Bohra: an Islamic sect reduced to a cult
Mr. A. G. Noorani, an advocate in the Supreme Court of India and a leading constitutional expert, after going through the Justice Nathwani Commission report in 1980, had commented on the un-Islamic practices of the Dawoodi Bohra priestly class saying, “The practices which the Commission report has exposed are totally opposed to Islam and it would be suicidal of Muslims to show any sympathy for the Dawoodi Bohra priesthood.”
Many Muslims, like Farooq Abdul Gaffar Bawani (Rajkot Gujarat), are raising questions as to what is wrong with Dawoodi Bohra community? Why have Dawoodi Bohras separated themselves from the rest of the Muslims? Who is the think tank of Dawoodi Bohras? What is the role of the religious head H. H. Dr. Syedna Saheb in this state of affairs? What may be the hidden agenda of H. H. Dr. Syedna Saheb and his followers for adopting such an approach?
Before the Justice Nathwani Commission report, Muslim leaders, ulama and community members were not aware of the un-Islamic practices and sins of idolatry (Shirk, i.e., associating Syedna with Allah) practiced by the Bohra Syedna and his family members within the four walls of the Bohra community.
That is why Dawoodi Bohra priesthood did not want their un-Islamic practices and atrocities to come into public. Therefore, as soon as the appointment of an Enquiry Commission was announced, the Bohra priesthood’s entire machinery was geared up to raise a worldwide hue and cry against the commission. Slogans of “Islam in danger” and “Interference in Islamic Shariah” were shouted everywhere demanding a ban on the commission. The Dawoodi Bohra priestly class tried to enlist the support of the Muslim Personal Law Board, Central Hajj Committee, Shahi Imam of Delhi, Mufti Ateequr Rehman Usmani etc. In spite of violent opposition and all odds, members of the Commission, which included two Islamic scholars Dr. Alam Khundmiri and Dr. Moin Shakir, remained firm and completed their inquiry and made its report public. The authenticity of this report is evident from the fact that the filthy rich Bohra priesthood, who has a troop of best legal experts, could not dare to challenge this report till today.
The Dawoodi Bohra priesthood has always used Muslims to safeguard its interests and power. But it has not joined and helped Muslims in any welfare activity and humanitarian work, victims of riots and violence, participating in events like Miladun Nabi, peace committees, Babri Masjid agitation etc.
Two inquiry commissions have been appointed to look into the malpractices and violation of human rights of Dawoodi Bohras. The first commission was appointed under the chairmanship of Justice Nathawani by the Citizens for Democracy and the second one was appointed under the chairmanship of Justice Tevatia by Indian Peoples’ Human Rights Commission. After the eye-opening exposure by these two Commissions’ reports, Muslims started distancing themselves from the tyrant and idolater Bohra priesthood and started forming an opinion like the one expressed by Mr Yunus Chitalwala. Loss of Muslim support compelled the Bohra priestly class to seek support of Hindus and hardcore Hidutwa leaders like Narendra Modi, LK Advani, Bal Thackeray etc.
The Dawoodi Bohra priesthood’s conscious gameplan to safeguard its vested interests can be justified but the question is: why Dawoodi Bohras separated themselves from the Muslim mainstream?
I am a Dawoodi Bohra myself. I am sure that till recently we, Dawoodi Bohras, used to believe that we are Muslims first and Shia-Ismaili-Must’alian-Tayyebi second. Islam is our fundamental faith. All our Shia-Ismaili-Must’alian-Tayyebi doctrines are based on Islamic teachings and Qur’anic injunctions and whatever is against Islam and Qur’an cannot be a part of our faith. We, undoubtedly believe in the Qur’an, which is the source of our law, and the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) who is our true guide. We were strict followers of Islamic practices.
While the worshipers of Syedna still claim to be Muslim, they have gradually deviated fundamentally from the teachings and practices of Islam ever since their 51st Da’i, Syedna Taher Saifuddin, occupied the seat of Dawat in 1915. Dawoodi Bohra Da’is, till 50th Da’I, were poor and indebted. Whereas the 51st Da’i, Syedna Taher Saifuddin was full of worldly ambitions, wealth, luxury and fame. He wanted to live as a monarch and thus he moved unabashedly to build his financial empire destroying the spirit and norms of Islam and Isma’ilism giving it an absolute authoritarian character. This caused, and is still causing, many problems in this peace-loving community. There is no priesthood in Islam as religious functions can be performed by any ordinary Muslim. The priesthood is absent in all other Islamic sects. The same was the case in Dawoodi Bohra community till the emergence of the 50th Da’i.
