Hardly is any historical Indian Muslim figure of the 19t h century as controversial as Sayyid Siddiq Hasan Khan al-Qannauji al-Bukhari (1832–1890). The reason
for all the contrasting assessments of his personality
was his astonishing career: he rose from an impoverished
scholar to the son-in-law of the Prime Minister
at the court of Bhopal.1 In 1871, the widowed ruler of
this principality, Shah Jahan Begum (r. 1868–1901)
chose him as her second husband. After his marriage,
Siddiq Hasan Khan established the reformist movement
Ahl-e Hadith (people of the prophetic traditions),
which soon became a dominant Muslim group
in Bhopal. But as soon as Siddiq Hasan’s career had
started, it came to a sudden end.

In 1885, Siddiq Hasan was deprived of all his
posts and titles by the British, thus forcing
him into privacy. For a period of more than
one year, he had to retire in his own palace,
Nur Mahall, completely isolated from his
wife and his supporters. Due to this sudden
end of his career, in the Indian nationalist
views prevalent since 1918 Siddiq Hasan is
described as one of the first heroes of the
anti-colonial struggle.
This nationalist paradigm is overshadowed
by another perspective about the historical
figure of Siddiq Hasan: several Muslim
sources describe him as a puritan and a
Wahhabi, closely linked to the reformist
movement of Muhammad cA b d a l – W a h h a b
(d. 1762) in today’s Saudi Arabia. Besides
these contrasting views, the sources lack an
assessment of the ‘real’ Siddiq Hasan. As a
consequence, it is necessary to apply changing
research methods in order ‘to avoid
common pitfalls of historiography, like projecting
modern nationalist paradigms …
back into the past’.2 Consequently, the social
network analysis, originally developed
by the Manchester school of anthropologists
in the 1950s, seems to be a suitable research
method. Taken the premise that
every individual (ego) is embedded into a
network of personal relationships, it is interesting
to observe which parts of his/her
ego-network a person activates in order to
achieve his/her aims. Hence, it may be interesting
to show which personal relations
were really important in Siddiq Hasan’s career
– and which connections became crucial
only to the eyes of posterity. The following
gives an analysis of Siddiq Hasan’s personal
networks, trying to avoid the categories
of ‘Wahhabi’ or ‘nationalist hero’,
which have determined the characterization
of Siddiq Hasan for more than 100
Born into a Sayyid family, strongly connected
to the Tariqa-ye Muhammadiya reform
movement of Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi (d.
1832), Siddiq Hasan made the first steps of
his personal career as the secretary of the
Prime Minister at the court of the Islamic
principality of Bhopal. Since 1818 this Central
Indian princely state was ruled by strong
female rulers, the Begums. Sikander Begum
(r. 1844–1868) followed her mother Qudsiya
Begum (r. 1818–1837) to the throne (m a sn
a d) and secured the succession of her
daughter, Shah Jahan Begum (r. 1868–1901).
Sikander Begum, on the one hand, needed
support from the British to protect Bhopal’s
territory from the invasions of the Marathas
and Pindaris. On the other hand, she wanted
to have her reign legitimated by a group of
Islamic scholars. Thus, she invited several
ulama of reformist background to Bhopal.
Among them was Sayyid Jamal ud-Din Dihlawi
(d. 1881) who had been, like Siddiq
Hasan’s father, an active member of the
Tariqa-ye Muhammadiya.
The ‘Yemen connection’
When young Siddiq Hasan approached
Bhopal, Jamal ud-Din took him under his
wing. Due to the fact that from now on he
lived in financially secure conditions, he
could continue his personal studies, which
he had had to interrupt before. In Bhopal he
came to know two Yemenite brothers who
had been living in Bhopal for several years,
namely the brothers Zain al-cA b i d i n ( d .
1880) and Husain b. Muhsin al-Hudaidi (d.
1910). Sikander Begum had met the Yeminite
family in Hudaida during her pilgrimage
to Mecca in 1863. She invited Zain alcA
b i d i n to Bhopal, because she was looking
for a new qadi al-qudat (chief judge) for her
Although Zain al- cA b i d i n did not know
Persian or Urdu, nor did he belong to the
Hanafi school of law prevailing among the
Indian Muslims (he was a S h a f ic
i), he soon
became acquainted with the situation in
Bhopal. After a short time, he knew all relevant
manuals of Hanafi law in India and
wrote his legal decrees (f a t a w a) according
to that school. Later, he invited his younger
brother Husain to join him in Bhopal. Husain
decided to undertake the long journey to
Bhopal, where the Begum cordially welcomed
him. She employed him as a teacher
of the local dar ul-hadith (house of the
teaching of the prophetic traditions). It was
around 1856, that Husain taught h a d i t h t o
Siddiq Hasan. This close teacher-pupil relation
made a deep impression on Siddiq
Hasan and caused a significant change in his
intellectual orientation. The reason for this
change can be seen in his studies of various
famous books by the reputed Yemenite
scholar and q a d i Muhammad b. cA l i a s h –
Shaukani (d. 1834), who gained fame mainly
for his legal theories of rejecting the t a q l i d,
i.e. the strict adherence to one school of law.
