Borhras and reform
Dawoodi Bohras - Borhras and reform

Misaq or the oath of allegiance

One of the most serious complaints made by the reformers is that Misaq or sacred oath which is being administered to young Bohras by the high priest himself in a few cases and by the Amils or sub-Amils (who are representatives or deputies of Sayedna Saheb) in others, is the main instrument of their persecution.

This oath, according to the reformers, is oppressive and binds the Bohras to submit to a total surrender not to God but personally to the Sayedna Saheb. It is this oath which is said to be the effective sanction for all kinds of inhuman behavior associated with the weapon of social boycott wielded by the priestly class against the reformers.

Before we examine the effects of it let us first determine the facts about the form and content of this oath and how it is administered. One witness has produced English translation of a document which purports to be the Misaq. Every boy or girl on attaining the age of puberty, that is to say, the age of 13 to 15 years, is expectd to take this oath which is administered to the boy or girl by an Amil.

The Amil reads it and at the end of every paragraph he asks the oath maker to say 'yes' and the latter dutifully says so. The parents of the young are required to pay some amount to the high priest through the Amil on the occasion of oath taking ceremony. This oath is called Misaq. The person who takes the oath is said to give Misaq to the Sayedna Saheb.

In the case Advocate General of Bombay V/s Yusuf Ali & Others reported in 24 BLR. 1060 (Supra) also known as Chanda Bhoy Galla Case, the predecessor of the present Sayedna Saheb was himself a defendant. His name was Taher Saifuddin Saheb. He had given oral evidence. He had himself produced a document purporting to be Misaq. Its English translation was also kept on record. It was Ex. 17 on the record of the case. Justice Marten has in his judgemnet of the case characterized it as a 'remarkable' document. Remarkable, indeed, it is!

It was claimed as a secret document by Taher Saifuddin Saheb. It has, therefore, not been fully set out in the judgment of the Bombay High Court. But Justice Matten has referred to it and has noted that according to Taher Saifuddin Saheb himself it was ninety years old. This evidence was given in 1920 A.D. Therefore, according to the then high priest himself its origin is not very antiquated. It must have been written around the Year 1833 A.D. The date of writing has been mentioned at the foot of the document by the author which is 1248 Hijra which comes to 1833 A.D.

Another witness has produced before us a true copy of the English translation which was kept on the record of the Gulla case referred to above. The witness has said that the decision of justice Marten was carried in appeal to a division bench of the high court and he has taken out the copy from that appeal paper book then prepared. He has shown us that paper book.

Another witness has produced a printed book entitled “Mussalman Wakf Act and the Dawoodi Bohra Community” which he says he had got printed in 1933. It contains about 29 documents inluding the memorial and representations made to various authorities by the reformist section of Dawoodi Bohras requesting them not to accept the demand made by some Bohras to exempt the Dawoodi Bohras from the Mussalaman Wakf Act 1923.

The book contains at serial No. 7 the document ‘Misaq' in English translation. This translation also tallies with the copy referred to earlier. We are, therefore, satisfied that what we have is an authentic copy of the Misaq as it was produced by Taher Saifuddin (51st Dai) in the Court. We are also satisfied that the same document is today being used by the priestly class while administering Misaq.

Taher Saifuddin had claimed that the document produced by him was a secret document. We are unable to see how it can be so claimed when it is administered to every Bohra Youth by Amils and the High priest himself. There may have been some need for secrecy when Ismailis were fearing persecution by the sovereign rulers or by other sects but after the establishment and consolidation of the British rule and then after the advent of independence no one can seriously contend that the High priest or priestly class or the community as a whole stand in the danger of facing religious persecution from others.

This document affects a large number of Dawoodi Bohras. The claim to secrecy is, therefore, out of question and we would not be justified in refraining from putting it on our record and incorporating it in our report. Besides, it has been published several times. The latest is its publication in New Quest (issue no. 7 Jan Feb 1978) published from Pune.

