The word Bohra itself is derived from the Gujarati word Vehwahar, which is interpreted as "trading".
Dawoodi Bohras believe that the 21st Imām, Ṭayyib Abī l-Qāṣim, believed to be a direct descendant of Muḥammad through his daughter Fāṭimatu z-Zahra ("Fatema"), went into seclusion and established the office of the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq as the Imām's vicegerent, with full authority to govern the Dawoodi Bohra community in all matters both spiritual and temporal, as well as those of his assistants, the Ma'ðūn (مأذون) and Mukāsir (مكاسر).
During the Imām's Occultation, a Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq is appointed by his predecessor. The ma'ðūn and mukasir are in turn appointed by the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq. A fundamental belief of the Dawoodi Bohra is that the presence of the secluded Imām is guaranteed by the presence of the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq.
After acute persecution from the Sunnī majority in Yemen, the Da‘wah shifted to India and some followers also relocated. However, a large population of Dawoodi Bohras remained in Yemen and do so today.
Some Bohras' ancestors were converts from Hinduism to Islam in Gujarat, India. Their conversion was the result of the work of Fatimid missionaries from Egypt and Yemen before the seclusion of the 21st Fatimid Imām, some time during the reign of Caliph-Imām al-Mustansir. The converted were largely from the higher castes, many of whom were engaged in trade and commerce. Later, indigenous converts undertook missionary activities in other regions such as the areas that today constitute Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
While the majority of Dawoodi Bohras have traditionally been traders, it is becoming increasingly common for them to become professionals. Within South Asia many choose to become doctors, and in the Far East and the West, a large number now work as consultants or analysts as well as a large contingent of medical professionals. Dawoodi Bohras are encouraged to educate themselves in both religious and secular knowledge, and as a result, the number of professionals in the community is rapidly increasing.
Dawoodi Bohras believe that the education of women is equally important to that of men, and many Dawoodi Bohra women choose to enter the workforce. Al Jamea tus Saifiyah (The Arabic Academy) in Surat and Karachi is a sign to the educational importance in the Dawoodi Bohra community. The Academy has an advanced curriculum which encompasses religious and secular education for both men and women.
Today there are approximately one million Dawoodi Bohras. The majority of these reside in India and Pakistan, but there is also a significant diaspora resident in the Middle East, East Africa, Europe, North America and the Far East.
A Dawoodi Bohra is highly conscious of his identity and this is especially demonstrated at religious and traditional occasions by the appearance and attire of the participants. Dawoodi Bohra men wear a traditional white three piece outfit, plus a white and gold cap (called a topi), and women wear the rida, a distinctive form of the commonly known burqa which is distinguished from other forms of the veil due to it often being in colour and decorated with patterns and lace. Young girls wear a simple two-piece suit with a collar and shalwaar called a Jabloo Izaar. They wear this with a girl's topi, decorated with sequins and sometimes lace.
Besides speaking the local languages, the Dawoodi Bohras have their own language called Lisānu l-Dā‘wat "The language of the Dā‘wat". This is written in Arabic script but is derived from Urdu, Gujarati and Arabic.
Remembrance of the martyrdom of Imām Husayn(AS), grandson of Muħammed, is an essential part of every Dawoodi Bohra community activity. Every year, the head of the community, Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS) delivers religious discourses for ten days during the days of Āshūrā and these are attended by a large number of community members.
Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS) undertook the complete renovation and restoration of the Mosque of Imām al-Hakīm in Cairo, a project UNESCO had considered but did not undertake. Some of the most important Fatimid-era mosques were also renovated by his holiness in Cairo as a tribute to the vast and beautiful legacy of the Fatimid Imams, including Jāmiʻ al-Aqmar (built in 1125) and Jāmiʻ al-Juyūshī in modern Madīnat al-Mukaṭṭam.
Currently, his holiness has taken up the task of renovation of the Masjid al-‘Azam in Kūfa, Iraq. This place is of historical significance to both the Islamic and the Pre-Islamic era. The mosque is also primarily significant to the Shiates as it is the place of martyrdom of ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib. Another significant contribution in Iraq at the moment is the renovation of the shrines of Imam Husayn (AS) in Karbala and that of ‘Vasi Alī (AS)in Najaf.
In June 2005, the Dawoodi Bohra community built Saifee Hospital in Mumbai, India. The hospital is one of the most technologically advanced hospitals in the entire country, and was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh on June 4 2005. At the inauguration, the Dawoodi Bohra community was commended by the Prime Minister during a speech delivered by him.
In August 2005, the Dā‘ī l-Mutlaq inaugurated another new mosque in the United States in Fremont, California (metropolitan San Francisco) and was congratulated by various officials and dignitaries from local, state and the United States governments. President George W. Bush also sent a letter from the White House On July 8th 2007, Dr. Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin inaugurated a new mosque in Paris, France.
At the age of puberty, every Dawoodi Bohra, or mu'min "believer", pronounces the traditional oath of allegiance requiring the initiate to adhere to the Sharī‘ah and accept the religious leadership of the Imāms and Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq. This oath is renewed each year on the 18 Dhū l-Hājj, the day of ‘Īd al-Ghadīr.
The traditional dress of Dawoodi Bohras is kurta, pyjama, topi and sayā for male and rida for female. On all religio-social occasions they are dressed in the above fashion. They eat in the form of traditional thal, a large steel plate placed on the ground. 8 Bohras circle around the thal and sit. Bohras begin their meal with dessert and then move on to the appetizers and main course.
Pilgrimages to the shrines of the Mawāli-e Taherīn ("saints") is an important role in the devotional life of Bohras, for the facilitation of which musafir-khaanas and assisting charitable organizations and awqāf have been set up in several cities. Every new year, the first ten days of Muharram is marked by the martyrdom of Imām Husayn (AS) and is commemorated by setting up sabīl and majālis-e 'azadari. Social gatherings are mainly on the occasions of aqīqah "naming of the newborn", milād "anniversary", mīthāq "religious oath", walīmah "marriage", iftitāh "opening ceremony", urs "commemoration of the deceased Du‘ātu l-Muṭlaq", and majālis (in the month of Muharram and Ramaḍān).