To establish his absolute authoritarian control over the Bohra community, Syedna Taher Saifuddin went to the extent of claiming that he is “Elahul-Ard” (God on this earth) (na’udhu billah) and that he has powers equal to that of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and that he is accountable to no one and that he is master of the soul, mind, body and properties of his followers. He made it compulsory that every Bohra should call him/herself as “Slave of Sayedna” (Abd-e Sayedna / Amat-e Syedna) and perform “Sajda-e ‘Ubudiyat” in front of him. He also claimed that he is “Qur’an-e Natiq (speaking Qur'an) (na’udhu billah) and that the Quran in the present book form is a dead book (na’udhu billah).
Taher Saifuddin called himself “Da’i-ul-Mutlaq” (Absolute Da’i) and Sultan of the Bohras. He introduced an oath (Misaq) which is compulsory for every Bohra to offer to the Da’i. The harsh conditions in Misaq made it an instrument of punishment. He started a practice of “Jama’at kharij” (excommunication), thus enslaving the entire community.
He also introduced a system of seeking his Raza (permission) for all religious as well as secular matters. Namaz, Hajj, Zakat etc., which are obligatory according to Islam and Quran for every Muslim, were declared unacceptable to Allah if done without the prior permission (Raza) of Syedna.
Very systematically, the class of Bohra ulama (learned persons) was eliminated by awarding the titles of Mullas and Shaikhs to undeserving and ignorant persons who could offer huge sums of cash to the Da’i.
By consolidating his absolute authority and becoming from Da’i-ul-Mutlaq to Qaderul-Mutlaq (Absolute in might), he took hold of all the trusts, properties and wealth of community and adopted a luxurious life of living in palaces, high-flying and big-spending.
His son and 52nd Da’i, Mohammad Burhanuddin, not only followed his father but deviated further and used this centralized structure to his advantage making it more and more authoritarian by introducing a particular dress code for Dawoodi Bohra males, females and children, E-Jamaat cards which is a deadly weapon of Jamaat kharij - called “Baraat” - in its latest version. Thus, the Ismaili mission which played a very important role by attempting a creative intellectual synthesis of philosophy and the teachings of Islam has now been reduced to a cult.
The present 52nd Da’i has further taken the community away from Islam by declaring himself as the sole-owner of Bohra mosques and the sole-trustee of the community’s charitable properties. Under his ownership, Bohra mosques have become a playground for organizing birthday functions, cutting cakes, serving jamans [community dinner], arranging vadhavnis [Aarti of Syedna saheb], qadambosi, najwa [private meeting] and salam functions, mass marriages, meetings of politicians, putting cinema screen, video shooting, fund collection and lottery draws. Now even musalla spaces are priced and reserved, thus killing the very spirit of namaz.
To hide these un-Islamic practices from other Muslims, the doors of Dawoodi Bohra masjids are permanently closed for non-Dawoodi Bohras. Further, to plug any loophole in the system, a particular dress code and Jamaat identity cards are made compulsory. Even in Mecca, during Hajj, Dawoodi Bohras are ordered not to join other Muslims either in Tawaf or Namaz.
Deliberate rifts are created between Dawoodi Bohras and other Muslims in order to keep them separate from each other. In 1988, Syedna Burhanuddin cursed Muslim caliphs (R.A.) and Hazrat Aisha Siddiqah (R.A.) openly during Moharram, causing a riot in Mumbai, in which five innocent Muslims lost their lives and properties worth lakhs of rupees were destroyed.
Dawoodi Bohra Da’i has given up the principle of accountability which is so central in Islam and which was followed by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and his Ahl-e bait most vigorously. Now-a-days he and Bohras worshipping him are often seen in the company of anti-Muslim Hindu leaders like LK Advani, Narendra Modi, Bal Thakarey etc.
The earlier ‘Islamic sect’ is now reduced to a ‘cult’ with all the components of a cult, namely the Dawoodi Bohras are intensely devoted to the cult-head and they worship him. They follow a system of beliefs and rituals which are bogus though they claim that their system is most authentic and superior to that of other Muslims.
A large majority of cultic Bohras and their supporter Muslims are fully aware of the extent to which Bohras have been manipulated, exploited, even abused. Their social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioural patterns are commonly found in cultic environments. The present Dawoodi Bohra Da’i dictates, in great detail, how members should think, act and feel, how they must get permission to observe prayers, Hajj, change jobs, marry, what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so on and so forth. Dawoodi Bohras feel there can be no life outside the walls of their community. These are visible components of a cult which are against Islam.Should Dawoodi Bohra priesthood headed by Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin be treated as Muslims or not and whether they should be expelled from the pale of Islam or not? This is a question for the Muslim ulama to think seriously. The writer is Editor, Bohra Chronicle, Mumbai