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From the margins to the limelight:
The Siddiq Deendar Channabasaveswara Anjuman
By Yoginer Sikand
The alleged involvement of members of the Siddiq Deendar Channabasaves- wara Anjuman in bomb attacks on Christian churches in south India has brought to light a hitherto little known heterodox sect, which represents a blend of Hindu and Muslim beliefs and practices. Leaders of the sect have rebutted charges of its being involved in the attacks, and other observers suspect a Hindutva hand in these allegations. The on-going controversy is particularly intriguing, given the fact that sect is known for its ardent advocacy of communal harmony and inter-religious dialogue.
The Siddiq Deendar Channabasaveswara Anjuman was founded in the early twentieth century by a charismatic Sufi preacher, Sayyid Siddiq Husain. Born in 1886 at Balampet in the Gulbarga district in a family of Qadri Sufis, Siddiq Husain received his primary education first at Gulbarga and then at Hyderabad, where he learnt Arabic and the Qur'an from one Maulavi Abdul Nabi. Later, he enrolled at the Muhammadan Arts College, Madras and then at the Bursen College, Lahore for his higher education. He mastered several languages and also trained in medicine. As a young man, he developed an interest in various religions, and received instruction in Sufism from several noted Sufis and Islamic scholars of his time. In 1914, he joined the heterodox Ahmadiya community, considered as outside the pale of Islam by most Muslims, and took the oath of allegiance from the then head of the Ahmadis, Miyan Bashirduddin Mahmud Ahmad. Soon after, however, he left the community, accusing the founder of the sect, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, of being a 'kafir', a 'devil' [dajjal] and a 'liar' [kazib] for claiming to be a prophet.
In the early 1920s, Siddiq Husain began to take an active role in political affairs. He participated in the 1922 session of the Congress Party at Belgaum. According to an official Urdu publication of the sect, Deendar Anjuman -- Ijmali Ta'aruf ['The Deendar Association--a brief introduction'], at this conference he presented to Gandhi what he saw as the 'only formula' for Hindu-Muslim unity — that all of India should become Muslim. In 1923, the Arya Samaj embarked on an aggressive campaign to convert thousands of Muslim Rajputs in north India to the Hindu fold. Siddiq Husain played a leading role in trying to counter the Aryas. He joined hands with Sayyid Ghulam Bhik Nairang, a Lahore-based lawyer, in setting up the 'Anjuman Tabligh-ul Islam', to bring back to the Muslim fold the Muslim Rajputs whom the Aryas had won over to their camp. It was in the course of his involvement with efforts to resist the Aryas that Siddiq Husain now claimed a divine mission for himself, which resulted in attacks not just from the Aryas and the Hindus but also from sections of the orthodox Muslims.
In early 1924, Siddiq Husain travelled to Gadag, in northern Karnataka, where he publicly declared to his followers that he had received a ‘divine message’ [basharat] informing him that he had been appointed as the Kalki Avatar of the Hindus, with a special mission for the Lingayats, and had been bestowed with the title of Deendar Channabasaveswara ['The Holy True Slave of God']. To prove his claims, it is said, he presented 56 bodily and 96 heavenly signs which, he claimed, had been mentioned in the books of the Lingayats in connection with the messiah who would appear in time to come.
He penned a slim tract, titled Deendar Channaba-saveswara to assert his claims This, so the hagiographic accounts say, attracted the wrath of the Aryas, who instigated some Lingayats to kill him. It is said that in 1924 alone some 25 attempts were made on his life, but that he escaped unharmed.
The next year, in order to put forward his new claims about himself, he wrote and published a book in Kannada titled Jagad Guru ['Preceptor of the World'], in which he declared that he had been appointed by God to spread the Truth. In this book he asserted that Rama and Krishna were also prophets of God. He claimed that 'God has sent prophets to various lands to establish the religion of Truth', and that after Muhammad, this work had been taken up by various saints and sages, and that he had now been commanded by God to carry on the same mission.
The publication of the book created a storm in the Hyderabad state which Siddiq Husain had made the centre of his activities, and in 1927 the Nizam banned its circulation and had Siddiq Husain put into jail. In 1934, after his release, he set up his own organization, the 'Tehrik Jami'at-i-Hizbullah' ['The Movement for the Community of the Party of God'] to give armed training to his followers, whom he dispatched to the Pathan borderlands in the North-West Frontier Province to begin an armed struggle against the British.
At this time he penned two books, 'The Practical Science of War' and 'The Principal Armies of Asia and Europe', which were immediately banned by the Government of India.
The hagiographic accounts of Siddiq Husain present him and his followers as having been in the forefront of the struggle against the Police Action in 1948, in the course of which Hyderabad was annexed into the Indian Union. It is claimed that they fought the Indian armed forces on 27 fronts, setting up their operational headquarters at the sect's centre at Asif Nagar, Hyderabad, known to them as Jagadguru Ashram Sarwar-I-Alam Khanqah. When the Indian armed forces surrounded the ashram, Siddiq Husain ordered his followers to surrender. He himself was arrested and tried by a special tribunal, which later released him.
Siddiq Husain lived for barely two months after his release, during which he prepared a blue-print for missionary work for his followers in the form of what he called the panchshanti marga or 'the path of the five principles for 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 tract titled Jami’ al-Bahrain or 'The Union of the Oceans', to highlight the similarities between Islamic Sufism and Hindu mysticism. In this booklet he writes that the several gods whom the Hindus worship are actually names of the various attributes of the one God, who has sent various scriptures to the Hindus through various prophets. He says that it is on the basis of the realization that the mystical teachings of the Muslims and the Hindus is one and the same that true Hindu-Muslim unity can be established. Shortly after preparing this manifesto, in early 1952, he died in Hyderabad, and was succeeded as head of the sect by his principal disciple, one Sayyid Amir Husain.
The Deendar Anjuman today is now a fringe group, with only a few thousand followers in India and Pakistan. They have their headquarters in Hyderabad, where they have their own little colony, including a mosque and a madrasa. The present head of the community is one Sayyid Imam, who presides over a team of some 100 missionaries or muballighs. The missionaries all wear a standard uniform which clearly point to the syncretistic beliefs of the sect-- saffron kurtas, green turbans and white lungis. Every year the sect organizes an inter-religious conference in Hyderabad, a practice started by Siddiq Husain in 1929, in which speakers from different communities get together to speak on beliefs that all religions have in common. At the sect's madrasa, children are taught the Qur'an, the Hindu scriptures and the writings of Siddiq Husain. Given the sect's focus on inter-religious harmony and dialogue, allegations about its suspected involvement in attacks on Christian churches seem intriguing and demand further investigation.