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The Dawoodi Bohra Community


[ Introduction ][ Beliefs ][  Roots ][  The Meaning ][  Organization ][  The Dai al-Mutlaq ]
Customs and Rituals ] [  Some distinctive features ][  Institutes ]
[ Bohra links ]

[ 99 Names of Allah ]






The Dawoodi Bohra community of Muslims led by  His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin , is a million strong, but scattered over five continents all over the world. Truly international in outlook, profession, skills and expertise, they bring their varied qualities to the community's pool of resources and achieve significant success in their community ventures, no matter how large their scale. They traditionally practice trade and commerce, an occupational identity that they are known by. Syedna's leadership provides them with guidance in the Islamic way of life as they endeavor to practice the faith with spirituality and conviction in an era of rapid change. They practice their religion according to a specific code of beliefs, doctrines and tenets founded on al-Quran and Islamic Shariat as taught and interpreted by the Dai al-Mutlaq. This ensures the unity of faith among the Dawoodi Bohras all over the world and binds the Community together as one entity preserving its identity.

The Shia Fatimi Ismaili Tayyibi Dawoodi Bohras are a denomination of Islam with a distinct identity, culture and ethos. In common with all Muslims, they affirm the oneness of Allah, believe that the Prophet Muhammad al-Mustafa (s.a.w.) was the last prophet in a chain of prophets from Allah and revere the holy Qur'an, as the final revelation of Allah.

The Dawoodi Bohras in common with other Shia Muslims, believe that the Prophet chose his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib (s.a.) as his successor and that an Imam descended from them both through the Prophet's daughter Fatima (s.a.) will always exists on earth as the final interpreter of religion and as a perfect guide to the faithful. The Imams functioned initially from Medina and then later from Egypt, where they led vast areas of the Muslim World as the Fatimid Caliphs. This era produced a unique tradition which is now called Fatimid. From the 21st Imam onwards, all Imams to date have chosen to remain in seclusion. It is an article of faith for the Bohras, that whilst the Imam chooses to remain in seclusion his mission is headed by his representative called al-Dai al-Mutlaq, meaning absolute caller to the faith. This office, first instituted in Yemen in the 12th century, moved to India in the 16th century and has remained there ever since. Since 1965, the office is held by His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, its 52nd incumbent.

The Muslim community of Dawoodi Bohras traces its ancestry to early conversions to Ismaili Shiism during the reign of the Fatimid caliph-imam, al-Mustansir (AS) (AH 427-487/1036-1094 AD). When schisms occurred in the Ismaili dawah (mission) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Egypt, the Ismailis in India followed the Fatimid Tayyibi dawah of Yemen. Subsequently, this
community split a number of times to form the Jafari Bohras, Dawoodi Bohras, Sulaymani Bohras, Aliyah Bohras and other lesser known groups.

The meaning
The word Bohra (also spelled Bohora or Vohra ) is derived from the Gujrati vohorvu or vyavahar, meaning "to trade". This has sometimes caused Hindus, Jains and Muslims of trading communities other than those related to the Tayyibi Ismailis to list themselves on census forms as Bohras. The early Hindu converts of the eleventh century comprised a single group of Ismaili
Bohras owing allegiance to the dai mutlaq in Yemen. The dai mutlaq operates as the sole representative of the secluded Ismaili imam and as such has had a great influence on the history, faith, and practices of the Dawoodi Bohras. Dawoodi Bohras are named after their twenty seventh dai Dawood ibn Qutubshah (d. 1612).

The Dawoodi Bohra community has largely been molded into its present form by the two dais who have led the community in the twentieth century. The fifty first dai, the celebrated Dr. Sayyidna Tahir Saifuddin (1915-1965), was an accomplished scholar, a prolific writer and poet, a capable organizer and a man of vision. During his period of fifty years he re-vitalized the community, fostered strong faith, modernized the mission's organization, promoted welfare and education in the community, and guided it through the tumultuous period of world wars and independence of nations.The present dai, H.H. Dr. Sayyidna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS) has continued his predecessor's endeavors with particular emphasis on strengthening the community's Islamic practices and on the promotion of its Fatimid heritage.

