The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Dawoodi Bohras

Dawoodi Bohras are the main branch of the Bohras (a Musta'li subsect of Ismaili Shi'a Muslims) based primarily in India and Pakistan. Their spiritual leader is Dr. Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin. He is known as the Da'il Mutlaq and is the 52nd Dai in an unbroken chain of Dais. The Bohras believe that the 21st Imam, Imam Taiyab (a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad S.A. via his daughter Fatema Zahra S.A.), went into seclusion and appointed the Dai as his Vicegerent.

The majority of Bohras were converts from Hinduism. Their conversion—the result of the work of some Arab missionaries from Egypt and Yemen—took place around the twelfth century A.D. in Gujarat in India. The converted were largely from the Hindu middle and upper castes and especially those engaged in trade and commerce. Later, indigenous converts undertook the missionary activities in other contiguous regions such as the areas that today constitute Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Thus today, the Bohras in India are concentrated in these areas and number approximately a million.

They are encouraged to engage themselves in trade though a newly educated professional class is also coming into prominence. There is also a large community in Pakistan, where the main downtown market in Karachi, the largest city, is called Bohree Bazaar because of the community's major presence as shop-owners and -keepers.

There is also a significant diaspora resident in East Africa, Europe and North America.

The Dawoodi Bohras are a very closely-knit community which seeks advice from the high priest (da'i) in both spiritual and temporal aspects. The Bohras trace their origins to the Fatimids of Egypt and thus their cultural mores are based on the practices of the Fatimid Imams. This is further found in the myriad constructions that the Bohras have carried out around the world all of which feature Fatimid influences from the mosques and buildings of Cairo. Dr Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin undertook the complete renovation and restoration of the Mosque of the Imam Al-Hakim in Cairo; a project UNESCO had considered but did not undertake.

The ordinary Bohra is highly conscious of his identity and this is especially demonstrated at religious and traditional occasions by the appearance and attire of the participants.

Dawoodi Bohra women wear a distinctive form of the commonly known burka which is distinguished from other forms of the veil due to it often being in colour and decorated with patterns and lace. Bohra women are encouraged to progress in education in the same way as the men.

Due to the emphasis placed on education, the community is highly educated and can boast of being one of the few communities in India to have 100% literacy.

Besides speaking the local languages, the Bohras have their own language called Lisan-ul-Dawat. This is written in Arabic script but is derived from Urdu, Gujarati and Arabic.

(portions adapted from THE BOHRAS - RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY By Asghar Ali Engineer)

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Last updated: 05-07-2005 12:22:15
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04