Borhras and reform

Dawoodi Bohras' world of secrecy


The Bohra Community faithfuls have for years been suffocating in oppressive activities under the guise of religious piousness, The Concord regrets to reveal today. The world of the Bohra community under the leadership of his Holiness Sayedna Mohammed Burhanuddin is both intriguing as it is amazing. From untold suffering, merciless vilification to outright extortion of its members, the list is endless.

Members of the Dawood Bohra community in Kenya have for years suffered under primitive, inhuman and oppressive laws imposed upon them by their spiritual leader inspite of the appeals by local members of the community to President Moi to institute a commission of inquiry to look into their activities as has been the case in Tanzania and other countries. Our staff reporter Masese Nyahiri spent three months investigating their secretive activities and brings you the first of the series of the untold story.

A three month thorough investigation into the behind the scenes activities of the community reveal a complex and intricate machinations in what can be termed as ungodly developments in the isolated world of the Bohras.

The rule of the Sayedna-led clergy over the Bohra community, once described as government within a government, has over the years grown in power and reach. With his enormous financial resources Sayedna, the high priest, has managed to build himself an undisputable empire.

However it's the manner in which Sayedna has raised his fortunes that is chilling. Oppression is the catch word to community members who dare not complain against the atrocities committed against them for fear of being ostracized.

Sample this! A Bohra has to pay tax to the high priest even before he is born and continue paying even after his death. Thus a tax is levied on foetus as well as dead ancestors. Perhaps no government in the world has tried this form of taxation.

According to documents made available to The Concord from India the Sayedna collects millions of rupees every year from Bohras in India and abroad as customary tax. Bohras, no matter in which country they reside, are governed by laws and regulations fromulated by the priesthood. They have their own constitution. "This is tyranny practiced in the name of religion," said a disgraced Bohra.

According to information made available to The Concord any member who questiones the injustices and ruthless punishment meted against those perceived to be errant, is declared an outcast. For instance a member opposed to the undemocratic and social injustices once wrote a letter to President Daniel Moi protesting against abuse of human rights by the Sayedna's representatives in Kenya.

In the letter Mr. Asgarali G. Bhujwala said that some members deemed to have been excommunicated (because of being opposed to social injustices), were being victimized and barred from participating in social and religious ceremonies. Mr. Bhujwala further wrote, "why we should not be protected to enjoy our rights as Bohras when we are loyal to our country and the head of state."

Another open letter to His Holiness Sayedna stated how local Amils (leaders) harassed members during the collection of levies, failure of which results in threats, social boycott and denial of entry into mosques and burial sites. The letter further explained how those men without a beard and women without a veil are harassed, insulted and humiliated by Sayedna's local representatives.

Documents in our possession indicate that in the Kenyan case, the sufferings of Bohras worsened when Dr. Yusuf Najmuddin, foster brother of the Sayedna, with the help of the chosen local agents abrogated the community constitution and created disunity iamong members. "Divide and rule" system was introduced where members of the community were forced to sign blank papers in support of the oppressive constitution.

These developments aroused resentment in the community and the move to impose the undemocratic constitution on its members was brought to the attention of registrar of societies who rescinded the whole machination. However, the local agents later, clandestinely, succeeded in registering the constitution which was known as "the 1965 constitution."

In 1968 the Sayedna and his entourage were expelled from Tanzania on charges of contravening the exchange control regulations of the country. The new constitution accorded the Sayedna absolute control over the income and assets of Bohas all around the world through a network of aamils (priests) who are not answerable to local members of the community.

A Bohra has to pay all kinds of taxes which reportedly go into private coffers of the Sayedna. Part of the money finds its way into his foreign accounts and part is spent on his family's extravagant lifestyle.

Sources in the community well versed with the Sayedna activities divulge that huge sums of money as usual acquired through extortion and intimidation is used to buy political support. Having managed to create a "state within a state" in the countries that his followers live, through inducement and bribery to those in power, Sayedna is accorded the status of a state guest whenever he jets into those countries.

Top government officials, ministers, prime ministers and even heads of states rush to receive him at airports when he makes visits to these countries. Progressive Bohras attribute his VIP treatment by world leaders to his power of money. When the Sayedna recently toured Kenya he donated shillings 7.5 millions to Mr. Saniel Moi at state house Nairobi. The money was said to have been raised through extortion, intimidation and blackmail of community members.

The Sayedna is said to have converted cash set aside for the needy to his own use. The Nazar Muqam as the cash for the poor is called has been made a compulsory levy by the Sayedna which initially was meant to be voluntary. The Bohras are not allowed to insure themselves or their businesses as that according to the Sayedna is haram (prohibited) in Islam. Instead the insurance money should be kept aside and passed over to him.

Every Bohra family is coerced into paying some amount of compulsory amount every year. This according to pundits have nothing to do with Islamic teachings. Tanzania's permanent commission of enquiry report of 1979 summed it up when it said, "It has been observed that Tanzania citizens who are members of the Bohra community are being socially boycotted, called dissidents and thrown out of mosques."

