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Dawoodi Bohras - News & Events

Zehra Cyclewala storms into Devrhi in Surat

In Surat’s Zanpa bazaar there is building 3/913 named Saifee Manzil adjoining old Devrhi where Sayedna Mohammed Burhanuddin Saheb was born. This building is opposite to Qubba Mubarak, the grand masjid and Jamia Saifia on the other side. Syedna Saheb’s brother, Ali Asghar Kalimuddin, Mansoos Mufaddal’s son, Taha bhai Saheb and other members of Qasre-Aali live in Saifee Manzil. Zehra ben Cyclewala owns the basement of Saifee Manzil.

On 8th March Zehra Ben Cyclewala organised The International Women's Day celebration underthe  banner of Surat Mahila Sangh and Fulibai/Zehra Cyclewala Trust in the basement of Saifee Manzil. A very interesting incident that took placed which shows unethical suppression of Syedna Saheb’s administration and outstanding courage of Zehra Ben Cyclewala.

The old Devrhi in Surat.
The old Devrhi in Surat.

Sayedna Saheb’s administration is in great shock and surprise that how could Zehra Cyclewala have come to purchase the basement of Saifee Manzil. There are two paths to reach the basement. On 6th March 2013 Zehra Ben took the path facing Saifee Manzil. The  watchman stopped her from entering, saying that “the front road facing the Devrhi has been locked and you cannot use this road. Zehra Ben asked the watchman “who has instructed you to lock the gate and stop me?” Watchman gave her one cell no. 09825409139. Zehra Ben spoke to the person on other side of this nunber and said, “Look mister, I have purchased the basement and hence as owner I am entitled to use both the roads and if you will stop me I will file a case against you and get all your shahzadas arrested.”

Zehra Ben then went to Salabatpura Police Station to lodge a complaint before launching legal proceedings. A man from Sayedna Saheb’s administration came rushing to the police station and told Zehra Ben “Sorry! We have unlocked the door and henceforth you can please use whichever road you like.”

Two days later the International Women’s Day took place. The objective of this event was to make women and children aware regarding their safety, empowerment, and their civil and human rights.  On this occasion Fulibai/Zehra Cyclewala Trust also distributed clothes to poor and needy women and children. These clothes were donated by Nasreen Rajabali, Mrs. Khatija Ben Kapasi and Mumtaz Ben, which they had collected by going door to door in Birmingham, UK and sent to Zehra Ben. The clothes were distributed to 300 poor and needy by Jaya Ben Joshi, the vice-chairperson of Surat Mahila Sangh and ex-principal of J.J. Torts School.

To make this donation program successful Bilquees Banu, Najmun-nisa Shaikh, Rewa Ben Patel, Sujeet Pathakji, Shabbir Bhai Cyclewala, Jayshri Pachchisgar, Aakuriti Bhandari etc. had worked hard and they deserve big thanks. On this occasion a one-act drama “Aa Laash Koni?” (Whose dead body is this?) was staged by Zehra Ben, Akiriti Bhandari, Sheetal Patel, Rewa Ben Patel and Jayshri Parchchisgar and it was appreciated by one and all.

A section of the audience in the basement.
A section of the audience in the basement.

Prominent speakers who threw light on legal, civil and human rights of women were Shri Dasbhai Liliawala (Association Against Superstitions and Blind-faith), Professor Babubhai Desai (President, Satya Sodhak Sabha), Advocate Shenmare, Yunus Baluwala (Treasurer, Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community), Yusuf R.G. (Secretary, Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat, Udaipur), Moiz Mediwala (Husaini Marriage Bureau), H.M. Patel (M.D. of Mamma Educational Trust), Smita Ben Patel, Dr. Atul Pathakji, Jaymeen Desai, Gustad Wadia, Arvind Bhandari, Jayaben Joshi and Zehra Cyclewala and myself (Editor, the Bohra Chronicle).

Zulm hi hai jo bagawat ko janam deta hai (Tyranny gives birth to rebellion.)

Zehra was born in an orthodox lower-middle-class Dawoodi Bohra family. Normal Bohra girls are generally shy, timid and suppressed. But Zehra was different, always reasoning and taking a stand. She joined the Bohra Saif Cooperative Society inaugurated by the Syedna Burhanuddin himself. She was soon promoted from clerk to manager. Then came a fatwa by Syedna asking Bohras to leave the Society at once. All the Bohra staff quit but Zehra refused.

Enormous pressure was brought on her but she stuck on even when Syedna’s son, Qaid Johar, had to come down to Surat to meet her. A campaign was launched in Surat to excommunicate her and she was excommunicated from the community, but still she refused to take this lying down. Assertive and against injustice, Zehra filed a case in the court and won.

Yusuf RG, Secretary Udaipur Jamat addressing the audience.
Yusuf RG, Secretary of Udaipur Jamat addressing the meeting.

However, the majority of Bohra shareholders voted to suspend her despite the high court’s stay order. It was at this time that Zehra began meeting with women of other faiths who had also suffered in their own way and were trying to speak out against their oppression. They formed a support group and tried to help each other cope with their difficult situations. It was these women who inspired her to persist in the struggle. Today Zehra Cyclewala is internationally known fighter against the tyranny of Syedna’s administration.

Now she has made her way into the Devrhi  (local aamil’s residence) and daringly carrying on her activities sitting in Lion’s den. I was in Surat for Zehra Ben’s function. Zehra ben’s house is in Saifee Mohalla adjoining Burhani Hall and Saifee Masjid in the mist of fanatic Bohras where she daringly stays alone. When Saifee Manzil for Khothari Shahzadas was under construction she bought the basement from the builder much to the surprise of the Kothar. The same Kothar had made Zehra Ben’s life difficult in Surat city by setting Bohras against her. But she did not deter and remained firm. Today Kothar is afraid of her.

The old Devrhi where the 42nd Dai Syedna Yusuf Najmuddin, the 43rd Dai, Syedna Abde Ali Saifuddin, the 44th Dai Syedna mohammad Izzuddin, the 45th Dai Syedna Tayyeb Zakiuddin, the 46th Dai Syedna Mohammad Badruddin, the 48th Dai Syedna Abdul Husain Hushamuddin, the 49th Dai Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin and the 50th Dai Syedna Abdulla Badruddin had lived and these eight Dai are buried one after other in line in one Qubba. The 51st Dai Syedna Taher Saifuddin and the 52nd Dai Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin were born in this old Devrhi. But 51st Dai left Surat and came down to Bombay to establish his financial empire. The Moti Masjid, the graveyard and Saifee Daras (now Jamia Saifia) are at walking distance from this Devrhi.

Now Zehra Cyclewala has a claim to the very foundation of that Devrhi. Professor Babubhai Desai and Shri Dasbhai both described this as a “historical event”, a strategic turn in Bohra reform movement. In the coming months Zehra is planning to hold in her basement:-
1. A women’s Cultural Event in which about 300 Bohra Youth women from Udaipur are likely to participate.
2. A two-day seminar on “Islam and Human Rights” headed by Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer.
3. In February 2014 World Dawoodi Bohra Conference (last two sessions in her basement).