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Book Review
Focus on Bohras
By William P. Collins, Library of Congress

Book: Mullahs on the Mainframe : Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras
Author: Jonah Blank
Hardcover - 352 pages (May 2001)
University of Chicago Press; ISBN: 0226056767 ; Price: $40.00

Policy adviser to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and a senior editor at U.S. News and World Report, Jonah Blank (Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God) here focuses on the Bohras, a community of Shia Ismaili Muslims from Gujarat numbering upwards of a million worldwide.
This is a groundbreaking work for two reasons: it is the first full description of a community never before studied from outside, and it demonstrates that an orthodox Islamic community can also embrace Western ideas and technology by adopting all aspects of modern culture that are not forbidden to it. The Daudi Bohras are both "traditional" and "modern." Blank reviews the community's history, organizational structure, rituals, domestic life, orthopraxy, and maintenance of community boundaries.

The Bohra have dramatically improved orthopraxy among members, creating a high level of observance of basics while increasing the educational level and scientific sophistication of the community ("there is no conflict whatsoever between science and faith"). The author demonstrates the extent to which Westerners have adopted a view of Islam distorted by stereotypes, fostered by media reports, and sustained by a triumphalism about values that Westerners believe are exclusively theirs.

What the Bohras have done, Blank concludes, is to "break down the false dichotomy between modernity and tradition, to let members of the community revel in both." This brilliant study is both academically rigorous and a welcome introduction to the real success of this Islamic community in the modern world. Highly recommended for all academic libraries and large public libraries.

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