Borhras and reform
Dawoodi Bohras - Borhras and reform

Karbala and its relevance to Dawoodi Bohras: 2

This is the second part in a series discussing the relevance of Karbala to our community. Saifuddin Insaf argues that our present-day priesthood is completely out of step with the principles for which Imam Hussain sacrificed his life.

Dais: Almost all 50 Dawoodi Bohra Dais prior to 51st Dai, Sayedna Taher Saifuddin were poor and heavily indebted as they were petty traders or hawkers and had no other source of income. So much so that in 1892, 49th Dai Sayedna Mohammad Burhanuddin (grandfather of Sayedna Taher Saifuddin) had to borrow money from one of his Amil Shaikh Abdul Tayyeb, and two Hindu Marwaris. On non-payment by the Sayedna the Amil filed a suit No. 285 of 1892 against the Sayedna and tried to put him in jail to recover his Rs.50,000 along with Rs.4000 interest given to Sayedna as returnable loan on simple interest. Earlier Dais used to stay in their small houses owned by them or in a simple devri provided by the Jamat. There was no religious hierarchy for Dais like it was there for Fatimi Imam that is one Imam succeeding to another Imam by inheritance. Any ordinary Bohra who was the most learned and was known for his simplicity, piety and just conduct was chosen and raised to the office of Dai, not by inheritance not by election but by Nass. The Dai, inspired by Imam, publicly declared Nass on his successor in Jamat meeting or other such public forum.

Looking at the plight of the Dawat and the Dai, the Bohra philanthropist, Sir Adamji Peerbhoy Rafiuddin organized a conference on 9th March 1899 at Dhoraji and made it obligatory for all Amils to remit 5% of their collection towards the Dai to help him carry on with affairs of the Dawat. Earlier the entire amount (the salary paid to Amil by local Jamat and his personal income) was retained by the Amils. Note that in those days it was Amils’ duty to take care of the Dai and Dawat and not of common Bohras.

Local Jamats: Prior to 51st Dai, Dawoodi Bohras and their local Jamats were functioning independently without any interference from Dai or his family members. Jamats used to bear the expenses of Amil, Moallims (madrassa teachers), maintenance of Masjids, Mazars, Jamatkhanas, Musafarkhanas etc.

The concept of local the Dawoodi Bohra Jamat in Dawat was based on the Islamic principle of Shura (Consultation). It was difficult for the Dai at the centre (with his limited resources) to asses the local situation and requirement everywhere for community welfare. The Local Amil or Mulla and Jamat committes were chosen by the local members and by mutual consultation could plan and undertake various programs: distribution of Zakat, Fitra money, establishing madrassas and appointment of teachers, upkeep and maintenance of the local properties of the community. The wealthy businessmen of the community built masjids, jamatkhnas, musafirkhanas schools and hospitals in the memory of their elders and dedicated to the community. They established scholarship trusts and hostels for students. They also established banks, credit co-operative societies and bachat yojnas to help poor Bohras in business.

Turning the Dawat into monarchy and enslaving the entire community: But as soon as the 51st Dai Sayedna Taher Saifuddin came to the seat of Dawat things in the community started going the way they had gone during Hazrat Usman and Amir Muawia’s times. The emphasis from community welfare was suddenly shifted to the welfare of Dai’s family. Sayedna Taher Saifuddin was a man with worldly ambitions, so after becoming Dai he left Surat and came down to India’s commercial capital, Bombay. He misused the kind efforts made by Sir Adamji Peerbhoy Rafiuddin to financially help Dai and Dawat and started monopolizing all powers and wealth of the community in his hand completely throttling the freedom and the interest of the local Jamats and Bohras. He put all his energy and community resources in establishing his own financial empire crushing all welfare activities by individual Bohras and by forcible usurping the community’s properties.

Moving in the footsteps of Amir Muawia, first he took hold of Badri Mahal by fraud and then of Peerbhoy Palace and converted it into Saifee Mahal. He gave himself the title of Sultan, Sardar, His Holiness, Molanal-Mannan, Huzere-Aala etc., called his family “Royal family” and his family members as Shahzada/Shazadis and his majlis as Darbar-e-Aali. He started acting like a monarch with such pastimes as hunting, lavish Ziyafats, Sajdat, Kadambosi and Vadhawni. He enjoyed making Bohras stand around him with folded hands like slaves while he was eating or praying, taking pride in meetings with corrupt political leaders, organizing high-octane tamashas, going around in buggies and on elephants and generally trying to impress everyone by his superior resources like Amir Muawia. And of course, he eliminated anyone who opposed his anti-Islamic policies like what Hazrat Usman did with Abuzar-Gaffari. Like Amir Muawia he unleashed a rein of terror in the community by inciting violent physical attacks, having Bohras murdered in broad daylight, throwing out dead bodies of well-wishers of Dai and Dawat. The opposition to him was not over succession but was against his repressive and exploitative policies. He made the lives of thousands of Bohras miserable by declaring Jamatkharij (excommunication) and inciting other followers against them. He even made compulsory for all his followers to write themselves as “Abde-Sayedna/Amte-Sayedna” (Slave of Sayedna).

