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Dawoodi Bohras - Your story

How can we stop Kothar’s juggernaut?

I was born in 1939 in a Dawoodi Bohra family. Having been brought up in a traditional Bohra household and later having migrated to North America I ensured that my children were raised in the same tradition. I taught them to read, write and recite Arabic, how to perform wudhu and offer prayers, explained Islam and its sects down to what we are as Dawoodi Bohras.

In North America I have come across many immigrants from East Africa, India, Pakistan, Middle East and other countries who shared my feelings. They, like me, migrated to have a better standard of living, experience freedom, security, etc. I must say it was a good decision to migrate as I have done well in all respects.

Together with the task of settling down in North America I, with other members of our community, observed Ramadan, Muharram, Urus, etc. on a communal basis. Initially these functions were held in community halls, clubs, basements of churches, etc. But in our midst were a few “staunch” Bohras who had aspirations of one day approaching the Kothar (the central Bohra clerical administration in Mumbai) to send us a Mulla or Sheikh to facilitate religious events. Their vision was grand in that they wanted to establish a jamaat, build mosques, organize madrassas, etc. Little did they know that jamaat members would have to bear the expenses and that those had to come from them only.

I must confess that I harboured a nagging feeling in my heart that as soon as our community would get better organized the chamchas would embark on this task. As feared we had Sheikhs visit us on occasions of Muharram and Ramadan. The Kothar having its own barometer must  have estimated the amount of “wool” our community was worth. Within a year a Sheikh was installed in our city who had to be provided with a substantial salary, an apartment, furniture, car, etc. He surrounded himself with chamchas through whom he started to consolidate his position. Subsequent Sheikhs have incrementally entrenched their position and power. The collection of wajebaat is now fully implemented and enforced.

I continued to attend the markaz and paid my dues. As a senior member I saw my wajebaat go higher and higher every year. Salaams and other dues were extracted for this and that. As I continued to attend markaz I listened to the chorus of complaints from other members about increases in wajebaat, etc., yet they were the same people who participated fully in all functions. I felt that they should stop participating, if they wanted to change the situation. But the reason they could not object or stop participating was due to the fear of being blacklisted and not being invited to daris, nikahs, mishaqs, and other such social and religious events. They feared ostracisation. This fear compelled them to go to markaz. Bohras are weak-boned by nature. They do not like confrontation. “Bolwu nai” (do not speak) is their motto, they cower and they continue to grin and bear.

I told many of my friends that what they were doing was hypocritical, they should stop going to markaz, stop attending events. Many told me that “jawu pade che” (we’ve to go). It was pathetic to listen to adults telling me “Jawu pade che”. That is not only a capitulation but it affects the very foundation of any human being's rights and freewill. The disgruntled Bohras were always up-to-date on any gossip and adventures of the “royal family”.

Bohras doing maatam
"The sacrifice by Imam Hussain (AS) and Ahlul-Bait has been pitifully reduced to a choreographed series of maatam."

For me enough was enough. After much thought, I made the decision to stop going to markaz and paying dues. My Bohra friends and acquaintances when they meet me always asked “Kem markaz ma dekhata nathi” (how come we don’t see at markaz anymore)? To which I reply that I perform my prayers, etc. at home. It is a very easy reply; I do not lie. I want to be honest to myself and my Allah. I continue to fulfill most of my religious obligations. I do that in the peace and quiet of my home; away from all the gossip, the crowds and congestion, etc. Also I do not have to offer two-raqat namaaz to any living and departed Dais, I do not have to do salaam to teeny-bopper children of Sheikhs, make useless small talk, express false praise, sit with double-faced people.

The Kothar has taken full advantage of modern technology to relay events to all parts of the world where Bohras reside. Such a great sacrifice by Imam Hussain (AS) and Ahlul-Bait has been pitifully reduced to a choreographed series of maatam. Overriding the whole waaz is the praise of the present Dai, the 51st Dai and the anointed Dai. At times it is embarrassing to listen to a waaz where we are told about Maulana Ali's humble lifestyle, his meagre diet, and his benevolence. Yet, the opulence that surrounds the waaezin is so starkly contradictory.

It is true that the Kothar is a very powerful organization; ruthless, deceitful, and will go to great lengths to vilify and destroy any dissidents wherever they are. Human beings are social animals and need a society to function. The Kothar knows that well. They take to the takhat to pronounce laanat on anyone who comes in its ways. Stories abound both on this site and the Forums as well as in other publications that its tentacles are spread far and wide.

Years ago mullahs and sheikhs were sent to provide service to Bohras in villages, towns and cities where they lived. These were humble people who performed their tasks and were well rewarded by their hosts. Today most major cities and towns have someone who is from the Dai's family.  With the introduction of E-card the Kothar tracks when and how many times one attends waaz, namaaz, etc. The Kothar had a master plan put in effect years ago to bring Bohras under its absolute control. It started with the quomi libaas, rida, dadhi, etc. which was followed by compulsory attendance in sabak, etc. Din has been reinvented; the wudhu of older days has been revised. Bohras now perform their own version of Hajj. Kothar has put Bohras in a mould from where it is very difficult to extricate oneself. Madrassa children are turned into spies. They are being asked to report whether their parents perform namaaz, gamble, smoke or drink, listen to music, etc.  The introduction of the tiffin system was heralded to make Bohra women free from the task of preparing food for their families. The Kothar offered that women would use that time to educate themselves in dini taalim, sew rida, embroider topi, etc. to earn extra income.

I have read hundreds of posts in these Forums and I do feel a lot of affinity. My question is what purpose does it serve and where is all this leading to. We can complain about the lavish lifestyle of the Dai and his huge contingent of Shahzadas, Shahzadis, and their offspring. Have they experienced paid employment? Do they perform any incoming-producing work? No, their only source of income is the wajebaat and other taxes from Bohras. Their lifestyles, first-class travels, cars, bungalows, servants, etc. are all supported by the community. Every Bhaisaheb, Sheikh, Mulla has a stake in the collection of wajebaat in terms of a commission. The Kothar juggernaut is secure and sure of itself and its power. Its control is absolute and effective like a straitjacket.

I feel posts and comments on happenings in the Bohra world are only good for venting hot air. I am sure Progressives have achieved a lot. Could someone please inform me about what Progressives have achieved? What is our vision, where do we see ourselves in a few years? Wrongdoings from and about Kothar is a broken-record played over and over by us. Our whining is self-satisfying. Let us collectively come up with suggestions as to what we can offer. We do not have to “build” anything.

I was on an extensive visit to India this year and witnessed the abject poverty there. People in East Africa live better than that. Together with my business associates I donate to societies in Rajkot and Kolkata which do exceptional work to help the poor in slums. They provide inexpensive medical clinics, free education, vocational training for young mothers, small loans for cottage industries, etc. India is a country in which 49% of the population does not have a proper toilet; people urinate everywhere, garbage including dead animals and rotting food can be seen in the streets and alleys. Let us open our eyes, identify areas where help is needed and do something about it.

A sher, below, by Daag should energize us!

Khoob parda he ke chilman se lage bethe ho;
Saaf chupte bhi nahi aur samne aate bhi nahi
Zist se tang ho to 'Daag' jeete kyun ho;
Jaan pyari bhi nahi aur jaan se jate bhi nahi