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MUSLIM RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS

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DAWOODI BOHRAS

 

The word 'Bohra' is derived from the Gujarati word vohorvu or vyavahar meaning "to trade". 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 (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 Ismaili Bohras owe allegiance to the dai mutlaq in Yemen. They are named after their 27th dai Daud ibn Qutubshah (d. 1612).

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 shaikh and mullah, both of which are held by hundreds of Bohras. An Aamil leads the local congregation in religious, social and communal affairs. Each town has a mosque and an adjoining jamaat-khanah (assembly hall) where socio-religious functions are held. The local organisations that manage these properties report directly to the central administration of the dai based in Mumbai, called Al-Dawah al-Hadiyah.

The Daudi Bohra community in India 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, who revitalized the community, fostered strong faith and promoted welfare and education in the community. The present dai, Dr. Sayyidna Mohammed Burhanuddin also laid emphasis on strengthening the community's Islamic practices and on the promotion of its Fatimid heritage.

The Bohras enjoy a great degree of social and religious cohesion. Every Bohra is required to take an oath of allegiance (Misaaq), which is a formal initiation into the faith. The oath, inter alia, commits a Bohra towards adherence to the Shariah and accepting the leadership of the Sayyidna and the dai. This oath is renewed each year on the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah (Id Gadir al-Khumm). The Bohras recognize the 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), salat (prayers), zakat (purifying religious dues), saum (fasting), Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and jihad (holy war). Pilgrimages to the shrines of the saints is an important part of the devotional life of Bohras. The cult of Sayyidna, the high priest, and the Kothar, the clergy, is deeply ingrained in the Bohra psyche. Every Bohra follows a system of tax payment to the Syedna, who also exercises a great control over the marriage and death rites. Daudi Bohras use an Arabicized form of Gujarati 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. 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).

WAHABISM

Wahabism was the first great modern expression of the awakening of the Arab Islam in the 18th century. Its founder was Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahab, who was born in Najd (near modern Riyadh) in 1691 AD. He preached and propagated the "pure faith" based only on the Holy Quran and the Sunnah and criticised the loosening of moral standards under foreign influences. He converted Mohammad Ibn-Saud, a tribal chief of considerable influence from Dehriya, who quickly established himself as the monarch of the Nedj. His son Abdul Aziz, during the life time of his father, conquered the greatest part of what is today Saudi Arabia and by 1805 he had destroyed the shrines of Karbala, Mecca and Medina and threatened the conquest of the whole of Turkish empire. Wahabism led in 1932 to the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The only other Wahabi state is Qatar.

The Wahabis do not receive the decisions of the four orthodox sects, but say that any man who can read and understand the Quran and the Ahadith can judge for himself in the matters of doctrine. They do not offer prayers to any prophet, wali, pir or saint. They do not even perform any act of reverence at the Prophet's mosque at Madina. They observe only four main festivals, namely, Idul-Fitr, Idul-Azha, Yaum Al-Ashura and the Lailat-al Qadr and do not observe Prophet Muhammad's birthday (Milad-un-Nabi) as a festival. As Wahabism is the assertion of the paramount authority of the Holy Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (Ahadiths), the Wahhabis call themselves Ahl-i-Hadis or the people of the Tradition.

Wahabism was introduced in India by Syed Ahmed of Rai Bareli in 1822 after his return from the Pilgrimage in Makkah. Unheeded by the British Government, he travelled to different parts of India with a retinue of devoted disciples and preached his doctrines among the people. He appointed his deputies in Patna and went to Delhi where he made Shah Muhammad Ismail as his disciple. Shah Muhammad Ismail later recorded the teachings of Syed Ahmed in a book called Siratul-Mustaqim. This book, along with another one called the Taqwiyatul Iman exercised considerable influence on the Muslims in India during that time.
 

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