Features
Farzana Doctor: Making the write choice
Her mother died when she was eleven, and she remembers vividly the commotion that followed. The argument, she recalls vaguely, was of religious nature, something to do about burial. Farzana wanted those people, those angry voices to go away, leave her in peace. This encounter with religion was not a happy one. It seared her young mind. Read full article (external link)
Zehra Cyclewala: Taking on the high and mighty

Tell the auto rickshaw driver to drop you off at the Red Tower in Zampa Bazar, that is the only tower in Surat, he will know, she said. Fifteen minutes later I arrived in a busy street swarming with people and traffic, a typical late-morning rush of any mid-sized Indian city. There she was, standing across the street:  A bespectacled middle-age woman wearing a cotton shalwar-kameez. We greeted, and made small talk as we took a short walk to her house through the narrow, claustrophobic lanes.

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Ramzan, iftaar and nostalgia
During the Cold War American presidents had a handy way to manipulate the masses. All they had to do was cry out “Russians are coming, Russians are coming” and the gullible Americans would be spooked out of their wits. Similarly, there is a way to spook the Muslims? No, it’s not “the Americans are coming”, although that is more terrifyingly true than one can imagine. I’m referring to something closer to home, something integral to their faith. more
Fearless intellectual activist like no other
I vividly remember the day, some 30 years ago, when the cover story by Asghar Ali Engineer was published in the Illustrated Weekly of India. With Sayedna Moahammed Burhanuddin’s picture on the cover and the title “A Law Unto Himself”, the article created a sensation. Nobody had dared to challenge Sayedna Saheb so openly so publicly before. It gave us young Turks a new sense of mission and energy. Instinctively, we knew this man was on to something. Bohras, who are generally meek and tend to mind their own business, are not quite used to this kind of dynamic personality rising in their midst. more
Merchant Princes of East Africa
Gijsbert Oonk, the author, starts the book (The Karimjee Jivanjee Family: Merchant Princes of East Africa 1800–2000) with an insert of a family tree. This becomes a very necessary tool for readers as we weave through the journey of the prominent Karimjee Jeevanji family on the east coast of Africa. The author is a senior associate professor of non-western history at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He has published various books and numerous articles on the history of the Indian Ocean region. more
Bohra scholar who speaks truth to power
On a cool December morning I knock on the door of a house in a posh Los Angeles county. A diminutive man opens the door. He is Ismail K. Poonawala, former professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at UCLA. There is renovation going on in the house, Prof. Poonawala apologises for the mess. We make small talk as he gives me a tour of his study, it is lined with books on three sides, the fourth is held up by glass doors overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a distance. more
The sweet and sour of Bohra cuisine
Although food is integral to human survival, for Bohras it boils down to much more. After faith and culture, it is food that binds them together, brings them together. In fact faith would have little currency without that inevitable jaman. Food, or at least the expectation of it, helps one endure those dreary majalises. And for the orthodox brethren, for whom no gathering, religious or otherwise, can end without the ritual of matam, that expectation cannot be sweeter. more
The unsung hero of reform movement
It was small hours of the morning. A boy of 16-17 was poring over his books, engrossed in his studies. There is a knock on the door. A man in a simple Muslim garb enters, tells the boy that Hazur-e-aali wants to see him. They exchange a few words, and the boy is driven to a grand house where Hazur-e-aali is sitting on a chair in a large room. The boy is directed to sit on the floor before him. Hazur-e-aali commands him to look him in his eyes and begins to talk about the glorious history of the Dais, how they never die; about the infallible Imams and their resplendent past; about Fatimid history and its vicissitudes; about Islam and its Ismaili inheritance and about the Dawoodi Bohras who opposed their Dai and how they were ruined (halak thayaa). more
An artist true to himself, true to his soil
Every morning after breakfast you will find Abbas Batliwala in his studio communing with his canvas. “It’s the best time of day,” he says. A time to reflect on inner universe. From its unknown depths emerges an insistent creative urge that has defined his destiny and given him his true calling. If not for this urge Abbas would have been just another shopkeeper. “I’m no more than a salesman,” he says. Not for him the airs of an artist. He makes light of his talent and fame. more
Three great Bohra scholars of 20th century
Dawoodi Bohras  are not used to reading "Borha" and "scholar" in the same sentence. So it may come as a surprise to learn about these three great Bohra scholars (two Dawoodi and one Suleimani) of the 20th century. Many of us have not heard about them because independent studies and research into religious knowledge is actively discouraged by the Bohra priestly class. It considers religious knowledge as its exclusive domain, and as such zealously controls all our great Ismaili and Fatimid literature. Those who show any sign of indpendent scholarship are ex-communicated and banished as heretics. more
Ghalib was a beacon of secular, liberal values
Last year (2011) in April Justice Markandey Katju suggested that Ghalib be given the Bharat Ratna and it appealed to me and several of my secular friends and so I initiated an online petition to collect signatures. It got quite a favourable response but few friends disagreed although their secular credentials are as impeccable as of those who readily supported the petition. more
Traditional architecture: House form of Bohras in Gujarat
The history of architecture in India reflects a rich and diversified legacy, not only through the classical examples but also in the display of a rich heritage of vernacular traditions of building. These are spread in several regional environments in the form of a variety of settlement patterns, institutions and dwelling types. more