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How a once alcoholic auto driver, father of 4, became first Muslim pontiff of Lingayat mutt

Dewan Sharief, 33, will be anointed as head of Murugharajendra Koraneshwara Shantidhama, a Lingayat mutt in North Karnataka’s Gadag district, on 26 February.

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Bengaluru: Dewan Sharief, 33, will take oath as the first Muslim pontiff of a Lingayat mutt next week.

Come Wednesday, Sharief will be anointed as head of the Murugharajendra Koraneshwara Shantidhama, a Lingayat mutt in North Karnataka’s Gadag district. His duties in his new role will include walking the path of “dharma” and propagating the message of love and sacrifice.

And that’s exactly what Sharief wants to do. A former alcoholic who took to spirituality after a moment of epiphany, Sharief wants to use his position to set an example of peace, equality and humanity.

Speaking to ThePrint, Sharief pointed to the chaos “prevailing in India” and said there was a need to follow the footsteps of the 12th-century social reformer Basavanna, the founder of the Lingayat sect. Basavanna, he added, advocated and practised the principle of equality in all spheres of life.

An old photo of Dewan Sharief | Photo by special arrangement
An old photo of Dewan Sharief | Photo by special arrangement

Sharief is a class 3 dropout who spent many years driving an autorickshaw before he “realised that my life would mean nothing if I do not serve the people in this country”.

“I sat thinking one day, so many of our jawans guard our borders and keep us safe. They give their life for us. What have I done to help society?” he said. “It kept eating me from inside.”

“Alcohol had taken over my life. I would spend most of my money indulging in activities that I abhor today. My wife and children would be embarrassed each time they saw me lying on the roads, inebriated,” he added.

That was when he decided, Sharief said, that he would dedicate his life to the service of people.

“I decided to give up all those worldly desires and dedicate my whole life to the service of people and popularise the teachings of Basavanna.” he added.

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Finding his path

The Lingayats, a powerful community in Karnataka, are primarily Hindus and comprise 18 per cent of the state’s population. Prominent members include Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa.

Although Muslim, Sharief’s parents Rahimansab and Fatima  were staunch devotees of Basavanna, he said. Rahimansab, he added, took ‘Linga deeksha (a ceremony of initiation into the sect)’ and donated two acres of land for a mutt that would help people learn about Basavanna’s teachings.

After his father passed away, Sharief said, he felt directionless and in need of guidance. That’s when he met Murugharajendrajendra Koraneshwar Shivayogi, the pontiff of the Khajuri mutt, to which Murugharajendra Koraneshwara Shantidhama is affiliated. Inspired by his sermons, Sharief took ‘Linga deeksha’ three months ago.

“Basavanna’s philosophy is about embracing all followers irrespective of their caste or religion,” Shivayogi told ThePrint. “It is universal… Even in the 12 century, he dreamt of a society that speaks of social justice and harmony. That’s what Lingayatism stands for and we have shown this by opening the doors of the mutt to all.”

Asked how a Muslim could be accepted as pontiff of a mutt for Lingayats, a community dominated by Hindus, Shivayogi said the appointment was meant to thwart this “misconception”.

“Sharief has dedicatedly trained in the various facets of Lingayatism and understood the tenets of Basava’s philosophy,” he added. “Over the past three years, he has learnt Basava’s philosophy and begun giving discourses on his vachanas (preaching).”

Over the past three months, Sharief has strictly followed the rituals a Lingayat pontiff is expected to observe. He wakes up at 2 am and meditates until 3.30 am. At 6 am, he performs pooja and then sits down to read the Hadith, which are the teachings of Prophet Muhammed.

“I read the ancient texts to compare and see what good can be derived from them,” said Sharief. “The idea is to communicate to people today that they need to respect one another and celebrate humanity.”

Also read: Shobha Karandlaje — from devout Sangh follower to ‘most powerful woman’ in Karnataka

‘An unconventional pontiff’

Sharief’s appointment is not just unconventional because of his faith. Lingayat seers are supposed to be unmarried, but Sharief isn’t. Not just married, he is also father to three daughters and a son.

However, Shivayogi said “Lingayatism allows a family man to convert into a swami”. “He must be spiritually and socially dedicated to society, that’s all,” he added.

Taking the divine vows has meant giving up his family life, although Sharief is allowed to visit them and guide them “spiritually”. But Sharief said his wife was happy about his new way of life.

“My wife told me that, as long as I am serving people and not lying on the roads drunk, she is happy with my decision,” he added. “I now understand the hardships they must have gone through. I have troubled them immensely in my previous life.”

There is hope, among community leaders and Sharief’s friends too, that his appointment will set an example across the country at a time of tumult.

“A Muslim pontiff of a Lingayat mutt is unthinkable. But Sharief will be a trendsetter not just to break the shackles of religious disparity, but also to bring unity in society today, one we see degrading day by day,” said Ahmed Pasha, a friend.

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  1. I do think it may be example to Nation for social justice and harmony. And is Balmiki of modern age.

  2. When a hindu converts to Islam and learns to recite Quran he can lead prayers. If he completes the course conducted for imams he can be an imam. So many people are like this in Tamil Nadu. This reply is to set the records right.

  3. The Print, the Prestitutes of India, you should first educate yourself, Basavanna is not founder of Lingayat or Veerashive sect, born in a Brahmin family, rebellion Basavanna opposing the customs and rituals and exploitations of common peoples/ agricultural ists by the brahmin priests, shastries of that time, sorrounding him, he embraced already existed Veerashaiva sect of Hinduism for its simple, uncomplicated, unexploitable simplicity in his teenage, 10-12 years . So, he is not founder of it, he’s converted to it, the Veerashaiva/ Lingayat community. And it’s not founded by a person like your abrahamic cults. Mind it, you community of prestitutes.

  4. This is a click bait headline. The gentleman has been appointed the head of the Lingayat math as he has converted to the Lingayat faith, by accepting ‘ Linga Deeksha’. He remains no longer Muslim and is now considered a Lingayat. So there is no issue if a Lingayat is appointed as head of a Lingayat math.

  5. If he has got linga-deeksha, then he is no more a Muslim, but a Lingayat. Why then the media calls it as “Muslim heading a Lingayat Mutt”? If a Hindu-convert-to-Christianity becomes a Bishop, does the media say “Hindu becomes head of Church? Media wants Hindus to remain fools for all time, so that the missionary and mullah conversion machine can work with full force.

  6. To know how and why Hindus got subjugated for 1000 years, look no further than this. Will a mosque allow a Hindu to become the Imam or Maulana? Will a church allow a Hindu to become the pastor or bishop?

    • Actually the headline makes no sense. The gentleman is a converted Lingayat and no more a Muslim. Possibly the writer of this article is unaware that Lingayatism has always been a proselytising faith where accepting ‘Linga deeksha’ is the conversion ceremony. So its actually a Lingayat heading a Lingayat math. Hopefully his life will not be in danger thanks to being brought into the limelight.

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