The religious hierarchy of the Dawoodi Bohras is essentially Fatimid and is headed by the dai mutlaq who is appointed by his predecessor in office. The dai appoints two others to the subsidiary ranks of madhun (licentiate) and mukasir (executor). These positions are followed by the rank of shaykh and mullah, both of which are held by hundreds of Bohras. An Aamil (usually a graduate of the order's institution of higher learning, al-Jamiah al-Sayfiyah) who leads the local congregation in religious, social and communal affairs is sent to each town where a sizable population exists. Such towns normally have a mosque and an adjoining jamaat-khanah (assembly hall) where socio-religious functions are held. The local organizations which manage these properties and administer the social and religious activities of the local Bohras report directly to the central administration of the dai based in Bombay, called al-Dawah al-Hadiyah.

The Dai al-Mutlaq
Dawat-e-Hadiyah, Allah's sovereignty over Heavens and Earth, is entrusted to the Imam and during a period of Imam's seclusion, with the Imam's amr (command) and izn (sanction), is headed and governed by the Dai al-Mutlaq, the Imam's representative and vicegerent, the supreme head of Dawat-e-Hadiyah and the Dawoodi Bohra Community. Today, al-Dai al-Fatimi, His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS) is the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq in an uninterrupted chain of succession that commenced in the year 532 AH (1138 AD). He succeeded to the throne of Dawat in the year 1385 AH (1965 AD) by an-nass of his illustrious father and predecessor. His Holiness Dr. Syedna Taher Saifuddin (AQ) the 51st Dai al-Mutlaq.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin has often said that the restoration of al-Anwar has engendered an era of unprecedented progress for the body of the community as if attracting a celestial blessing for a humble act of devotion. His focus has always been and still remains on the rebuilding of spirits of men along with the sacred mosques.

Customs and rituals
At the age of puberty every Bohra, or mumin (believer) as sectarians call each other, pronounces the traditional oath of allegiance which requires the initiate to adhere to the shariah and accept the leadership of the imam and the dai. This oath is renewed each year on the 18th of Dhu al-Hijjah (Id Gadir al-Khumm). The Bohras follow Fatimid school of jurisprudence which recognizes seven pillars of Islam. Walayah (love and devotion) for Allah, the Prophets, the imam and the dai is the first and most important of the seven pillars. The others are tahrah (purity & cleanliness), salah (prayers), zakah (purifying religious dues), sawm (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and jihad (holy war). Pilgrimages to the shrines of the saints is an important part of the devotional life of Bohras, for the facilitation of which rest houses and assisting organizations have been set up.

Once a year, the community commemorates Ashura, the day the Prophet's grandson Imam Husayn (s.a.) was martyred in Kerbala. All over the world community members meet to recount the narrative that moves hearts fourteen centuries after the event. Thousands other choose to gather around Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, wherever he may be and listen to his discourses which are often relayed live to community centres all over the world.

Some distinctive features
Dawoodi Bohras use an arabicized form of Gujrati, called lisan al-dawah, which is permeated with Arabic words and written in Arabic script. Another distinctive feature is their use of a Fatimid lunar calendar which fixes the number of days in each month. There is a strong religious learning tradition amongst the Dawoodi Bohras, their dais usually being prolific writers and orators. The Dawoodi Bohras number about a million and reside in India, Pakistan, the Middle East, East Africa (since the 18th century) and the West (since the 1950s).

They are also recognized by their adherence to Islamic Shariat in the appearance and daily lives. They live in closely bonded social groups which meet regularly for prayers and periodically to mark religious dates. Beautiful verses from the community's literary treasury are recited and meals are shared, to break bread together in the universal way.

Traditionally a business community, the Dawoodi Bohras have continued to foster enterprise wherever they live. In recent times, the community has taken a conscious and measured decision to develop a business ethic based upon prohibition in Islam of borrowing or lending on interest. Concurrently, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin has institutionalised the Islamic concept of qardan hasana, which means offering loans on an interest-free basis and individuals have also been mobilised to offer each other help by means of such loans.

The pivotal role of the Duaat Mutlaqeen (plural of Dai al-Mutlaq), their serenity, inspiring leadership and practical guidance throughout the vicissitudes of history have greatly influenced and motivated the lives of the Dawoodi Bohras along the Fatimi ideals. This has strengthened their bond of loyalty and dedication to the Dawat.

Al-Jameatus Saifiyah, the Arabic academy established in 1814, with branches in India and Pakistan, is the community's principal institution for religious education and training. It teaches a curriculum that blends contemporary subjects to traditional Islamic lore. Part of its curriculum is taught to younger children in community schools in nine countries.