The closing of the Bohra mind

It is said that three things are dear to a Bohra man, his topi (cap), his bayiro (wife) and his vayopar (business). He guards them zealously. Beyond a formal education, there is little place in his life for books, learning and, should one say, thinking. Which is just fine for the religious establishment. The little the average Bohra knows, the better for the powers-that-be. The priesthood, like the latter day brahmins, claim monopoly of knowledge and have appropriated the sole right to interpret religion, history and tradition.

The Bohras meekly accept whatever is doled out to them for they are told that it is not for them to question why. And, of course, few dare to question the doctrine. Reformist literature is banned. And no Sayedna-fearing, bayiro-loving, money-minting Bohra in his right mind would touch it either. Therefore, it is not surprising that very few mumins know what the reformists want, and cannot understand why they have to be so pig-headed as to challenge the priesthood.

Given this culture of unthinking acceptance of dogmas, the Bohras enjoy a great degree of social and religious cohesion. This cohesiveness, however, is more akin to that of a flock of sheep being herded along by a ruthless religious leadership.

Over the years the Sayedna, the high priest, and the Kothar, the clergy, have bludgeoned the community into a kind of submission and meekness that is an affront to the democratic and humane ideals of Islam. An elaborate system of control, maintained under the garb of religion, keeps the community in thrall of the religious establishment. The cult of the Sayedna is so deeply ingrained in the Bohra psyche that to say anything against him or his authoritarian system is to court mortal trouble. So overwhelming is the Kothar's grip on the hearts and minds of the Bohras that most of them are not even aware that they are being deprived of human rights.

All kinds of religious taxes and codes of discipline are imposed on the community, which, needless to say, are illegitimate, un-Islamic and unnecessary:

  • The Bohras are subjected to a strict regime of cradle-to-grave taxes. For every religous and social occasion — from marriage to burial — they have to seek raza (permission) from the Kothar, which actually is an excuse to extort money.
  • The Bohras are not allowed to elect their representatives for their local cmmunity jamaats (organisations). The Kothar appoints its own lackeys.
  • Millions of dollars collected by way of indiscriminate taxes remain unaccountable, and very little of it is spent on the welfare of the community.
  • Every Bohra is required to take an oath of allegiance — misaaq — which is a formal initiation into the faith. The misaaq serves to make every Bohra into a slave of the Sayedna.
  • The Bohras who fail to obey the Sayedna's edicts and/or default on payment of dues are punished by socio-religious boycott. This form of punishment is strictly enforced to make sure that the offending person becomes a social pariah, an outcast shunned by family, friends and the community at large.

The sum total of this cruel system of social and religious control is that Indian Bohras, though formally governed by the Indian Constitution, enjoy no fundamental rights at all. What is guaranteed by the constitution is taken away by the Sayedna. A Bohra has neither freedom of speech nor freedom to act according to his conscience.

That many orthodox and not-so-orthodox Bohras would vehemently refute all this is a testimony to the complex history of social conditioning, fear and helplessness. As in all totalitarian systems, dissent is furiously suppressed by the Bohra priesthood. Dissenters are subjected to social ostracism and humiliation. But despite such great odds, Bohras have from time to time rebelled against the tyranny of the Kothar. And there are thousands of them out there who have a good reason to question the state of affairs, but do not, cannot.

Individuals left to themselves can do little. It is important to get organised. This website is addressed to thinking Bohras and appeals to them to give a serious and dispassionate thought to the problems raised here and try to evolve a solution. No doubt it requires courage to challenge the existing system. But let us remember, without courage we cannot achieve anything worthwhile.

It is often said that since we do not like the way the priesthood functions, why don't we get out, leave the community, disappear. A political equivalent of this logic would run something like this: if a human rights group agitates against a cruel government, what is the option left for the group? To get out of the country, change the nationality, disappear? Well, it is an absurd argument, at best. At worst, it reeks of fascism. And it is this fascist mentality bred by the priesthood that refuses to listen to the reformists' point of view.

The reformists are proud of the Fatimi Da'wah, its heritage and its tradition. Unfortunately, today it is in the clutches of selfish tyrants. It is our duty to rescue it and restore it to its pristine purity that it once was. We hope this website would set Bohras thinking and motivate them to act.

The reformist movement under the umbrella of The Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community has been in the forefront of the struggle to bring about change in the community. This website is part of that ongoing struggle: to reach out to the Bohras the world over, to bring them together to consolidate our efforts to take control of our lives, our community and our finances. In other words, to make the Sayedna and the Kothar accountable to the community.

As you must be aware, the reformists are up against rich and powerful forces. Our struggle is long, and a constant lack of funds is a hurdle that we must cross everyday. If you sympathise with our cause, you can help us in many ways: by giving your time and donations and support. Every new member will make our movement that much stronger. Get in touch. Keep in touch.