Borhras and reform
Dawoodi Bohras - Borhras and reform

Why Bohras are reluctant to join the reform movement

From most of the reformist fora it is discussed what have we achieved? We are still so few and far in between. Why our number does not increase rapidly? Why so many people continue to flock around the Bohra priesthood? These are important questions, of course and need to be discussed dispassionately.

Also, we must analyse thoroughly and objectively (as objectively as humanly possible) the strength and weaknesses of our movement. We should not shrink from self-criticism as it helps our movement.

But before we analyse the strength and weaknesses of our movement it is very necessary to understand the nature of our movement and also the purpose of our movement. It is only then that we can see our movement in proper perspective. As human beings it is quite natural that we have certain expectations from our organised efforts to bring reform in our community and we feel frustrated when we do not see the expected result. We are so conditioned as to launch result-oriented efforts. Thus our whole focus is on the result.

But there is another perspective which is more important and very inspiring. It is value-oriented and not result-oriented perspective. We all are struggling for certain values and these values are more important to us than anything else. These values are related to democracy, human rights and freedom of conscience and accountability. It is basically Qur'anic values. All human beings are creatures of Allah and have been equally honoured. There is absolutely no distinction between one human being and another.

Also Allah has created all of us free and gifted us with freedom of conscience. There cannot be compulsion even in matters of religion (la ikrah fi' al-din), let alone in any worldly matters. All human beings are equally accountable without any exception. One cannot think of human dignity without freedom of conscience. And one cannot think of freedom of conscience without democracy. Thus all these values are inter-related.

If we reflect a little it will not be difficult to understand that these values are precisely our central demands. Thus our movement is basically a value-oriented movement. We are struggling to realise values, not power. Our aim is to cleanse a system rather than build a system. It is certainly not our aim to establish a rival community. Instead we are aspiring to have a model community.

Now if our movement is value-oriented how do we go about it? It has three stages: 1) awareness 2) courage and 3) freedom to act. Our movement as such can achieve only the first stage i.e. creating awareness through education. It is then left to the people to have courage and act to exercise freedom. Thus our main purpose is not to gain numbers but to bring awareness among people. This awareness creating is a continuous process, without end. It is not result-oriented but value-oriented. We are continuously struggling to create awareness among people. We must make them aware that as human beings they should not surrender to any worldly authority, however great, as slaves but live with dignity and with their head high.

The Pharaoh was very powerful and arrogant and Allah's prophet Musa (A.S.) was weak and powerless but he fought for values of freedom and dignity and led his community of Israelites to freedom from the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh was 'drowned in his sea of arrogance.

The holy Qur'an lays great emphasis on the struggle between the weak and the arrogant i.e. mustad`ifin and mustakbirin. Thus the Qur'an makes us value conscious. Allah's names also represent values. He is Merciful and Compassionate. He is Just and Benevolent on so on. Thus values are very central to the teachings of the Qur'an. Our struggle for values is nothing but realisation of Qur'anic values.

Here we have to keep in mind that value-oriented struggles are their own reward. A person engaged in such struggle does not evaluate his success in terms of numbers but in terms of his own steadfastness and firmness in keeping with the voice of his/her conscience. Imam Husain knew very well that Yazid's forces were far superior and his 72 men were no match for Yazid's forces. Yet he remained absolutely firm in his struggle and was 'defeated' in physical terms. But in terms of values Husain's 'defeat' was his real victory and Yazid's 'victory' was his real defeat.

Thus all value-oriented struggles are evaluated in spiritual rather than in physical terms. No value-oriented struggles can be sustained if they are measured in physical terms. In fact, and it is very important to understand, any 'success' in worldly or physical sense is the beginning of defeat of the struggle. It might appear quite contradictory but true. If any movement becomes establishment and this is what its success implies, the struggle ceases to be value-oriented and becomes instead power-oriented. Every establishment has its own politics as most of the leaders of the establishment would like to acquire power to control the establishment.

When a religion becomes an establishment it loses its true religious spirit and it is in this sense that organised religions lose their very religiosity and become power-oriented. In the early period of Islam we see a lot of struggle between different groups of Muslims trying to control power and 'Islamic establishment' (not Islam as a religion) losing its revolutionary power. Greater the power of establishment lesser the degree of religiosity and if establishment becomes the goal religiosity becomes zero. For Yazid the goal was power and empire and hence his religiosity became zero. On the other hand for Imam Husain (S.A.) goal was Islamic values and not power-establishment and hence his religiosity was of highest degree. He laid down his life and lives of his near and dear ones to achieve this height of religiosity.

The Kothar (the Bohra religious establishment) too is obsessed with power and wealth and as its power increases its religiosity diminishes in the same proportion. What appears to be Kothar's success is, in fact, its defeat. Its religiosity is approaching zero degree very fast. The reformists, on the other hand, are struggling for values and their religiosity is increasing as Kothar's is diminishing. In physical terms our 'weakness' is Kothar's strength and in spiritual terms our strength is Kothar's weakness. More we become value conscious weaker will be Kothar's grip on us.

We should also keep in mind that fewer people care for quality and more for quantity. Quality and quantity do not go well with each other. If the Kothar has quantity on its side we have quality on ours. A true reformist combines all three stages i.e. awareness, freedom of conscience and courage to act. Those who are sympathisers of reform movement, have awareness and value freedom of conscience but lack courage to act. It is easier to bring consciousness but difficult to induce courage. Courage is an inner quality which cannot be induced from outside.

We should also note that human behaviour is quite a complex entity. It is not determined by one's beliefs and awareness; it is determined more by one's interests. And interests are determined, even in case of people of honesty, by one's social and economic situation. Thus many complex factors determine one's behaviour. Thus there are many people who are not only aware of values the reformists are fighting for, they also have desire to support reformists but they are so situated socially, economically and in terms of family ties they cannot act according to their own inner convictions.

There is yet another type. There are those who are aware and also in a position to support the movement but they do not act as their economic and other interests are more important to them than the values reformists are fighting for. We should also remember that most of the people like to go with the establishment whosoever controls it. Human behaviour is more convenience-oriented than conviction-oriented. There is more convenience in being with the establishment than with those who oppose it. To be conviction-oriented requires great deal of sacrifices, which everyone is not prepared for.

Our greatest satisfaction should come from our inner convictions, which matter more than anything else. We struggle for the sake of values not for the sake of achieving our 'goal' in terms of physical success. All those who are struggling for freedom of conscience, freedom from political, social or other forms of slavery, give their struggle more importance than anything else. For them sacrifices bring more satisfaction than achievements. For them inner convictions are more important than outer forms of success.

An average person pursues comforts of body and some prefer comforts of soul. An establishment provides, through many of its institutions, many conveniences to its adherents. But a believer and a person of faith does not look for these physical conveniences. His/her restless soul finds more comfort in trouble and trouble in physical comforts.

A believer in values finds his greatest assets in honesty, integrity, truthfulness, justice and compassion. He worships Allah by worshipping these values. Such is the path our movement has undertaken to tread. It is the path paved with honest intentions and lofty ideals and this is the path all martyrs and great souls prefer to tread despite all physical discomforts it is paved with. For such movements it is not destination but the path of struggle which is more important.