Association of Progressive Dawoodi Bohras of Ontario

Far and few but still a force to reckon with

by Naseem Jivanjee and Lubaina Fidaali | APDBO website

The Association of Progressive Dawoodi Bohras of Ontario (APDBO) has formed a very caring community that caters for all religious ceremonial needs and is socially very active. The members (approximately 100 including children) are from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, India and Pakistan. The association owns a community centre in Hamilton, where members meet regularly for religious and social gatherings. The community is small but well organized and committed to the reformist cause.

The association was formed in the early eighties with a few families getting together to celebrate major events such as 'Moharrum' and 'Idd'. These families were mostly new immigrants. At the time they did not have a permanent place, but used various public places, which were not always convenient due to the time and facility restrictions. The common Bohra background kept the members united and formed a bonding convincing them that an important part of settling into their new home country was to ensure the continuance of the community life. Like Bohras all over the world, they realized the benefits of and dreamed of owning a permanent community centre.

This dream was finally fulfilled when the committee felt the time was ripe for a bold move that required not only a great deal of financial but also moral support to ensure the ongoing success of the centre. With generous donations of the Mamujee family of Mombasa, Kenya, the Hamdani family of Ontario, Canada as well as by the rest of the members of the association, through various fund raising projects, the dream indeed became a reality. The centre was completely paid for in five years.

The Association of Progressive Dawoodi Bohras of Ontario (ABDBO) centre was formally opened in a very joyous ceremony in 1991. The centre is located in Hamilton, which is equal distance to most of our community members, who are settled in Toronto and its outskirts. Its location in a quiet industrial area ensures privacy and ample parking space. Nearby there is also a large Ismaili mosque and a Muslim mosque.

The facility has one large multi-purpose hall, which can accommodate 200 people, a namaaz/majlis room, a mayyat room, a modern well-equipped kitchen and washroom facilities. Over the years, members have lovingly furnished this 'home' with chairs, tables, cutlery and appliances with their generous donations to make the centre a comfortable place to visit.

The cemetery is about a mile away form the centre and we own 56 burial plots, some donated but most purchased by the Association. We own coffins, kaffans and other necessary items.

Functions are held regularly every month during summer and on religious occasions in winter. The managing committee issues a calendar of events six-month in advance. Our annual activities include a 'Game Day' and a workshop called 'Towards The Year 2000', when we very candidly reflect on our past and address up coming challenges.

Like all Muslims, the APDBO members value the virtue of charity. They have responded generously to many appeals for help from abroad. We cannot officially send money overseas through the associations due to Canadian laws. This is usually done on a private basis. In addition we have a permanent food bank drive, whereby members donate non-perishable food items on every visit. These are then sent to local food banks that help out the homeless and the needy.

Most visitors to the centre, and they include friends who are not Reformists and those who are in 'chitthi', compliment us on the atmosphere, the interesting programs, and the efficiency of the organization. There is a core group of members who participate actively.

We are lucky to have a band of volunteers to keep the organization going. A managing committee that is elected every two years looks after the overall running of the organization, including membership, financial matters and scheduling functions. We have a hard working cooking committee of 4-5 dedicated ladies who prepare the most delicious meals. Mr. Zulfi Abdulla, one of our most dedicated members, does an outstanding job of the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep of the centre. Hatimbhai Mulla Ismail is our volunteer Mulla, who is licensed to perform marriages in Ontario. There are two mayyat committees, who work hard to ensure the in the event of a death the family of the deceased are given the most help possible. We also publish 'The Progressive' newsletter twice a year to keep the members informed and involved.

The spirit of the community almost always evolves through a process of trials and tribulations and we have encountered and continue to encounter many challenges in our quest for achieving a smooth running operation.

Bill S13 was a great test very early in our existence. Sayedna Saheb tried to pass a law in the Canadian parliament that would allow him to be sole owner of all Bohra properties, both public and personal in Canada, as Dai-al-mutlaq.

The Reformists banded together and with the help of documents and affidavits from Reformists worldwide, as well as by political action, we prevented the bill from being passed. In fact we raised an awareness of the ploys of Kothar among those senators who were being lobbied by it. All the documentation is now in the parliamentary library. This was a major victory for Reformists and an achievement indeed for such a small group of people.

The other major challenge for our group was the establishment and implementation of rules and regulations to ensure a democratic organization. The rules would apply to all persons, everyone was equal, one or two people could not dictate, and majority principles applied in all decision making.

The managing committees became working committees, and so power and positions were no longer a factor in elections. This transition was very important in moving from an authoritarian to a democratic style of operation. We have now a membership which has well accepted this style, and it has helped to solve problems which have arisen. For example in the question of "should music be allowed in the hall of the centre", 75% of members responded with a "yes".

All this required hard work and dedication on the part of many people, countless meetings with lawyers, accountants, the writing of two constitutions etc. Fortunately, our group has a significant core of capable members in the 30 - 60 years range, which makes all these activities possible.

The other challenge for us are the cold winter months, long distances, an aging population and lack of significant participation by our youngsters. We have to be flexible when programming to take into account these factors.

In recent years, we have lost about six families as members, five of them reverting to the Orthodox side because of family pressures, but this is a reality for all Reformist groups in the world.