Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin

Dawoodi Bohra

Dawoodi Bohras (Arabic: داؤدی بوہرہ, Hindi: दवूदि बोह्रा) are the main branch of the Bohras, a Musta‘lī subsect of Ismā‘īlī Shī‘a Islām. The subsect is based in India although the Dawoodi Bohra school of thought originates from Yemen.

The word Bohra itself is derived from the Gujarati word Vehwahar, which is interpreted as "trading".

The spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community is called the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq (داعي المطلفق "Unrestricted Missionary"); Mohammed Burhanuddin is the 52nd and current Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq.

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.

Dā‘ī Mohammed Burhanuddin appointed Syedi Khuzaima Qutbuddin as his ma'ðūn and Syedi Husain Husamuddin as his mukāsir.

Fatimid origins

Al-Ḥurrah al-Malikah of Yemen appointed the first Unrestricted Missionary in Yemen in the mid-twelfth century. The Fatimid da‘wah "Mission" was to remain headquartered in Yemen, India and Pakistan (Sindh) under the leadership 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.

Contemporary Dawoodi Bohras

The Dawoodi Bohras are a very closely-knit community who seek advice from the Dā‘ī on spiritual and temporal matters.

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.

Contributions to the Community at Large

The Dawoodi Bohras originated from Fatimid Egypt and thus their cultural mores are based on the practices of the Fatimid Imāms. This is further found in the myriad constructions that the Dawoodi Bohras have carried out around the world, all of which feature Fatimid influences from the mosques and buildings of Cairo.

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.

Current notable official events

The first Dawoodi Bohra masjid in the West was built in Farmington Hills, Michigan in 1988. Immediately thereafter, the first mosque for Canada was inaugurated by Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin in Toronto.

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.

Bohra Zakat

Zakāt, a repayment to God of what you have been blessed with, is one of the seven pillars of the faith. Dawoodi Bohras pay many different zakawāt. The religious establishment has seven tithes, some of which are encouraged and others required of its members during their life-span, before birth and after death. They are as follows:

  1. Sīlatu l-Imām: Sīlah literally means "keeping contact". This is supposed to be collected as an offering for a hidden Imām who will appear one day & the amount will be passed on to him.
  2. Zakātu l-Fitra: Dawoodi Bohra tradition outlines this as a payment for the soul. Dowoodi Bohras believe that this payment is one means of cleansing the soul. It is required to be paid along with Zakatu l-Maal, both of which Dawoodi Bohras usually pay in the month of Sherullahu l-Moazzam (Ramaḍān). Dawoodi Bohras are strictly required to pay this for every family member as it is compulsory. The amount is fixed, and is based by the annual worth of silver.
  3. Zakātu l-Maal: This obligatory payment enjoined by the Qur'ān and Prophet Muḥammad (RA) fixed it at 2.5% of ones wealth and income at the end of a year. Literally, as outlined by the Qu'rān, the amount is 1 for every 40. If a Muslim does not have more than 40 (of any currency), Zakātu l-Maal isn't required. The majority of Muslims give their zakātu directly to the needy and poor, but Dawoodi Bohra culture and tradition outlines that the it be paid from each family to the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq, who decides how the money is split and distributed.
  4. Khums "One-Fifth": As per the Qu'rān, one-fifth of the war booty was to be taken by Prophet Muḥammad (RA) for his family's maintenance and also for performing the functions of the head of the community. The Shī‘ah paid one-fifth of their sudden gains to their Imām from the progeny of Fāṭimatu z-Zahra. The Dawoodi Bohras now pay it to the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq as the Hidden Imām's viceregent.
  5. Ḥaqqun Nafs "Right of the soul": This is a payment given by a Dawoodi Bohra to the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq at will at many times in their life. The payment is based on multiples of 119 (of whatever currency your area uses). At death, a Bohra's family members usually pay a Ḥaqqun Nafs for the deceased as an offering of gratefulness for the life the person had lived.
  6. Nazaru l-Maqam: This a symbol for the sight and help of the Imām and his viceregent. Bohras believe that putting aside money or things of value as Nazaru l-Maqam can help them in times of hardship and need. This money is then presented to the head of the community, the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq.

Fundamentals of the faith

The Dawoodi Bohra faith, unlike mainstream Islam, is based on the concept of hierarchy and each authority at the lower rank has to submit to the one at the higher rank. These religious authorities are known as hudūd (singular hadd). The hadd of the upper rank demands total obedience from the hudūd at lower rank. Thus the Dawoodi Bohra faith is religion of obedience and submission to the authorities. No dissent is permitted. There is no permission given to an unauthoritative person of an open and democratic discussion on religious affairs without the consultation of the religious authority, due to the esoteric nature of Ismā‘īlism, which stresses on the hidden meaning of the Qur'an and the allegorical interpretation of the Pillars of Islam, a unique philosophy on unity, creation, cosmology, eschatology, the institution of prophethood and the Imāmah. Therefore a believer should submit unquestioningly to the authority of the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq and Imām on the discretionary powers and orders on the religious, social and observance of customary obedience to the higher rank of the religious hierarchy. Only those at the advance stage of learning could aspire to know the hidden meaning and the tawīl and for this reason, the Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq takes a strict oath of allegiance (mithaq) from his followers so as to pledge their absolute loyalty to the Imām and Dā‘ī l-Muṭlaq.

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).

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