Shaukani insisted on the i j t i h a d, i.e. to find
the proof (d a l i l, pl. a d i l l a) of a legal opinion
in the Qur’an and s u n n a. Shaukani applied
the method of i j t i h a d in his own f a t a w a, collected
in his voluminous Nail al-autar.
Shaukani’s works, all of them containing
heavy criticism on t a q l i d, spread all over
India starting from the late 1850s. The
Yemenite brothers in Bhopal as well as Siddiq
Hasan were responsible for this ‘Shaukani
boom’. Siddiq Hasan, formerly influenced
by the teachings of Shah Waliullah (d.
1762) and Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi, shifted to
the Yemenite tradition of Shaukani and Husain
b. Muhsin. Husain wrote several i j a z a t
(teaching permissions) to him, which allowed
him to teach several works of this
Yemenite tradition (e.g. by the Ahdal family,
the Mizjajis, and mainly Shaukani).
At this time, around 1857, Siddiq Hasan
was a young scholar with limited influence.
He even lost his job as a secretary to the
Prime Minister and had to leave Bhopal.
Later on, in 1859, he was allowed to return
to Bhopal and was appointed Head of the
Bhopal State Archives by Sikander Begum.
His career gained further impetus when he
married the widowed daughter of the Prime
Minister Jamal ud-Din Khan. From that time
onwards, Siddiq Hasan was one of the most
influential scholars in Bhopal. His career
reached its climax when the widowed ruler
Shah Jahan Begum made him her Nawwabconsort
in 1871. Siddiq Hasan started extensive
propagation of the theories of Shaukani,
Ibn Taimiya, and to a lesser extent the
opinions of Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi. This mixture
of Indian and Yemenite religious reformist
teachings became fundamental to
the Ahl-e Hadith movement, of which Siddiq
Hasan was one of the most active members.
He wrote almost 300 works in Arabic,
Persian, and Urdu dealing with the elimination
of unlawful innovations (b i dca), the upcoming
approach of the Day of Judgement
(yaum al-qiyama) and the need for reform of
the Indian society according to the model of
the early Islamic community in Medina. It
was mainly the insistence on i j t i h a d t h a t
caused conflicts among all Indian Muslim
groups of that time, e.g. the Deobandis and
the movement of Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi
(d. 1921), who were all strict followers of the
Siddiq Hasan’s enemies in Bhopal’s as well
as in other Muslim circles chose the easy
way to get rid of him: they denounced him
as a ‘Wahhabi’, which was synonymous with
‘anti-British’, ‘fanatic’, and ‘puritan’. At first,
the British did not believe these rumours,
mainly because the Begums proved to be
loyal supporters of the British in several critical
situations. Later, the British began to examine
Siddiq Hasan’s books critically and
discovered some writings in which the theory
of jihad was explained at length. When
the British further detected that 17 ‘Wahhabi’
scholars from Najd had come to study
in Bhopal, they began to think of an international
network of anti-British agitators,
reaching from Bhopal to Egypt, Istanbul,
and the Mahdist Sudan. The British Resident
Lepel Griffin immediately reacted and deposed
Siddiq Hasan. Other prominent leaders
of the Ahl-e Hadith like Husain b. Muhsin
and Muhammad Bashir Sahsawani (d. 1908)
further propagated the objectives of the
movement. This points to the fact that some
people at the court of Bhopal only wanted
to eradicate Siddiq Hasan’s dominant influence
on the Begum. Nationalist circles, however,
had labelled their hero as ‘a victim of
the British imperialism’. At first, the British
were proud to have caught ‘one of the leading
figures of the Indian Wahhabis’. Later
they had to admit that they had overreacted
to intrigues and rumours circulating at the
Every group mentioned above neglected
completely that Siddiq Hasan in his works
had always denied Muhammad b. cA b d a l –
Wahhab’s influence on the Indian reformists.
Rather, he had accused the Najdi of
religious fanaticism and bloodshed among
fellow Muslims. Siddiq Hasan himself was
far away from being an anti-British agitator:
he did not support the Mahdist revolt in
Sudan and did not even justify Islamic jihad
against the British in India. He opted for a
close cooperation of Muslim rulers and the
British authorities within the framework of
Islamic s h a r ica.
All in all, Siddiq Hasan was a reformer who
gained most of his religious knowledge
from his Yemenite teachers. His link to
Yemenite scholarship even overshadowed
his connection to Indian reformist circles
into which he was born. The combination of
the analysis of Siddiq Hasan’s oeuvre and
that of his social network is the objective of
the further  research concerning this subject.


N o t e s
1 . Claudia Preckel, The Begums of Bhopal (New Delhi,
2000); Shaharyar Muhammad Khan, The Begums of
B h o p a l (London, 2000).
2 . Thomas Eich, ‘Quest for a Phantom: Investigating
Abu l-Huda al-Sayyadi’, I S I MN e w s l e t t e r 7 (2001):
2 4 .
Claudia Preckel, M.A., is currently working on her
Ph.D. dissertation on Siddiq Hasan Khan and the
emergence of the Ahl-e Hadith in Bhopal. She is
member of the Junior Research Group ‘Islamic
Networks in Local and Transnational Contexts,
1 8t h– 2 0t hCenturies’ at the Ruhr-University Bochum,
G e r m a n y .
E-mail: claudia@preckel.org