of his time.

In 1914, Sayyed Hussain joined the Qadiani Ahmadi community, followers of one Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, whose followers believed him to be a prophet. For denying the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad, the Qadianis were declared to be outside the pale of Islam by orthodox Muslims. Soon, Siddiq Hussain severed his Qadiani links and moved closer to the rival Lahori branch of the Ahmadis, whose followers believed Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as having been a divinely-appointed reformer and ‘renewer of the faith’ [‘mujaddid’], although not a prophet. In his ‘Aada-i-Islam’, a book written later to prove his own claims to divine election, Siddiq Hussain declared that he believed that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had been sent by God as the ‘mujaddid’ of the age. This recantation from Qadiani views still did not endear Siddiq Hussain to Muslim orthodoxy, who saw Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as having been a consummate imposter.

Siddiq Hussain’s own grandiose beliefs about himself led him to stray further from the bounds of orthodox Islam. In early 1924, he travelled to Gadag, near Bijapur, where he publicly delcared himself to be an incarnation of a local Hindu spititual preceptor, Channabasaveshwara, nephew of Basava, founder of the Shiva-worshipping reformist sect, the Lingayats. He claimed to possess 56 bodily and 96 heavenly signs which he said had been preidcated in the Lingayat scriptures in connection with the second coming of Channabasaveshwara. To the Muslims he presented himself as having been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad as the ‘leader of all the peoples of the world’( imam-i-aqwam ul alam,) claiming that God had ‘elected’ him and his Anjuman to spread Islam. He appealed to the Nizam of Hyderabad to help him in his project, claiming that he had received divine inspiration informing him that he would receive the Nizam’s support. The Nizam, however, did not look favourably on him, and sentenced him to several spells in jail.

A prolific writer, Siddiq Hussain sought to prove through the many tracts that he penned that God had commissioned him as the imam of the age to spread the peculiar interpretation of Islam that he advocated. Thus, in his book,

Jagad Guru, written in 1925, he claimed that Rama and Krishna were prophets of God and that the Vedas, the Puranas, the Ramayana and several other books of the Hindus were also divinely-revealed scriptures, at least in their original forms. The publication of the book raised a storm of protest from several quarters, Lingayat, Sanatani Hindu, Arya Samaji and Muslim, Several attacks were made on his life by Lingayat as well as by Muslim youth. Numerous Muslim clerics passed ‘fatwas’ of infidelity against him. For having allegedly disturbed communal peace and harmony, in 1927 the Nizam banned the book and sentenced Siddiq Hussain to another round of imprisonment.

In 1934, after his release from jail, Siddiq Hussain and his fledgling community began adopting a more militant posture. In that year, he set up the Tehrik Jamiat-i-Hizbullah ‘The Movement for the Community of the Party of God.’ He penned two tracts for the instruction of his disciples, ‘The Practical Sciences of War’ and ‘The Principal Armies of Asia and Europe’ and began giving his followers armed training. He then migrated along with a band of followers to Yaghestan in the Pathan borderlands near Afghanistan, stirring up the Pathan tribesmen to invade India and liberate it from British rule. This effort miserably failed and soon Siddiq Hussain and his faithful were forced to return to Hyderabad. Here he settled down to peaceful preaching.

In 1948, Hyderabad was run over by the Indian forces in what has come to be known as the Police Action. Deendar Anjuman accounts present Siddique Hussain as having played a heroic role in resisting the Indian army, with his followers having, so it is claimed, engaged in fighting on 27 fronts. Despite his claims of being divinely assisted, Siddiq Hussain and his men were rounded up and tried by a special tribunal, which released him shortly later. After his release from police custody, Siddiq Hussain lived for barely two more months, during which time he prepared a blue-print for missionary work for his disciples in the form of what he called the ‘panchshanti marga’ or the path of the five principles of peace. These five principles are eko jagadishwara [one God] eko jagadguru [one world teacher] sarva avatara satya [all prophets are true] sarva dharma granth satya [all divine scriptures are true] and sammelana prarthana [common worship]. He also wrote a book titled ‘Jami-al Bahrain’ ‘The Union of the Two Oceans’, in which he sought to highlight the similarities between Islamic and Vedantic mysticism. He argued that it was on the basis of the mystical unity that true Hindu-Muslim unity could be established.

Siddiq Hussain died in 1952, leaving behind a small community of followers, scattered in various towns of South India. Some of them including all but one of his sons, later migrated to Pakistan. The headquarters of the Anjuman are today in Asif Nagar, Hyderabad, in a small ghetto, where Siddiq Hussain also lies buried. The community has its own mosque and religious school, where children are taught the Quran, the Hindu scriptures and the peculiar doctrines of its founder. The community organises an interfaith conference every year, at which people from all communities are invited, a practice started by Siddiq Hussain. With its legacy of a strange admixture of militancy and inter-religious harmony, the Anjuman’s alleged involvement in the bomb blasts at churches seems puzzling.