We set out below the full text of the Misaq in English translation as used by the Sayedna at least since the time of Taher Saifuddin Saheb:

  1. "And if the Imam of the time or his Dai calls upon you to war against the enemy then you should make war. You should help with your life and property. And you should obey the Imam of the time or his Dai sincerely......Say yes.
  2. And whatever the Imam of the time or his Dai orders you to obey you should obey the Dai and you shall not become a sinner (by disobedience); and you shall not become hostile to the Dai. You shall not falsify the Dai.
  3. You shall keep up the command of the Imam and that Imam is Imam Tayeb Abul Qasim Amirul-Mominin. He is your Imam.
  4. And you shall accept the order of the Dai of Imam in all things. And you shall not use that thing which the Dai shall forbid you, and you shall not take steps (towards it). You shall love him whom the Dai loves. You shall be enemy to him with whom the Dai is hostile. You shall war against him whom the Dai makes war. Any person transgressing those engagements to the Dai is outside the pale of religion. Whether he be great or small, whether he is a close relation or a distant one you shall not have any intercourse with him. You shall not correspond with him openly or secretly. You shall not do any act calculated to be friendly to him. And by no manner or means or pretense shall see the enemy of the Dai. The enemy of the Dai is your enemy.....Say yes.
  5. And you shall attend on the summons (of) the Imam or the Dai to make religious war. At that time you shall not shirk or play the coward. You shall with all heart spend your property and your life in the cause of the Dai. You shall report fully to the Dai or to the Deputy of the Dai any person who transgresses the covenant of the Imamuzamam...Say yes.
  6. And you shall not permit yourself to be induced to withhold assistance from the Dai, service and obedience to him, and prevent you from carrying out the order of the Dai. Further you shall not offer any disbeliever to turn you away from taking the oath of the covenant to the Dai. You shall render perfect service with your property and with the offer of your life (to the Dai). The master of your life is the Dai or the Imam of the time.....Say yes.
  7. ...(This has been omitted from ex. 17)
  8. ...(This has been omitted from ex. 17)
  9. And you shall be pleased by the order of the Dai of the Imam. The Dai shall raise among you or degrade among you persons as he likes. He shall gift to and shall deprive persons as he pleases. The Dai shall reward persons and shall punish them in his discretion. The Dai shall smile upon or shall break his wrath on whomsoever he thinks fit. You shall be pleased in that which Dai is pleased....Say yes.
  10. The person to whom the oath is due enjoins to this effect that if a person on whom it is made obligatory by me to keep faith to the oath openly or secretly breaks it the defaulter is forsaken by God the Creator of the Earth and heavens, the framer of the limbs of the creatures, the conferer of blessings on him, and the Bestower of health. The breaker of the oath is shut out from the books Tawrat (laws of Moses), Injeel (The Bible), Zaboor (Psalms of David), and the Holy Quran. He is also deprived of the perfect words (Blessings of the Imam)....Say yes.
  11. If a person taking the oath breaks it, all his possessions, i.e. moveables, cash, housing, utensils, jewels, ornaments, carriages, horses, cattle, milking cows, she buffaloes, slaves, males and females and all worldly materials become unlawful for him. All his property is liable to be looted and to be distributed among the poor and the needy. When he takes the oath again and accepts all the terms of that covenant then his things become lawful to him and then only he is entitled to get his things back...say yes.
  12. All the benefits which he had already enjoyed (from his possessions) becomes unlawful i.e. with a prospective effect unless he takes the oath afresh (the past enjoyments) do not become lawful. Say yes. All the slaves males and females of the breaker of the oath become free and the defaulter loses all ownership over them until a fresh oath and he keeps faith with the covenant...say yes.
  13. And if the breaker of the covenant has a wife that wife becomes forbidden to him. The breach of covenant has the effect of three Talaqs (divorce) against the wife i.e. Kataee , Haraj and Sunnat (three forms of divorce). The woman can never marry him again, neither can he take her as a wife.. say yes. If the breaker of the oath performs Hajj thirty times with naked feet even then God shall not forgive him his sin (in breaking the covenant) nor God shall accept his Hajj. But if he takes the oath again by the true Dai's covenant, his master, then and then alone God shall accept his Hajj, his prayers, fasts and other good deeds. ... say yes.
  14. And the breaker of the covenant accursed of God by that curse which was inflicted on Iblis, the Satan the effect of which was that paradise was lost to Satan and hell became his inheritance.
  15. And the breaker of the covenant shall face his God as Kafir and apostate after his death. He is beyond redemption by the power of God. He will be thrown on his own soul and shall curse him and shall extend hell to him which hell is the worst of all places. There is no God but the Merciful and Benevolent. The Defaulter turns away his face from the worship of God and turns it to the worship of idols. All Kafirs worship idols and thus shall become attached to the idol and the grace of God shall destroy the breaker of the oath with rapidity and shall confine him to hell in which there is nothing but torture...say yes.
  16. There is no freedom for your soul but loyalty to the covenant and there is no salvation for you but in fulfilling the terms of the covenant. You have made God your witness and the testimony of God is enough...say yes.
  17. You heard my words and you are pleased with my conditions. The person to whom the covenant is due say that you took upon your neck the obligation to hear the covenant of God and you took the mighty oath and you gave oath of allegiance which is very strong and which for our Lord the Imam Tayeb Abul Qasim Amiril Mominin may the peace of God be on him and his holy ancestors and the generous descendants who are expected till the day of resurrection.

