The Hussaini Brahmins of India

by Reginald Massey

A little known fact of Hindu – Muslim fraternity

Let me start at the beginning when the inhabitants of the Subcontinent never described themselves as ‘Hindus’.

The term can nowhere be found in any of the ancient epics or the Upanishads. However, the caste system was well established well before the Christian Era. Hence Raja Poru who was defeated by Alexander would not call himself an ‘Indian’ or even a ‘Hindu’ (since these terms did not then exist). He would proudly proclaim that he was a Kshatriya, a member of the warrior caste who were born to rule.


In roughly the same area that Poru held sway lay the region of Gandhara (now in Pakistan) there flourished lineages of Muhiyals who were Brahmin scholars and  teachers. They never ruled but served the rulers as Raj Gurus. In fact, the Rajas were often illiterate. Much later, even Akbar the greatest Mughal never hid the fact that he could not read nor write any language. But back to the Muhiyals. By the time that Islam had emerged in the deserts of Arabia the Muhiyals had become a considerable military presence since the Kshatriya Rajas were busy killing each other. The Muhiyals excelled as riders and thus joined cavalry regiments.

Sunil Dutt; Courtesy Wikipedia

The best known Hussaini Brahmin of our times was the actor – director – producer Sunil Dutt (born in Jhelum, now in Pakistan). He married the iconic actress Nargis of Mother India fame. Their son Sanjay Dutt, now happily rehabilitated, is still working in Bollywood.  I happened to know Sunil Dutt who later became the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sport and what I am now writing is largely based on what he told me. When the Prophet of Islam died there was a power struggle in Arabia. The question was:  Who would be the next Khalifa?

Nargis-Dutt; courtesy:

The Umayyad tyrant Yazid assumed the Khalifaship of Islam and Imam Hussain, the Prophet’s grandson, objected. Sunil Dutt told me that one of his ancestors Rahab Dutt  and his family were then living in Iraq in what was called the Dair-al Hindiya (‘the area where the people of Hind lived’). Apparently Rahab Dutt respected Imam Hussain greatly and joined the Imam’s small army. In the massacre at Karbala (in 680 AD) some of the Dutt family also lost their lives.

And Sunil Dutt added: “That is why we particular Brahmins still mourn the death of Hussain. We also died for him.” Later on I discovered that there were a few scattered Hussaini Brahmins spread all over India.

When I asked Sunil Dutt: “What then is your religion? Are you Hindus or are you Muslims?” He smiled and said that before Imam Hussain was slain he gave Rahab Dutt the title of Sultan and then he quoted the following:

                                                 Wah Dutt Sultan !

                                                           Hindu ka Dharam

                                                          Musalman ka Iman.

                                                         Adha Hindu, Adha Musalman!

(Amazing Dutt the King ! The Dharma of the Hindu. The Faith of the Muslim. Half Hindu. Half Muslim)

Incidentally, Nargis’s mother was Jaddan Bai, a Muslim actress and singer. But Nargis’s father Mohan Babu was born a Hussaini Brahmin. For centuries this unique community contributed greatly to what became the Ganga – Jumna tehzeeb, the beautiful homogenous culture marked by elegant language and sophisticated social etiquette, that flourished along the two rivers.

It was a society based on the words Pehle aap! (‘You Sir, go first’).

In the world today the religious demarcations are getting dangerously deeper. Perhaps the example of the Hussaini Brahmins could serve as a ray of hope.

RReggie Masseyeginald Massey has been writing a regular Book Page for CONFLUENCE for years. His poetry and prose on a variety of subjects have been widely published.  Most of his books are available from Amazon UK.