Daudi Bohras*

The Muslim community of Daudi 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, Daudi Bohras, Sulaymani Bohras, Aliyah Bohras and other lesser known groups.

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 Daudi Bohras. Daudi Bohras are named after their twenty seventh dai Daud ibn Qutubshah (d. 1612).

The Daudi 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 Daudi 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.

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. The martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn is commemorated annually during the first ten days of Muharram.

Daudi 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 Daudi Bohras, their dais usually being prolific writers and orators. The Daudi 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).

(Note: To maintain the integrity of this article, the spellings of Islamic names and terms in the original article are retained)

* Extract from the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, 1995.

from: http://www.compmore.net/~zhussain/bohra/bohras.html