    When Imam Tayeb went in seclusion owing to the high handedness of the oppressors, he left in Dawat three ranks behind him, namely, the rank of Dai, the rank of Mazoon and the rank of Mukasir. Owing to the existence of these three ranks the existence of Imam of the time is known to be in existence. The present Dai of the Imam of the time is the grand Maulana the singular Sayedna Zainuddin, may God prolong his life and his Mazoon is Bhai Saheb Shaikh Adam and his Mukasir is Bhai Saheb Hibtula Bhai. Whoever recognizes Zainuddin and these three ranks he recognizes the imam of the time...say yes.

  18. Then be pleased that you have given the oath of allegiance to the Imam and his Dai, God says in the Quran to Prophet: "O Mohammed the people do not give the oath of allegiance to you, rather they give it to God. The hand of God is above the hands of all people&quot. Whoever breaks the covenant his soul will be tormented and whoever fulfills the covenant God will bless him and will highly recompense him.

    The person from whom the Misaq is taken says that God may keep firm to the covenant and it may not be that he may treat the covenant as a mere deposit. May God grant you and me, the true believers, to be faithful to the covenant and my God keep you and me steadfast to His obedience and the obedience of God's prophet and the obedience of Wali of God, the present Imam and his Dai and may God make it complete for you and us to remain firm for the mercy of God through the good end. And (all) praise is due to God, the one, the great Avenger; and peace of God be on Mohammed the Selected and on his wasi, Preserver, and on his Progeny, the good, the pure, the righteous.And Salaam!
  19. It is written on the 10th of the month of Rabiul Awal by the slave of Grand Dai Maulana Zainuddin, may God prolong his life, Ahmedji the son of Mulla Nurkhanji in the year 1248 (hijra) in the town of Ajmer, may God the Exalted protect him."

This document is virtually a charter of slavery, in particular, paragraphs, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, and 13 are remarkable for their unabashed inhumanity.

Paragraph 2 commits every Dawoodi Bohra to absolute obedience of the orders of Dai of Imam i.e. Sayedna Saheb of the time. Disobedience is a sin. It is an advance commitment to obey all the commands of Dai of the time in future by a minor child without even knowing what those commands will be.

Paragraph 4 makes it clear that obedience to the order is demanded not only in religious matters but "in all things", that is to say, in all the secular affairs too. This para leaves the oath maker in no doubt about the consequence of breaking the oath. As soon as he breaks the oath, he automatically places himself outside the pale of religion. Misaq enjoins all Bohras not to have any kind of relations with the oath-breaker be he a distant or close relation. No one can communicate to him openly or secretly. Nobody can remain his friend. Every Dawoodi should treat him as an enemy because he is the enemy of the Dai.

Paragraph 5 casts an obligation upon everyone to declare Jehad or religious war against such a person. Everyone should be prepared to lay down his life in making war with such a person. It is also the duty of everyone to report the names of such oath breakers.

Paragraph 6 declares that the Dai of Imam is the master of the life of every Dawoodi.

What follows in para 11 is atrocious and monstrous. It says that all the properties of one who breaks the oath are liable to be looted. All his possessions become unlawful unless he takes the oath afresh.

Paragraph 13 goes further and says that the wife of such a person becomes forbidden to him. The breach of the oath has the automatic effect of divorce with his wife. That woman can never marry him again. God would never forgive his sin of breaking the covenant. But if he takes the oath again God would accept his prayers and forgive him.

It is claimed by the priestly class that this oath is voluntarily taken. They argue that if one does not desire to accept the high priest as the master of his life, one should not take the oath! This is an untenable argument because it is maintained in the same breath that "no one is a Dawoodi Bohra by birth but he becomes one only when he makes that oath."

