Borhras and reform
Dawoodi Bohras - Borhras and reform

Baraat: A cruel system of excommunication

There is no concept of baraat in the Qur'an or Hadith. Islam has never resorted to declaring social boycott against anyone. On the contrary it was the holy prophet who was subjected to social boycott by the kafirs of Mecca.

The Prophet and his whole family had to suffer inhuman boycott for nearly six months when even food supplies were stopped to them. There is a chapter in the Holy Qur'an which is known as Surah-e-Baraat. It is also Known as Surah-e-Taubah or Repentance. However this has nothing to do with the Baraat as practiced by the Bohra High priests. Here Baraat means immunity. The very first verse of chapter IX (Surah-e-Baraat) says “A declaration of immunity from Allah and His Messengers to those of the idolators with whom you made and agreement.” Here immunity is being declared by Allah and His Messenger from the agreement which was entered into with the idolators of Mecca and which was broken by them and hence Muslims were also declared to be immune to that agreement. Often it was broken.

Commenting on the verse noted commentator of Qur'an Maulana Mohammed Ali says “This verse is to be read along with v.4, which makes a clear exception in favor of those who did not fail in their agreements.” It is a fact that the idolatrous tribes of Arabia broke their agreements with the Muslims again and again (8.56), yet the Muslims were enjoined to accept peace if the disbelievers consented to it, even after repeated violations(8.61). But this state of things could not continue long, for it was soon found that it was impossible to trust such neighbours. This repudiation of agreements took place on a large scale when Muslims were absent on the Tabuk expedition.The first thirteen verses of this chapter were publicly proclaimed by ‘Ali, on the occasion of pilgrimage in the ninth year of the Hijrah, and the following announcements made as the result:

  1. that no idolator shall approach the Sacred House after this;
  2. that no one shall go naked round the Kaba'h (B.65:IX, 3). The attitude of the tribes to whom this ultimatum was given through ‘Ali is well indicated in their reply : “O ‘Ali, deliver this message to thy cousin (i.e. the Prophet), that we have thrown the agreements behind our backs, and there is no agreement between him and us except smiting with spears and striking with swords”. Thus it is clear that the word Baraat in this verse has nothing to do with social boycott as practiced by the Bohra priesthood. It is misleading and gross distortion to maintain that this verse allows the priesthood to declare Baraat against those who fight against corruption, misappropriation of funds and tyranny by the Bohra priesthood.

If we scan Hadith literature, we will find no concept of social boycott at all. Even the Shia' Isma'ili Hadith literature does not prompt any such practice.

It is also wrong to maintain that to raise voice against malpractices among the Bohra priesthood amounts to breaking of Misaq. Firstly, the reformists are raising their voices against malpractices and arbitrary rule, not against any religious tenet and hence raising such voice is in keeping with ones conscience and can not amount to breaking Misaq which is essentially a religious pledge, a pledge to uphold noble religious tenets and to oppose malpractices. Secondly, the present Misaq is administered is in highly arabicised Gujrati and hardly followed by one who gives Misaq. An agreement which is not explained to the party cannot become binding on any one. Also Misaq is administered at a tender age when its implications can hardly be understood by the giver of the Misaq. Thirdly, the present text of Misaq is forged one as admitted by the 51st Da'i Taher Saifuddin in the Chandabhai Gulla case.

No Fatimi Da'i ever declared Baraat against dissenters before this was resorted to by the 51st Da'i. Sayedna Hatim says that the misaq is not for religious tyranny but for the safety on an underground movement and coordination of its various scattered units. It is for “guarding the secrets of God's devotees.”

Of course breaking of the ‘Ahd (agreement) would lead to disciplinary action. In this connection we would like to mention the case of Ali Al-Zawahi . He belonged to a prominent family of Yemen , which controlled the Daw'ah and also played an important role in the service of the queen Arwa (Hurrah Malika).

Reasons for his expulsions are stated by Da'i Hatim namely that he had become resentful of the people higher in authority; that he was finding fault with the hierarchy of the Daw'ah, that he denied the superiority of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and preached divinity of human beings- in short he was guilty of organizational and religious indiscipline. As a result of this the Da'i pronounced Baraat (disassociation) for him by saying “I disassociate myself from him.” This involved the withdrawl of permission from an offending officer who practiced organisational duties. It certainly did not imply excommunication, either of the officer or of any individual member of the community.

Thus it will be seen that Baraat did not mean those days what it means today. It has been totally distorted and is being misused for selfish ends.

Islam strongly advocates the doctrine of accountability not only to Allah but also to people. The Prophet's Sunna (practice) is clean proof of this. Once when Prophet gave more money to a person the other complained to him why the other person was given more. The Prophet explained to him that that person was not committed to Islam and he had to be given more to win over his heart. The Prophet did not dismiss the complaint saying that I am accountable to Allah and to none else. Similarly when Talha and Zubayr came to ‘Ali with the complaint that they were given only 4 Dinars each which is not keeping with their status, ‘Ali called his servant Amber and asked him how much I have given to you, Amber replied 4 Dinars. Then ‘Ali asked him how much did I have taken, Amber replied 4 Dinars. Talha and Zubayr felt embarrassed and went away. Thus ‘Ali also accounted for Baital-Mal and did not maintain that he is not accountable to anyone. Thus the Bohra High priest's claim that he is accountable to none cannot be upheld in the light of Prophet's Sunna and Ali's practice.