The report warned that any person who does not abide by the country's policy will not be tolerated. The fact that a Bohra member pays tax in his/her lifetime until even after one has died is agonizing. A Bohra cannot be buried without paying salvation of the soul tax (haqqun nafs). The relatives of the dead face a great deal of harassment due to the intense pressure from the local leaders for payment of taxes and 'offerings'. The extent of the 'offering' generally depends on the financial status of the deceased and real hard bargaining is done by the priests in the matter.

Billions of shillings syphoned out of Kenya

The Sayedna dealt a major blow to the already severely squandered and punctured Kenya's economy when he visited the country recently. After three weeks of lavish and VIP stay in Nairobi and Mombasa where his followers reside, His Holiness Sayenda, secretly jetted out of the country with millions of shillings in foreign currency. High placed sources within the community's hierarchy told The Concord in confidence that the Bohra leader indeed flew to his home turf in India with stunning amount of foreign currency having been collected as usual through threats, intimidation and extortion to its community members.

The sources who did not want to be disclosed for fear of reprisals from the highly secretive community members said as a tradition the whopping amount had been raised under questionable and mind-boggling circumstances.

Our mole who said he was fed up with the underground dirty-dealings of the community (himself being a member) divulged that the smuggling of cash during the Bohra leader's visits to countries where his followers reside did not start yesterday.

"The siphoning of money abroad (to India), from the third world countries where Bohras reside, during his Holiness' visits have been there from the beginning. You cannot believe it but believe me it's been there and goes on unnoticed", the source pointed out.

The source confirmed existence of a deep split and resentment among the members of the community's constitution. Documents given to us indicate that individual members are forced to pay thousands of shillings depending on one's wealth to facilitate his stay in the country, apart from the money paid for individual blessings and assurance of a stay in heaven.

A member who requested anonymity for fear of being ostracized told The Concord that each time the spiritual leader visited the country, he has to call on president Moi where each member is forced to pay between Shillings 100,000 and 500,000 for presentation to the Head of State towards any project of his choice.

The Concord has so far established that Sayedna Mohammed Burhanuddin owns over 100 bank accounts throughout the world through his cronies who engage in under the table deals with political and well-connected businessmen in the countries they reside.

A progressive member bitterly explained to The Concord that although most of the Bohra members are poor, it was unfair of Mr. Moi to receive money acquired through dubious ways and that taking it is giving credence to authoritarian rule by the Sayedna.

Documents at our possession indicate that at one time the former powerful minister for constitutional affairs Mr. Charles Mugane Njonjo warned the leaders (Bohras) against criminal offenses of collecting large amounts of money from their followers without the Minister for Finance's permission.

Another newspaper in Tanzania had reported the deportation of Sayedna's relative from that country by the government accusing him of circumventing exchange control regulations and enriching himself at the expense of the poor members.

Several reports, including newspaper cuttings indicate that the high priest's family and those surrounding or representing him in those countries where Bohras reside have been questioned by the authorities over smuggling of various items under cover of the holy family's tax -ree cargo.

It is against this background of enjoying state protection and being accorded VIP reception in Kenya that the Bohra leader has been smuggling millions of shillings out of the country.

It is an open fact that the baggage of Sayedna's entourage are never scrutinized at departure or entry points because of the immunity that he enjoys. This proivdes perfect cover to his cronies to smuggle things out.

Sources close to the Bohra underground activities divulged that the numerous bank accounts owned by the Sayedna had facilitated money smuggling syndicate all over the world. "Huge sums of money is deposited in respective bank accounts in every country where Bohras reside. The money is later are illegally and unscrupulously transferred to his headquarters in India" a source disclosed.

According to other independent sources within the Bohras community the spiritual leader has virtually brainwashed the Bohra into believing that the cash deposited in foreign accounts is in safe custody for their use in case of political turmoil in the countries they reside. For instance, between January 20 and 27 1985, Clarity, a paper based in Bombay ran a series of articles in which the Sayedna's family was accused of being involved in banking scandals.

Apart from the illegal cash transactions, the Sayedna-led clergy wields enourmous power which is inavariably enforced through rule of terror and persecution of community members.

It is imperative to note here that the high priest has bestowed upon himself powers that entails among other things ownership of the minds and bodies of all his followers as well as all communal properties.

According to sources from the community Sayedna claims to have derived his powers from God, hence his representative on earth. He is therefore supernatural and not answerable to human beings. Investigations found out that the Sayedna through his representatives has imposed taxes of his own on his members in addition of those payable to the government agencies.

According to evidence presented in the Nathwani Commission report of 1979, the Bohras under pains of reprisal have been denied the right to contest elections or to vote for candidates of their choice even in municipal elections.

The report further indicated that the members of the Bohra community could only vote for the candidate of their leaders' choice.

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