One of the witnesses has produced a document which is a notice dated 29th July 1968 given on behalf of the present Sayedna by his secretary to one Shri Ebrahim Shaikh Mohamadali of Kampala (Uganda) threatening him with action of ex-communication and expulsion for certain defaults. The notice contains the following passage:

"Every Dawoodi Bohra is under a solemn obligation as a religious duty imposed by the faith to give misaq to the Dai-e-Mutlaq of the time, and thereafter to faithfully observe the covenants of that Misaq. By virtue of the Misaq given and inobedience to the beliefs and tenants of the faith of the Dawoodi Bohra sect, every follower is under a solemn obligation as a religious duty to obey and implement the firman of His Holiness the Dai-ul-mutlaq. Disobedience to a firman is a breach of the misaq which empowers His Holiness, the Dai-ul-Mutlaq, in his absolute discretion, to deny to a transgressor of the misaq all or any of the rights and privileges of a Dawoodi Bohra."

The implication of the oath is thus clear. It is that a promise of absolute obedience to all the future commands of the dai, whatever they are, and whatever be their subject matter, is a condition of being a Dawoodi Bohra. One has to accept the Dai not merely as a religious head but as a master in secular affairs as well! This puts the Dai in the position of an absolute dictator controlling all aspects of the life of all members of the community.

Even God is not above the Dai. Because the oath says that if Dai's orders are broken even God will not pardon the person who has disobeyed the Dai's orders. If he however again takes the oath of allegiance to the Dai, God will be pleased to pardon him. A benevolent God may pardon the sinner even though he has sinned against His own commands but He cannot pardon the man or woman who disobeys the Dai's orders!

And what is the sanction for breach of the covenant? Not merely the fear of hell and torture in the next life but complete ostracism and pauperization in this life as well! His property should be looted and his nearest relations should break away from him. His wife stands automatically divorced!

It should be noted that a reformist is not entitled to dissuade a Bohra youth from giving the misaq. This means that the guardian of minor cannot tell his ward not to give misaq if he doesn't agree. The minor of 15 years of age should set his face against his guardian if the latter tries to dissuade him.

A transgressor of the oath must give Misaq again and express his repentance and give a deed of apology if he wants to return to the fold. Several witnesses have produced the terms of apology which they were asked to accept and sign.

The Misaq it should be noted, is not prescribed by the Quran or by the tradition of Mohammed. It is a typical Ismaili-Dawoodi institution. It is not obligatory on Muslims except Dawoodi Bohras. Some sort of 'Ahd' or oath is found among another Isma'ili sect called Sulaimani Bohras. But it is not so rigid or harsh. No other Muslim sect practices Misaq or its equivalent.

However, after the disappearance of the Fatimid power the Misaq lost its raison d'etre and seems to have been retained for its symbolic or ritual value. The Dais who officiated as the heads of the Isma'ili mission after the last Isma'ili Imam went into seclusion continued to take Misaq more or less as a ritual. It is also important to remember that right from the beginning the Misaq was taken for the Imam and not for the Dai.

Thus one of the earlier Dai-al-mutalaq says in his book Tahfut-ul-Qulub that "it does not behoove a Dai to ascribe a single word of the Misaq towards himself." He also makes it clear in the said book that Misaq is essentially for the purpose of strengthening the Isma'ili faith and not achieving any worldly end. Most of the Dais after the last Isma'ili Imam went into seclusion, faithfully, observed these instructions and never exploited Misaq for worldly ends.

The 51st Dai however used misaq to build a personality cult. What had eventually become a ritual was revived and strictly enforced thus using it as a weapon for centralizing power and building his own empire. He used it as a standing threat to coerce Dawoodi Bohras into submission and to make them obey his commands not only in the religious but also in the secular field. This came into his hands as a powerful instrument for concentrating power and collecting wealth on a fantastically large scale. Thus the personality cult came to be systematically built by him.

A word for every letter of the Urdu Alphabet is coined which glorifies him in every manner. Whatever be the correct position and whatever the historical justification or otherwise for introducing the Misaq, the fact remains that the Misaq in its present form is absolutely oppressive, harsh and inconsistent with human rights.

To judge its true character, it is immaterial in our view, whether it was prevalent in the 11th century and continued in the 20th. Hoary antiquity cannot sanctify what is essentially destructive of human dignity and freedom. Untouchability and Slavery were also age-old institutions but were cast away by the civilized mankind. Nothing that is inhuman can be justified merely because it assumes the cloak of religious practice nor can it gain sanctity by virtue of its antiquity.