Degeneration from one Saifuddin to other Saifuddin:In contrast, the 43rd Dai Sayedna Abde-ali Saifuddin Saheb was a benevolent and progressive community leader who lived as Dai for just 20 years. But in short period his contribution for the welfare of the community is most commendable. 1780 was the period of European arrival in India and was marked by changing realities in Indian society. Abde-ali Saifuddin Saheb was a visionary and hence he paid maximum attention on education. He established “Saifee Daras” on the lines of Fatemide Lodge in Egypt and tried lifting the community from age-old destructive traditions. He banned the practice of matam in majalis and jaman (community feasts). He made it compulsory for every one to take his permission (raza) before organizing majlis, nikah and other functions so that he can have check on their extravagant expenditure.

Second Saifuddin that is Sayedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb completely misused the practice of raza introduced by the first Saifuddin. He fixed the price for obtaining raza and made compulsory even for organizing Moharram majalis, Nikah, burial, Hajj and even for performing daily namaz.

Sayedna Taher Saifuddin was a learned man with extraordinary power of manipulation and knew that the Dawoodi Bohras have much in common with other Muslims, like:

  1. Dawoodi Bohras have the same divine book Quran as their law-giver and the Bohra religious pillars are based on the teachings of Quran.
  2. Bohras believe in Hazrat Mohammad as their Prophet.
  3. Bohras scrupulously follow the Islamic Shariah like namaz, roza, haj etc.
  4. Their religious heroes are like the Holy Prophet, Hazrat Ali, Hazrat Fatema, Imam Hasan, Imam Husain and Imam Zainul Abedin etc. are all common Arabs.

Sayedna Taher Saifuddin also knew that the common Bohras only know to read Quran, some book of Bohra rituals and prayers, do charity, go for haj or ziyarat and attend urs and Moharram majalis. He knew that they have remained unaware and therefore not much affected by the past history and peculiar doctrines of Ismailism, which have some basic problems in it like:

    Ismailis also believe in the hidden meaning of Qur’an.
  1. It was a product of non-Arab society.
  2. It had grown in the feudal slavish culture of Persia.
  3. Initially the Ismaili Imams worked with religious-cum-political aim.
  4. As they had to carry on their religious-cum-political mission in the most hostile political situation, they needed to function as an underground movement. Therefore they developed a religious hierarchy of one Imam succeeding to another Imam by inheritance which was against the spirit of democratic Islam.

Till then Bohras knew that they differed from other Muslims only in dress code, starting Islamic months by the calendar rather than moon-sighting, food habits (eating from one thal), language etc. but in all other aspect they are as practicing Muslims as other Muslims were.

Earlier Dais never separated Bohras from other Muslims. There was no insistece on a peculiar dress code or appearance for Bohras. They had their regional variations. There was no objection to the nikah performed by non-Bohra qazis as was a practice especially in the Deccan. There were no charges or harassment for raza for majlis, nikah or burial. There were no entry-passes (like Green, Yellow and Red Cards or Jamat E-Cards). Many Shia, Sunni Muslims and even Husaini Brahmin Hindus were welcome to Bohra masjids for Moharram vaiz and tazia processions. There was no tradition of cursing the first three Caliphs of Islam.

But Taher Saifuddin Saheb wrote a book “Zue-Nure-Haqqal-Mubin” highlighting the difference between Bohras and other Muslims. He also made the conditions of political nature of Misaq Nama added Dai’s name along with Imam and then made misaq for Dai compulsory. So much so that it was claimed that a Bohra becomes Dawoodi Bohra only after giving misaq to Dai.

There were dissidents during earlier Dais 18th, 26th, 28th, 40th and 49th. But they were on the question of succession. But the dissidence that took place during Sayedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb was against his repressive policies and absolute control over the community. Like Hazrat Usman, Sayedna Taher Saifuddin started a practice of favouring his own family and friends.

Like Amir Muawia, Sayedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb abolished the jamat system and with it common Bohras’ participation in the decision-making and throttling their independence completely. Like Hazrat Usman and Amir Muwawia he appointed selfish and evil-minded men as his Amils and gave them free hand to ruthlessly rule over community and misuse community’s properties and funds.

He made any Bohras Shaikh without any test that the degree, merit and title lost its value and hence he abolished the class of learned Ulemas and Mashaikhs from the community. When opposition to his repressive and exploitative policies increased he introduced Tanzeem Committees, Scouts and Anjumans by appointing most notorious and indifferent elements as their members in order to control the opposition.

(In Part 3 we will discuss the further deviations and innovations in Islam and the Dawoodi Bohra tradition brought about by the present Dai.)